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A conversation with Ana Avelar, the selected curator for exchange programme at Getty Research Instituteback

The Latitude got to know better the curator Ana Avelar. She was selected to participate in the Curatorial Exchange 2018/2019 – Research and curatorial practice programme at Getty Research Institute (GRI). Besides working with curatorship, Avelar also teaches ‘Teoria, Crítica e História da Arte’ [Art, Theory and Criticism] at Universidade de Brasília (UnB).

The exchange programme takes place from April 8th to May 31st and it’s promoted by Latitude.

Have you always wanted to become a curator?
When I was younger, I took all the art history classes available in museums, cultural centers and other places. At that time, there weren’t classes as the one I teach nowadays. I ended up studying Languages at University of São Paulo because I aimed to be an art critic. When I was 21, during college, I reviewed an exhibition as a freelancer for Folha de S.Paulo’s Ilustrada. I had just arrived in São Paulo and that article meant a lot for my professional career.

What is your research focused on?
I’m an expert in Brazilian art, especially modern and contemporary art. Currently I’m more interested in studies about women artists and feminist perspectives.

What does it mean to be a good curator?
I believe that curatorship should be opened to notice how art senses contemporaneity and how art offers alternative ways of living through unique experiences. In case of contemporary art curatorship, to be a good curator means to give the audience access to these unique experiences at the same time as hearing the artists’ opinions about the world. The historical exhibitions with well-known collections demand other skills, like great art history knowledge. In my opinion, the curator has also to relate these skills to established insights about art. This helps develop studies of the same subject.

You have worked on many projects and exhibitions. Would you like to highlight some of them?
I would like to highlight two exhibitions very different from each other. The first one is called ‘Lina Gráfica’ and I worked on it in partnership with another curator in 2014, at Sesc Pompeia. It was a show about a very important architect in Brazil and it does not regard architecture only, but embraces her design, her cultural influential figure and her thoughts as well. This show helped me learn all the necessary skills to do a significant historical exhibition. ‘Lina Gráfica’ was about Lina Bo Bardi’s drawings and designs.

The second show I would like to highlight is called ‘Brasília Extemporânea’. It was a very difficult exhibition to arrange because our team received a low budget and the event had to follow certain guidelines. We had to announce Casa Niemeyer as a new cultural venue and to present fresh perspectives on the capital city. So, my assistant and I did a very deep research on works that have showed recent pictures of the city, especially photos, interventions, video installations and non-traditional pieces. It was a huge experience for me because I had to lead many tasks.

Tell us the project you intend to develop during the exchange in Getty Research Institute and also what piece of the Institute’s collection you will analyse.
I will study the Argentinian art critic, dealer and collector Clara Diament Sujo. She lived in the United States and represented a lot of Latin American artists. So, in accord with the post-doctoral project I have developed at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC-USP), I will understand Clara’s thoughts as an art critic and art dealer and also I will learn these artists that she represented to search for references related to the gesture. So, the lyrical abstraction is an important part of her works. In the 1950s and 1960s, it indicated a kind of abstract work in which the gesture was very present. It’s the opposite of the geometric abstraction.

The Getty has just received some documents about her and I want to study it. It could be interesting here in Brazil also because Clara Diament Sujo is unknown to us. She had a very important role representing Latin American artists in the United States and showing the non-geometric abstraction, a subject that has only recently begun to be studied.

How do people see the work of a curator in Brazil?
In visual arts, I believe it’s both a respected career and it’s not. There are few working places for institutional curators in Brazil. The independent curators struggle a lot to maintain themselves, so, it’s a tough scenario. Also, the audience ignores our role. To change this reality, I think that curatorship should be considered as academic research.
Besides, we should spread the word about curatorship, talk about it during interviews and explain the role of a curator. We should show how exhausting is to arrange an exhibition.

And how do people see it abroad?
In other countries, curatorship is an acknowledged work. There are many working places and opportunities. Curators like Paulo Herkenhoff and Tadeu Chiarelli are very well-known. The same for other representatives from public universities like Ana Magalhães, my mentor at MAC. We are beginning to be appreciated abroad as a result of the good job we do here.

At last, what do you think this research opportunity represents for all Brazilian curators?
I think that a research project at Getty is a great opportunity for anyone who works with visual arts. It keeps one of the greatest archive in the world and it’s a very well-known institute. I hope that this exchange programme grows over the years. Certainly this research will help my classes, my studies and me as a curator focused on modern and contemporary Latin American art.