Concerns Beyond the Economy

January 27, 2016

Indeed, the first ten years of the 21st century were economically excellent for Brazil. Were they also excellent for the cultural sector? Sadly, I have to say they were not.

In 2009, a group of people including myself started to manage the Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, which was in dire straits at the time. There was the very real risk that the Bienal, established in 1951 and the world’s second oldest biennial, might not take place again. The decade was almost over and the Bienal was on the verge of falling apart: it was a clear sign that the position of culture in Brazil had problems. Where was the economic bonanza?

On the other side of the coin was the art market, which changed a lot during that first decade of the century. Art fairs such as the São Paulo Art Fair (SP-ARTE) and Arte Rio created a window of opportunity for collectors to buy works by foreign artists. A large number of new galleries were launched, and the secondary art market, both private and at auction, consolidated while the opening of foreign art galleries in Brazil gave the market a boost.

But all of these market changes led us nowhere in terms of informing the Brazilian audience about what was happening in the art scene around the world. Brazilian collectors kept on buying mainly Brazilian art works. Those who did buy foreign artists were just interested in consuming brands. I once asked an important foreign gallerist why he only brought works of art to fairs that had been made in 2014 and he pointed to a work made in 1998, saying nobody would buy it “because it is more than double the price—the market here wants the name, not the special art work.”

Meanwhile, while exhibition attendance has been at a record high over the past few years, we have only had a handful of important solo shows by living foreign artists. Local museums have had no money to buy important art produced outside of Brazil, which means their focus has remained centered on Brazil.

In contrast, we have to thank Inhotim, a wonderful outdoor museum, where one can see both art produced in Brazil and in the rest of the world. Another ground-breaking project is Video Brasil which was created in 1983 to show video art from Brasil and the rest of the world every two years. The organization has played a very important role in our local art scene over the past 20 years.

Brazil has created of lot of wealth and improved in terms of PISA educational rankings—but in regards to its cultural scene, Brazil needs to focus beyond itself. It is important for Brazil to open its door to the world, otherwise the world will not open its door to Brazil. The result will be our isolation from the international scene.

My concern is not the market. The market finds its equilibrium. What really concerns me is whether our artists and our public will ever really have the chance to see what is being done elsewhere to fertilize our own production and put it into perspective.