Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world with the sixth largest community in the world, cradle of cultures coming from Africa, Europe but also with Japanese and Lebanese communities larger than in their own countries, is therefore a country very difficult to summarize in its complexity. The art world has never ceased to claim its cultural exception. The anthropophagous manifesto dating from 1928 by the poet Oswald de Andrade is one of the founding texts of Brazilian modernism, the most radical of all aesthetic or ideological proposals that asserts the singularity of Brazilian culture compared to European culture. Eating the colonizing culture is the claim of this Manifesto. Its idea is not to ape European modernity, but to eat it (eating in Brazilian Portuguese also means kissing), to assimilate it in order to forge a singular declination of it. But this provocation is above all about building a critical experience of the world in which we live. Andrade thus offers a more than original alternative to cultural levelling and dependence on the dominant European culture. Later, in 1936, the anthropologist Sergio Buarque de Holanda wrote « Raizes do Brasil » (Roots of Brazil), showing the sensitive character of the Brazilian whose actions are guided by emotion, the one who scorns rules and is therefore on the fringe of ethics and civic spirit.
At the beginning of the 1950s, with the new Novo cinema, the camera went to the streets to better reflect the great social and cultural concerns of Brazil. Cinematic writing was thus put at the service of an awareness of popular reality and a questioning of class injustices. It tackled themes that had been carefully avoided until then, such as hunger, misery or revolt. Filming the « real Brazil, » that of everyday life, of the miserable peasantry, of the shantytowns, became a political and aesthetic priority.
It is in this complex historical context that we can begin to think about what could characterize Brazilian art. The consecration of the public space as a collective work where artists do not need the visibility given by the institution can be one of the tracks. The variety of ‘Performances’ is also naturally a common mode of expression in Brazil, as well as sensory experiences with the discovery of the body. This excitement has not been curbed by the military dictatorship (1964-1985) and today it does not want to let itself be controlled by the populist government in place. It is in this current context that the idea of an essay, an open essay, is one of the central concepts of the 34th São Paulo Biennial, conceived by curator Jacopo Crivelli Visconti.
Visconti chose the title « Faz escuro mas eu canto » (It’s dark but I sing) from one of the verses of the great Amazonian poet Thiago de Mello. This edition is conceived as a public space where things are presented without the ambition of being definitive, where the public can accompany the realization of the work before the final exhibition whose opening has been postponed to October. More than ever it seems necessary for Jacopo to sing in the dark. He also quotes Berthold Brecht who says: « In dark times, will there be songs? Yes there will always be songs, for the dark times ». He further specifies « contemporary art answers the urgent questions we are going through and this answer can, even if it is not yet well defined, be a direction ».
In Brazil, the excesses are unfortunately worrying at the time of the coronavirus pandemic, which is far from being under control. « The art world is like the canary that miners bring with them into the mine. As it is more fragile and sensitive to gas, this canary has been dead for some time, but the miners insist that it is only sleeping, resting at the bottom of its cage. « says artist Vik Muniz, who believes that the mechanisms of consumer society to represent culture are already changing. Paradoxically, he finds that many feel much more alive with this crisis that is reshuffling the cards. He remains very optimistic about the future complicity he will have with a new audience, which he imagines will be more interesting than the one he had before the pandemic. « If art is a magnifying glass that invites us to transcend more deeply the idea of survival, then it is capable of influencing the way people live. » he says, confiding that he would like to devote even more time to his projects with underprivileged communities and refugee camps, where he believes he will find answers to his questions.
Perhaps the greatest concern is the government’s disregard for the Amazon, or, on the contrary, its overemphasis on the Amazon, its desire to get their hands on its riches without any attention to the ecological consequences or even to the indigenous peoples who were given some semblance of rights and territorial organization in 1992. They remain terribly fragile and unprotected. More than ever, books such as ‘The Fall from the Sky’, which brings together interviews between the French ethnologist Bruce Albert and the shaman and leader of the Yanomami Indians Davi Kopenawa, remains a poignant cry of alarm in the face of this crisis. Ailton Krenak, an other Indian leader, ecologist and writer has chosen for his latest book the poignant title ‘Ideas to delay the end of the world’. The artist Jonathas de Andrade is desperate to see how humanity treats Nature as a « doormat, as if it were an external resource that is not part of the planet we inhabit ». He is afraid of the social abyss that this pandemic reveals. He does not yet see how art will be able to respond to this exceptional situation, but he does not see how it will not be « contaminated by this new present ».
