Reports - Brazil

Dorothée Dupuis

Reading time: 13 minutes



Dorothée Dupuis and Fernanda Feitosa, Director and Founder of SP-Arte, talk about Brazil, its art market and challenges around it

São Paulo, Brazil

Dorothée Dupuis: As we all know in Latin America, Brazil is a continent within the continent. It’s a very large country that answers to its own problematics, although sharing many ones with the rest of the region due to post-colonial, historical similarities—and this despite of speaking also its own language, Portuguese, that somehow isolates it even more from its other fellow american counterparts and neighbors. The Brazilian art scene is thus shaped by this specific context. It has a very strong art history throughout the XXth century, with a particular link to Modernism of which it invented successfully its own version, both looking towards Europe and US vanguards, crafting very specific forms and conceptual parameters, also due to a dynamic artistic diaspora that kept going back and forth between other western artistic capitals such as New York or Paris. On the other hand, due to dictatorship in the 60s to 80s, it remained relatively closed to the rest of Latin America and its art market, booming after the end of the dictatorship in the mid eighties, and sustained by the overall spectacular growth of the “Brazilian Miracle”, is used to mostly collect nationally and is only starting to look abroad—in one of the worst period of Brazilian history, with a terrible recession, political instability and raging poverty and violence. What a context! Despite of that, Brazil is Brazil and is a fascinating country. What set you apart from us rest of Latin America is also what makes you stand out and makes you so attractive for us Latinos. What makes it so peculiar to be Brazilian within the current American context according to you? Also, to locate a bit more our reader and our conversation, according to you Fernanda, what are Brazil’s strengths, weaknesses and challenges for the future, from a general point of view (I guess we will delve more specifically into art later (laughs)? 

Fernanda Feitosa: (laughs) Well, you have already touched on a few points in what may set us apart from our neighbors, and the sheer size of the country makes it easier to be more introspective. Among our strengths, I would list our solid institutions. The São Paulo Biennale is the second oldest Biennale after the Venice Biennale and it is a very important event in the international art calendar, in addition to the Biennale, we also have great museums with strong-curated programs and collections. We also have a good collector base that has been growing in the last 50-60 years. All the facts that you mentioned before have helped shape a strong art market in which collectors and institutions support the local scene. An interesting aspect of the Brazilian art market is that many artists, especially modernist artists have only been recognized in Brazil, and are only being discovered by foreign institutions and foreign collectors now. Brazil’s weaknesses can also be seen in the fact that the country is so vast that it has disconnected us from the rest of the world and especially the rest of our region. Of course, I also have to admit that the country’s bureaucracy and infrastructure has not kept up with the modern art market. Policies that were implemented in the mid 20th century—have not been updated to reflect the current art climate including tax and customs regulations that do not support the idiosyncrasies. of the art market, which is a challenge that we face. For the future, we would need to reduce import taxes and bureaucracy to facilitate our insertion in the global art market.

DD: Coming to the fair now, examining your sections, well first I have to say SP-Arte is a quite large fair, with almost 140 galleries in your 3 sections (107 in the main sector, 16 in Solos and 13 in Repertorio). You have quite important foreign names such as Continua (San Gemignano), David Zwirner (NY), Filomena Soares (Lisboa), Franco Noero (Torino), kurimanzutto (Mexico City), El Museo (Bogota), Neugerriemschneider (Berlin), Marian Goodmann (NYC). To participate in the main section of such a magnificent fair, located in one of the best venues possible in São Paulo (the Biennial Pavilion designed by Niemeyer in Parque Ibirapuera), implicates an investment: the shipping to Brazil with customs regulations of almost 70% taxes on art imports, the costs of sending and maintaining staff for 10 days in São Paulo which is an expensive city, not to mention the reputation of Brazilian collectors to mostly collect local remains pending like a threat over foreign dealers, etc. However, how do you explain these big galleries come to Brazil nevertheless, and don’t concentrate their efforts on more stable or promising markets such as New York or even Asia? It also seems these galleries are returning to participate in the fair. Which strategies towards the Brazilian collecting and institutional audience do you think these galleries put in place that makes it worth coming year after year, besides the warmth of your friendship and hospitality? (laughs) Your understanding of these strategies is crucial to help younger projects, such as Mexico-based Licenciado and Parque Galería, for example—who make the effort to join the fair for the first time this year—and thus, make their participation sustainable, and come back hopefully in the future. 

