Mapping Brazil - Contemporary Arts

The 2015 update on contemporary arts in Brazil - by Luísa Duarte
Artist Carla Zaccagnini juxtaposes two magazine covers, inviting the viewer to trace the connections between these two distinct yet comparable periods by learning about the political and economic crises that occurred between their cover dates of 1956 and 2009.


The field of contemporary art in Brazil is growing and maturing, but it still suffers from an imbalance of forces between the different agents that form what is known as the art circuit. The most developed, professionalised sector of the great network that forms this circuit is undoubtedly the market. Art fairs and galleries are run competently; they are plural, they are international, and they have the capacity to galvanise the public and create a lasting culture of art collecting. The market also operates strategically, effectively collaborating to assure artists visibility in exhibitions at different institutions in Brazil and other countries.

Brazil has two annual art fairs: Sp-Arte (first held in 2005) and ArtRio (since 2011). But while its galleries and fairs are strong, Brazil’s art circuit still has a number of weak links. A fair is just one vector in an art circuit. The economic and cultural value of an artwork is established by a network of multiple agents – galleries, collectors, curators, art schools, public reception, museums, institutions, journalists, critics. The market has its place in this network, validating artists and their work, but in an off-kilter circuit such as Brazil’s, it can tend to outbalance the other agents. This is not the market’s fault; it is increasingly effective in the job that it does. The problem lies in other parts of the circuit. In a scenario where museums and institutions are weak, where there are few public collections and archives and where there are limited openings for art critics, it is necessary to reflect and project a route forward where the forces are better balanced.

One of the biggest concerns today in Brazil is that burgeoning professional artists who are picked up by the market find that the naturally slow maturing of their work tends to be hampered (and here I would also point a finger at curators looking for “new names”).

If the quality of the art produced by Brazilian artists has been and still is what makes this country such an important player in the international art scene, the country’s institutional weaknesses – its dearth of policies to assure the long-term functioning of exhibition spaces and for building up public archives – are at least partially responsible for the current situation, where some of its most appreciated art gains more consistent and varied visibility abroad than at home.

Since 2010, a number of social organisations have been created –public-private partnerships that allow an institution’s management and budget to be shared by the state and private enterprise. Two examples of this management model, both in Rio de Janeiro, are Casa França Brasil and MAR.

The Brazilian art circuit is energised by an extremely active group of artists, curators, critics, teachers, theorists, managers, gallery owners and collectors. Despite countless difficulties, this is a vibrant, expanding field. Brazil is a country of continental proportions with a population of almost 200 million. Yet unfortunately culture is not yet seen as strategic for the growth and development of Brazil or Brazilian society either symbolically or financially.

While Rio and São Paulo are the primary centres of art in the country, with São Paulo being the stronger of the two, there are other cities like Porto Alegre, Florianópolis, Recife, Brasília, Salvador, Fortaleza and Belém that play host to many important artists, curators and teachers, and have also developed some influential institutional and/or independent projects. A prime example is Inhotim, in the state of Minas Gerais, whose private collection of contemporary art, which is open to the public, now constitutes one of the most significant collections of its kind in the world.

In 2015, after several years of economic growth and optimism which permeated the whole country and therefore the art scene as a whole, prompting a whole host of critical reflections, Brazil is now in the throes of a serious economic and political crisis. Evaluating the impact of this on the sector – its creative production, market and institutions – will have to be left to a future mapping. 

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