Pride and Prejudice

Left: Artists Cibelle Cavalli Bastos and Raúl de Nieves. Right: Curator Milovan Farronato, dealer Felipe Dmab, and artist George Henry Longly. (Except where noted, all photos: Andrew Durbin)

“LAST NIGHT I DREAMED OF NOTHING: Pure black. And a voiceover: the voice of Marilyn Monroe.” So begins a letter written by the Cyprus-born artist Christodoulos Panayiotou to the Italian curator Milovan Farronato, director and curator of the Fiorucci Art Trust in London. The missive—a winding consideration of that many-faced god Marilyn—serves as the press release for “Prediction,” a full-throated exhibition curated by Farronato at Mendes Wood DM in São Paulo. Heady but sexy, “Prediction” considers queer legacies, the melancholy of the afterhours, and the specter of Marilyn in the work of twenty-six international artists (many from London, many recognizable citizens of le monde de Milovan). Opening in tropical winter during the holiday weekend of Corpus Christi, “Prediction” preempted the twentieth São Paulo LGBTQ parade—the largest in the world—and began a rollicking twenty-four hours of boozy delirium in Brazil’s largest city

“We made our own parade,” Farronato told peripatetic dealer and Milovanista Felipe Dmab, who bounced around the opening arranging and rearranging the bevy of international and Brazilian artists, writers, and curators into as many configurations as he could imagine. “We need these worlds—New York, London, and São Paulo—to overlap,” he said. Or to flood one another, as they did in the gallery’s several rooms, three of which were devoted to “Prediction,” while Brazilian-born, London-based artist and musician Cibelle Cavalli Bastos opened a solo show in the fourth. Dmab and dealers Pedro Mendes and Matthew Wood toured both shows with many friends of the gallery, including PIVÔ’s artistic director Fernanda Brenner and her partner, the artist Paloma Bosquê, whose exhibition opens here in August; Anna Bergamasco, cofounder of Boates Fine Arts; and artist Daniel Steegman Mangrané, who was about to head to Berlin for its ninth Biennale.

Left: Artist Roberto Winter. Right: Artist Daniel Steegmann Mangrané and Eli Sudbrak.

By early evening, a critical mass gathered in Wood’s tropical garden to observe a sealed-off, triangular room—visually the busiest—where Farronato brought together a queer aquarium of thirty six individual works, including three live cobras (George Henry Longly), paintings of the dealers’ genitals (Celia Hempton), an ornate chandelier of beads (Raúl de Nieves), and a body cast of Roge Ferro, Brazil’s most famous (straight) porn star. It was a parade or a mini-biennial in the drag of a parade or something, no one could quite put their finger on what. Perhaps it was simply a party, a very big and colorful one punctuated by performances throughout the afternoon and night.

Continuing his Marilyn theme, Panayiotou locked the gallery adjacent to the garden around 6 PM and only allowed one person to enter at time, and only if they were invited by one of São Paulo’s persons of interest, Luiza Bernades, dressed as a black-haired Monroe (“blonde would just be too fake,” she told me) and so a kind of ghost made flesh behind glass. Eventually, Roge Ferro himself arrived by bus from Rio de Janeiro, a large camera crew in tow (he is currently the subject of a documentary), stripped in the front of the gallery between a Panayiotou photograph of a bust of Marilyn and a platform sculpture by Prim Sahib. A handsome, imposing figure, Ferro sidled into the crowd, which parted to allow Norma Jean to open the closed room for him. Inside, he promptly lay down on a bench and donned his body cast. The Instagram-ready crowd pushed up against the glass to film and photograph him doing nothing for thirty minutes before he got up, dressed, and joined the rest of us for Stella Artois in the garden. (Instagram’s industrious censors promptly removed my own video.)

“Prediction’s” inquiry into nightlife’s social pleasures was tested at the exhibition’s afterparty at Executivo Club. Farronato, who had slipped out of the opening for a quick wardrobe change, arrived in a white, lacey dress—a nuptial offering for his marriage to the city of São Paulo, which happily, greedily received him. Dealer Rodrigo Editore played his dutiful escort as they descended the stairs to the dance floor, where Sahib and Henry Longly—members of the London-based Anal House Meltdown—DJ’d for several hundred revelers. Curators, artists, advisors, collectors converged to their driving pop and house mixes, which occasionally shuddered with requisite bursts of Rihanna, maybe a thread of Beyoncé’s “Formation.” The party went on, as things at night in Brazil tend to do. At an obscene hour in the morning before the start of the parade proper, those-who-must-never-be-named decamped to Chili Peppers, the city’s high-octane, highly hygienic gay sauna, where many have gone and not returned before a vamped twenty-four hour cycle through its three-level, three hundred-or-so room complex of pools, a movie theater, and various “executive” suites of unintelligible shape and size. It’s less a sauna than a syndrome. (I heard several say they’d gone many times in the week, permanently hooked.) It is also where many of us, artist or otherwise, received our own Marilyn epiphany, somewhere in the labyrinthine pit of its pleasure dome, and left Norma Jean back home.

Left: Artist Paloma Bosquê and PIVÔ artistic director Fernanda Brenner. Right: Artist Mathilde Rosier.

And then came the parade. Beginning at 10 AM at the levitating Museu de Arte de São Paulo on the city’s Avenida Paulista, the gay parade began with floats and phalanxes of dancing lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered men and women, people who identified with none of those things, straight fans, every imaginable type of person in every imaginable outfit or lack thereof. Teenagers painted in white-and-green with the rainbow flag wrapped around them. One trans woman in leopard print led a large bus of celebrants while thousands cheered. In no way resembling the corporate-sponsored, mostly white-gay-male-celebrating editions in the United States, São Paulo’s parade is the best possible argument for the complexity of human sexuality and identity—and for Brazil’s own diversity, a frequent point of local pride. I know, I know. I also don’t usually experience transcendence via the public spectacle of a parade, let alone a pride parade, but go, child, and see.

“I cried,” de Nieves later told me. So did Sahib and Henry Longly, who accompanied him. People from all over the country, from all five time zones stretched across the quadrangle face of Brazil, came and danced—Brahmas, a gnarly but popular corn-based beer, or shots of Cachaça in hand—in a collective revision of the city into a free space of sexual and political expression. Christians offered hugs. Drag queens were treated like celebrities. Much of the parade protested the right-wing government and the coup that had impeached the leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, on sketchy terms and replaced her with Michel Temer, an obvious lunatic who is sympatico with the dictatorship. AMAR SEM TEMER! read the signs—a pun on Temer’s surname—that means “loving without fear,” somewhat analogous to the less catchy “Love Trumps Hate” circulating in the US amid our own crisis of democracy. The crisis continues. We marched on.

Left: Artists George Henry Longly and Prem Sahib. Right: The 20th São Paulo LGBTQ parade. (Photo: Raúl de Nieves)