FF: I’d like to begin by saying that Brazilian collectors—as you mentioned collect mainly Brazilian art, just as Mexican collectors collect Mexican art, American collectors collect American artists, and so on. This is natural behavior as collectors generally buy what they are familiar with and closer to—this is no different from any other country in the world. Regarding our galleries, we are happy to say that we have a high gallery retention rate, and this is mostly because these galleries have succeeded in building a strong client base and stable relationship with Brazil, in many cases they visit brazil multiple times to maintain these close relationships. We are very happy to host, not only kurimanzutto, which has participated at SP-Arte for the last five years, but also Parque and Licenciado, who are participating for the first time. Mexico has a thriving art scene and our hope is to strengthen our ties with galleries, curators, and artists from there. Curators Julieta Gonzalez and Pablo Leon de la Barra have worked closely with Brazilian artists and institutions and have contributed to these strong relationships between the two art scenes. I think a good strategy for galleries participating is to try to understand the clients by visiting Brazil often, getting to know collectors, and seeking out collaborations with local galleries to create a network of collectors, curators, and critics. Galleries come here in addition to the typical art hubs because there is high potential—many of the reasons that we mentioned earlier are what continue making Brazil appealing to galleries from abroad.

DD: Talking now about Brazilian internal market. In Mexico we are about to have presidential elections and the result (as in Colombia next month, and here in Brazilians soon) is pretty uncertain. Nevertheless—and I am gonna be the Marxist here—there is an ongoing discussion in Mexico that says that rich people are getting richer no matter what and that therefore it doesn’t really change anything to some fields of rich people’s lives, such as art collecting for example. To corroborate this theory, I notice that lately quite a few new exciting gallery projects started in Brazil (Cavalo in Rio, Galeria Sé or Auroras in São Paulo) or reopening (Emma Thomas in São Paulo) as well as hybrid, market consulting oriented structures such as ACT -Art Consulting Tool created by Joao Siquieira Lopes and Fernando Ticoulat, or Viva Projects, created by Camilla Barella and Cecilia Tanure, that aims to advise and create a younger collector base. How is the market right now in Brazil? Is what we say in Mexico is true, and that finally, as bad as things goes, the art market will always be sustained by a certain part of the population untouched by never-ending cycles of crisis?

FF: The art scene in São Paulo is very much alive; there are a lot of new projects being promoted which means there are a lot of new activities going on, as you mentioned, there are many new galleries opening! There are 11 new galleries from São Paulo participating in SP-Arte for the first time- this is enormous growth! One of SP-Arte’s roles is to promote initiatives that engage the local audience, in hoping to create a wider public—with free guided tours, talks programs, and gallery nights to encourage people to visit galleries and to break the selectivity of the art world. There is a certain range of artists that will ultimately be bought by wealthy individuals and companies, but the fact is that a much broader range of people sustains contemporary art.

DD: On the landing page of your website you mention two exhibitions, notably the solo show by Paulo Pasta at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, a wonderful institution—what an amazing architecture! Which brings me to a enviable particularity of Brazil: its art scene related to its institutions, as you mentioned previously. How come Brazil has such great institutional scene, when on the other hand the government is known for its minimum investment in support to the arts? Can you also talk of the private museums and foundations in relation that last question? 

FF: Despite the lack of sufficient investment from the government, cultural institutions have managed to maintain their exhibition programs, including Pinacoteca de Estado de São Paulo, which has shown great exhibitions of Brazilian modern and contemporary art. But as you mention, some of the most active institutions are privately funded- the Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Bahia are all private museums, as well as Instituto Moreira Salles (IMS) and Tomie Ohtake. These private museums raise funds from the community. Although there is very little budget for cultural investment by the government, Lei Rouanet (Law 8313), which was implemented in 1991, created a tax incentive to promote cultural projects. This created an alternative for funding museums, in which corporations and wealthy individuals can support cultural projects while benefitting from the tax incentive. The government’s role in Lei Rouanet is to make sure the project meets certain criteria—these programs must be inclusive to a broad public and offer accessibility. This law has mitigated the lack of official funds: through this tax incentive since 2010 approximately $1 billion reais (approximately 300 million USD) have been raised annually.

