A Moment Like This

São Paulo

Left: SP-Arte director Fernanda Feitosa with artist Regina Silveira. (Photo: Rafael Neddermeyer/Getty Images) Right: Mary J. Blige at the amfAR gala. (Photo: David Velasco)

“WE’RE SPECIALISTS in special moments,” said Ana Maria Maia, a young São Paulo–based curator, of her home country last week at the Casa do Povo in the Bolivian-Korean-Jewish neighborhood of Bom Retiro. This could refer to such art-historical moments as when Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Hélio Oiticica, and their contemporaries produced the rupture that would become known as “Neo-concrete.” Or it could point to impending sporting events like the World Cup and Summer Olympics in Rio, both of which have catalyzed seismic domestic development and foreign attention. Or perhaps she meant the decentralized “moments” now occurring all around the nation, of individual groups—both artistic and otherwise—recognizing themselves as political entities and asserting their agency as such.

A factious and complicated work-in-progress, Brazil has come into its own over the past decade as a lodestar of the international contemporary art community. Last week its flagship art fair, SP-Arte, held its tenth edition, and though it’s SP-Arte that galvanized a week of openings and festivities all around town, it’s perhaps these dispersed, autonomous moments to which Maia referred that give the most meaningful impression of today’s São Paulo art world.

The aforementioned Casa do Povo is one of several alternative spaces to appear in São Paulo in recent years. Most of these are not in the tony gallery districts of Jardins or Vila Madalena, but are rather spread around downtown, an area still blighted by crime but architecturally blessed. Unlike industrial buildings that have been reclaimed for the arts, Casa do Povo was originally built as “a palace of culture” or “a people’s house,” though it had seen better days before recent efforts began to restore it to its glory. These terms are given by Benjamin Seroussi, an associate curator for the upcoming São Paulo Bienal and one of the key proponents of the initiative, who led a tour of the sprawling, open-concept facilities: a basketball court–size indoor performance studio encased in windows, a musty subterranean cinema which decades ago was one of the city’s most important venues for film, and a library that has again found proper care.

Left: Artist Rafael Menova and Phosphorus's Maria Montero. Right: Pivô's Fernanda Brenner and artist Lenora de Barros. (Photos: Kevin McGarry)

Nearby in Sé, São Paulo’s Times Square–like epicenter (trading lights for crumbling colonial grandeur), Maria Montero talked us through her evolving art complex on Rua Roberto Simonsen. She moved into the building in 2011 and set up two establishments with her collaborators: the nonprofit contemporary art center Phosphorus, currently featuring a show by Gustavo Ferro, and a clothing archive called Casa Juisi that sells vintage designs to visitors. On Saturday, Montero inaugurated Galeria Sé, a for-profit venture above Phosphorus she hopes will make the building’s overarching operations more sustainable, with an exhibition by photographer Dalton Paula. “I keep saying that I live under a fantastic past and hope for a better future,” said Montero of her space’s location. “For me this is a place of suspension; there’s lots of symbolic layers.”

But the primary anchor of the downtown scene is Pivô. What began two years ago as a squat in a long-abandoned dentist office occupying a generous share of the Niemeyer landmark Edificio Copan is now an established art center. Fernanda Brenner, one of Pivô’s founders, led a group through a preview of an exhibition by Lenora De Barros, a São Paulo artist who recently relocated to New York. Famous in Brazil for her text and image works, here she showed a collection of newspaper columns she published between 1993 and 1996 in the not-particularly-progressive but artistically adventurous Jornal da Tarde. The assemblages conflate Pop art and concrete poetry, edifying the general public about contemporary art and critiquing current events in a snappy, subversive mode. Walking us through the upper floor of Pivô, which Casa Triângulo had rented out for a twenty-fifth anniversary exhibition celebrating the gallery’s artists, Brenner revealed the center’s next steps toward cultivating a vibrant culture of pro-artist activities in São Paulo, noting plans to make the space into a research center for artists and curators.

Left: Dealer Luciana Brito. Right: Dealer Luisa Strina. (Photos: David Velasco)

As for SP-Arte, which takes over two levels of the gorgeous Niemeyer-designed Bienal pavilion, its claim as the most important art fair in the southern hemisphere can go pretty much unchallenged. Parsing the contents of an art fair curatorially, so to speak, is a fool’s errand, but compare SP-Arte’s roster of 136 galleries with its regional competitors and it comes out on top. Not only are Gagosian, Zwirner, and White Cube springing for stands, but other less franchise-happy international dealers were there too, including first-timers Marian Goodman, Kurimanzutto, and Michael Werner. And of course all the great local powerhouses participate—from Luisa Strina to Luciana Brito to Galeria Vermelho. Hauser & Wirth, however, dropped out this year, reportedly frustrated by Brazilian tax policy (more than 50 percent of the asking price, if sold to collectors outside São Paulo) according to Folha de São Paulo journalist Silas Martí in the Art Newspaper’s SP-Arte edition.