As for Claudia Andujar, who was seen this year at the Cartier Foundation, this great photographer has made her life the struggle to help the Yanomami tribes. At 88 years old, she has never stopped being with them and supporting them, forcing the Brazilian authorities to protect their territories. But she also wants « them to have a voice » because « you can’t always speak on their behalf ».
Brazil is also the country of ‘tudo bem’ (it will be fine). This forced optimism is a national currency. Beatriz Milhazes does not say anything else when she says that « the future is today! « She believes in Man and that a positive attitude of cooperation must be maintained. « We are in different boats sailing in the same ocean » but she believes that « Brazil has more experience to deal with situations of adversity » and that what is happening « will be a perfect opportunity to showcase Brazilian art and culture ». We can indeed observe that despite the current difficulties, the Brazilian art world remains incredibly dynamic with very promising projects. It is the only country that has several biennials, among which the one in São Paulo is one of the most important in the world, the one in Porto Alegre of Mercosul and finally the one in Curitiba, whose next version is planned for 2022. The latter is imagined by yours truly and Guillaume Logé on the idea of the « Wild Renaissance, the art of the anthropocene ».
Inhotim, a crazy dream of the collector Bernardo Paz, remains one of the most important sculpture parks in the world. It will inaugurate, as soon as the de-confinement allows it, the new monumental sculpture that Robert Irwin created there. There are already plans to open a new pavilion designed by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The young heir collector and artist Marcos Amaro has transformed an old factory in the city of Itu (São Paulo region) that has already become another art center, an important artist’s residence. He already shows part of his contemporary art collection there and organizes temporary exhibitions, while inviting artists to create works in situ in the outside areas. The city of Iguaçu, where the famous waterfalls are located, is already seeing the post-coronavirus era and will embark on a major international consultation for the creation of another ambitious cultural project that can satisfy the two million annual visitors. Perhaps the opportunity for branches of French institutions? The future will tell us…
One would have to be made of stone to know how to resist Brazil. I was very lucky to get there for the first time in August 1992 with a formidable address book of some of the key personalities of the contemporary art world. The great Argentine collector Jorge Helft, with whom I was passing through, had generously given me all his contacts, inviting me to stop in São Paulo and Rio before coming back to France. It was a door that I opened forever. I confess that at the time, having worked previously between Japan, Europe and the United States, my knowledge of the Brazilian scene was almost non-existent. So I took everything I discovered with full force, in total amazement. It was in Rio, at Afonso Costa’s, a former gallery owner, expert and collector, that I first saw a sculpture with iron structures covered with magnets connected by copper hair that touched me deeply. It was a work by Tunga. I met him two months later in Paris, through Cordelia, the woman who was to become his wife, when he had his exhibition at the Jeu de Paume. The work « Palindro Incesto » was shown there. Then, in January 1995, I had the privilege to show this masterful sculpture in New-York with my dear friend Simon Watson of the Down-Town art Festival as part of the event « Art from Brazil in New-York ». Since then Tunga and I have never stopped seeing each other. I have participated at my modest level in several of his exhibitions such as the exhibition at Bard College in New York or in 1995 the off Biennale exhibition in Venice where I was able to produce with Hermes the hat that he then showed at the Documenta in Kassel in 1997…. I have been married to a Brazilian woman for 23 years and Brazil is therefore an integral part of my life. I was Cultural Attaché in Rio de Janeiro from 1998 to 2002, we returned there in 2012. Future curator of the Curitiba Biennale, after being guest curator at the Bahia Biennale in 2014, I can say without pretension that I have become a Franco-Brazilian.