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NEW TERRITORIES OF CONTEMPORARY BRAZILIAN ART
by independent curator Kiki Mazzucchelli
Today Brazilian art seems to be everywhere. However, until a couple of decades ago, we had a completely different scenario. The conditions that made possible the phenomenon commonly referred to as the “internationalisation” of Brazilian art are varied and gradual and cannot be placed in a precise moment in time. But my generation - who was at university in the mid-1990s and started to work professionally in the arts circuit around the turn of the century – witnessed a very significant shift in the way Brazilian art is circulated, disseminated and interpreted abroad.
In fact, some of the key moments in this expansion of Brazilian art’s territory took place in the late 1980s/ 1990s.
Pioneering art galleries such as Thomas Cohn, Luisa Strina and Marcantonio Vilaça played an important role, as they started to participate in international art fairs, bringing contemporary Brazilian art to an international audience. And then, for the first time in our history, contemporary artists such as Jac Leirner and Tunga achieved international projection.
It was also the first time that renowned Western institutions organized international retrospective shows of historical Brazilian artists: Hélio Oiticica’s restrospective in 1992 was organized by the Witte de With (Rotterdam, The Netherlands); then travelled to Galerie du Jeu de Paume (Paris, France); Fundación Tápies (Barcelona, Spain); Centro de Arte da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian (Lisbon, Portugal); Walker Art Center (Minneapolis,USA).
Lygia Clark (1997)’s retrospective also travelled to other European institutions: Fundacio? Antoni Ta?pies (Barcelona, 1997, MAC, Galeries Contemporaines des Muse?es de Marseille, 1998, Fundac?a?o de Serralves, Porto, 1998, Socie?te? des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels,1998).
In the same year (1997) Documenta X, one of the most important exhibitions of the decade, curated by Catherine David, also played an important role in showcasing the work of Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica (it also featured works by Cabelo and Tunga).
But another crucial factor in the 1990s was the central role played by postcolonial thought in Western academic and cultural institutions. (And, more recently, the investigations around alternative modernities).
The 24th São Paulo Biennial, curated by Paulo Herkenhoff in 1998, was the first one to take a Brazilian theoretical concept (Antropofagia) into an international arena, proposing new readings of (Western) historical works which included not only Brazilian but also Latin American art.
So if we understand this idea of territory (of Brazilian art) both as a geographic and symbolic concept, the Bienal da Antropofagia played a key role in this expansion. The idea of Antropofagia (Cannibalism) reverberated internationally immediately after the Bienal, and was since applied – with or more or less rigour – in a diversity of other projects.
In the last decade, contemporary Brazilian art has achieved an international prominence that is unheard-of in its history. Again, there were international retrospective exhibitions of Clark (Nantes, 2005), and Oiticica (Houston and London, 2007). Brazilian art was also the theme of important group exhibitions and festivals such as Tropicália, curated by Carlos Basualdo, which was presented in Chicago, New York and London (2006).
Talking only about London, in the last few years, we had solo shows by several Brazilian artists in different institutions: Rivane Neuenschwander (2008); Cildo Meireles (2008); Alexandre da Cunha (Camden Arts Centre, 2009), Ernesto Neto (Hayward, 2010); Lygia Pape (Serpentine, 2011).
Growing international interest in Brazilian art was also apparent in the major international art fairs such as ARCO in Madrid and Frieze in London, which today feature several Brazilian exhibitors. The presence of Brazilian artists also increased noticeably among the European and North American galleries. In this same decade, Brazil reached an unprecedented economic stability, whilst Europe and the United States are facing a period of crisis, which undoubtedly also contributed to the growing interest in Brazilian culture.