DD: You kindly invited Terremoto to visit the fair this year for the first time with a booth and an incentive to take part and get to know as much as possible of what’s going to happen during this week, in order to spread the word towards Latin America, and to foster mutual knowledge and exchange between Brazil and Mexico but also with the rest of Latin America. We met last June when Terremoto did a special issue about Brazil with the help of guest editor, Pivô’s director Fernanda Brenner (since then São Paulo is the 5th city reading us internationally! Shout outs to our amazing Brazilian audience!). Since then we regularly feature subjects on Brazilian artists and actuality. On my side, as a European person and regionalist I always thought that Brazil naturally developed great relationships with its neighbors of the southern cone. To my surprise I noticed how few Argentinean and Chilean galleries are there (only to quote them and underline their presence and honor their interest in dialogue, bravo to: Isabel Aninat (Santiago), Barro (Argentina) and the two Uruguayan galleries, Piero Atchugarry and Galeria Sur). Why does this happen? As an enlightened art professional and convinced Panamericanist, what would you propose as possible solutions for this situation to change in the future? What would encourage cooperation with Argentina for instance, which has such great artists, consolidated galleries, great collectors and, a great fair, arteBA?

FF: Yes! This is very true, but hopefully it’s something that will change. As you mention, we do have some galleries from Latin America as Isabel Aninat, who has participated in the past, as well as Galeria Sur, Piero Atchugarry and Misiones (all from Uruguay). Who are all returning to the fair! We have always tried to have a strong relationship with our neighbors. In the case of Argentina, we’ve been in touch with the consulate and Fundación Exportar for several years to help promote further exchange between the two countries. It is something we have yet to achieve, but hopefully this is something we will be able to accomplish in the near future!

There is also the fact that, sometimes, galleries have different strategies and they prefer to participate in fairs outside Latin America. In São Paulo’s case, many of the best artists from Argentina are already represented locally, so it may seem unnecessary for their Argentinean galleries to participate in SP-Arte. São Paulo, as you mentioned earlier also has a different cost of living, which impacts participation of younger galleries, especially when they are worried they may not be able to cover their expenses. We are always trying to find ways to collaborate in the region and will continue working to expand this exchange among our hermanos, whom we admire and would love to include in future editions!

DD: An itchy question as we talk about unbalance: in the Solo section under curation of Luiza Teixeira de Freitas (a woman) there is again a gender unbalance with only 5 projects by women out of the 16 projects that make up this section. Also peeping at the exhibitions’ program in galleries in the City the unbalance in favor of men remains striking. As the feminist you certainly are, as an entrepreneur, and to the light of the recent international #metoo movement, do you think that despite of the aforementioned worrying signs the glass ceiling might soon get broken in Brazil and everywhere else in the art world? As a woman do you feel its gonna be easier for younger female art practitioners, from artists to curators and museum/institution directors?

FF: This is an important question, and I think it is very relevant to our times. Balancing the gender gap is very important. In Brazil, we have a unique situation, many of our most important artists (Mira Schendel, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Tarsila do Amaral, etc) and leading galleries were mainly founded by women- Luciana Brito, Nara Roesler, Luisa Strina, and Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, to name a few.

Last year, in the two curated sectors, Solo (curated by Luiza Teixeira de Freitas) and Repertorio (curated by Jacopo Crivelli Visconti), there was a strong presence of female artists. This year, SP-Arte will show artists, as Lotty Rosenfeld, Anna Maria Maiolino, Ana Bela Geiger and Regina Slveira, that were part of the exhibition Radical Women, which was part of the program of Pacific Standard Time. The exhibition will be shown at the Pinacoteca in São Paulo later this year. We even have a guided tour available to the public so they get to know these female artists.


Dorothée Dupuis is a French curator, writer and editor who has been based in Mexico City since 2012. She is the founder and director of Terremoto magazine.

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