Amid the flurry of air kisses (one in São Paulo, two in Rio, three elsewhere) during Wednesday’s VIP preview day, I also met with two of the Bienal’s curators, Galit Eilat and Nuria Enguita Mayo, who explained the unique structure for their collaboration. There are five cocurators in total, the others being Charles Esche, Pablo Lafuente, and architect Oren Sagiv, and, like a team of superheroes or trained assassins, each is tackling the overall project through the lens of a self-proclaimed special talent. “Mine would primarily be publications,” said Mayo. For Eilat, “conflict zones”—not quite knife-throwing, but close.

SP-Arte wasn’t the only draw for international guests last week. Walking through Jardins one was frequently reminded that it was also #SPFW—São Paulo Fashion Week. The packed art schedule didn’t leave time for runway shows, but the celestial alignment of art people and fashion people produced a cosmic moment in the charity galaxy: an amfAR Inspiration Gala. On Friday, about a thousand people (and at least one monkey) in black tie flocked to the Jardins home of supermarket scion Dinho Diniz for an evening of outrageous proportions benefiting AIDS research. Several dealers were in attendance, including White Cube’s Jay Jopling and Alexandre Gabriel from Fortes Vilaça, each of whom had donated pieces to the live auction, but the paparazzi were concentrated on Brazilian celebs like TV personalities Regina Casé and Ana Maria Braga, up-and-coming actress Luisa Moraes, Amazonian songstress Gaby Amarantos, mixed martial artist Anderson Silva, and Big Brother cast member turned Kardashian-ian megastar Sabrina Sato.

Left: Black-tie guests at the amfAR gala. (Photo: Kevin McGarry) Right: Mallu Barretto and artist Vik Muniz at the amfAR gala.

The guest of honor was Janet Jackson, who was an apparent no-show and hence deemed she-who-must-not-be-named. Sharon Stone picked up the slack as a jaw-dropping auctioneer—“She’s better than Simon de Pury!” exclaimed my seatmate at the Iguatemi table—motoring through hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of merch, pointing her gavel with wild abandon, silencing her famous copresenters, and creepily vamping on the subject of “underpants,” both Kate Moss’s—a peek at which she tacked on to a Moët & Chandon–packaged trip to the French Open—and her own: “As you all know…I don’t wear underpants…Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!”

After a performance by Mary J. Blige, the crowd migrated to the host’s Paris Hilton–esque private underground club and raged until well past six in the morning. Partying into the next day is the Paulistano’s modus operandi, and the most convivial dealers in town might be the indefatigable guys behind Mendes Wood, who closed out the week at the Jardins home of Pedro Mendes and Matthew Wood on Saturday. Following the gallery’s all-day opening of three solo shows (by Lucas Arruda, Adriano Costa, and Paloma Bosquê), those still in town rushed the gates, which guarded plentiful champagne, caipirinhas, and fruit—an entire banquet table heaped with bananas, cajus, jaboticabas, and other edible jewels. Just as it was time for me to make my way home for an early flight, the most famous artist in town, “Fancy Violence”—the menacingly feminine alter ego of Rodolpho Parigi—strode up the stairs, signaling that the party was just getting started. The same could be wagered for São Paulo as a whole.

Kevin McGarry

Left: Dealer Monica Manzutto. Right: Dealers Pedro Mendes and Matthias von Stenglin. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: São Paulo Bienal curators Nuria Enguita Mayo and Galit Eilat. Right: Curator Alexandre Melo and dealer Brent Sikkema. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Vermelho's Jan Fjeld. Right: MoMA curator Luis Pérez Oramas (right). (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Dealer Nicolo Cardi. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Galeria Emma Thomas's Juliana Freire with writer Silas Martí at the Mendes Wood party. (Photo: Kevin McGarry)

Left: Artist Paloma Bosquê. Right: Dealer Daniel Roesler. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Photographer Marcelo Krasilcic. Right: Milovan Farronato, director of the Fiorucci Art Trust (center), and dealer Eliana Finkelstein (right). (Photos: David Velsaco)

Left: The scene at SP-Arte. (Photo: Kevin McGarry) Right: Actress Luisa Moraes at the amfAR gala.

Left: Casa Triângulo's Rodrigo Editore. Right: Dealer Orly Benzacar. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Artist Daniel Senise. Right: Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac's Hella Pohl. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Dealers Adriana Farietta and Johannes Vogt. Right: Regina Casé at the amfAR gala. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: M+'s Pauline J. Yao with curator Chris Sharp. Right: Curators Douglas Fogle and Hanneke Skerath at Pivô. (Photos: Kevin McGarry)