Brazil has proved itself a global force in soccer and music, architecture and business. But there’s one area where the South American giant has yet to produce a Pelé or a Veloso, a Niemeyer or an Embraer: art.
That seems odd considering Brazil’s richly creative culture and its awesomely idyllic surroundings. Mexico can claim the marquee power of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo; Colombia has Botero. But the Brazilian art scene “is still finding its way internationally,” says São Paulo entrepreneur and art promoter Michel Serebrinsky.
It’s close to arriving, though. And since Brazilians saved Miami’s real estate market during the recession, the least Miami can do is help showcase Brazilian artists. There’s no better time than the city’s international Art Basel extravaganza – where this year the newest satellite show, and one of the most interesting, is Brazil ArtFair. It’s the first Miami Art Week event dedicated solely to Brazilian galleries, and it runs through Sunday at Northeast First Avenue (Midtown Boulevard) and 36th Street.
Serebrinsky, Brazil ArtFair’s founder and co-director with his wife Ester Krivkin, showed me installations like “Insônia Tropical” (Tropical Insomnia) by Toz (presented by the Galeria Movimento of Rio de Janeiro). It’s a dark yet iridescent work whose look and sound evoke an eerie night in a rainforest and yet perhaps also a heavenly evening on the beach. Said Serebrinsky as we took it in: “It’s like a dream, maybe a little disturbing, but it draws you.”
That description might capture the modern style many emerging Brazilian artists are trying to express. But, this being a Brazilian art fete, you can’t help but notice the patented curves, whether it’s the design of a futuristic furniture piece or an abstract painting. Brazil’s iconic modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer once remarked that he was inspired by the “free and sensual curves” that Brazilians find in their “mountains, in the waves of the sea, in the body of the woman we love.”
The art at the Brazilian fair sometimes does remind you of the elegance of bossa nova or the exuberance of futebol. Take for instance Rosana Ricalde’s untitled three-panel painting (from the Mercedes Viegas gallery in Rio): Against a soft azure background float curving lines that not only convey those sea waves Niemeyer spoke of – on closer inspection they spell out almost every body of water on earth.
Brazil ArtFair is an apt addition to Art Week, an indicator of the growing and increasingly important Latin American presence on the Miami Basel scene. Of the top 10 artists the fashion-art-lifestlye website HighSnobiety recommends Art Basel visitors see this year, four are Latin American. They include Mexican multi-media master Gabriel Orozco, Argentine photographer Nicola Constantino, Mexican conceptual artist Abraham Cruzvillegas and (muito bom!) the Brazilian muralist brothers known as Os Gêmoes.
The PAMM Engine
One of the engines of this year’s Latin surge was this week’s opening of the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and its strong Latin American collection. BBC Culture’s Georgina Adam wrote this week that as a result of the PAMM ribbon-cutting, “Latin American art will be center stage in Miami Beach this month.”
Brazilian artists and galleries are starting to samba toward that international sweet spot. Last year there were just 16 Brazilian galleries taking part in Miami Art Week and Art Basel; this year there are 33. Artists like the Rio de Janeiro-born Adriana Verjão are scoring big money as well: Two years ago Verjão became the first Brazilian artist to sell a work for more than $1 million. In fact, her painting “Wall With Incisions a la Fontana II” garnered closer to $2 million ($1.7 million), the highest price ever paid for a work by a living South American woman.
The Brazilian photographer Vik Muniz, who uses elements as disparate as chocolate syrup and diamonds, was featured in the 2010 documentary "Wasteland." The film, which was nominated for an Academy Award, examines his work at a massive Rio de Janeiro garbage dump.
In order to foster more Verjãos and Munizes, Serebinsky says Brazil Artfair has tried to be more than a show that merely sells gallery booths and sponsorships. “We consider this a platform for the promotion and the internationalization of the Brazilian art market,” he says.
Toward that end, the project is particularly keen on public education about Brazilian art, and even steers some of its sale proceeds to benefit local Miami schools like Design Architectural Senior High. There are also some surprises – like an exhibit called West Encounters East, assembled by the Miami fine arts consulting firm The Brickellian, which showcases Japanese-Brazilian artists. (Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan.)
Brazil these days is Miami’s No. 1 trading partner. Now the relationship looks to become aesthetic as well as economic.
Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor. You can read more of his coverage here.