Head Above Water

Frank Expósito at the 11th SP-Arte

Left: SP-Arte fair director Fernanda Feitosa. Right: MASP artistic director Adriano Pedrosa. (All photos: Frank Expósito)

“PURCHASE POWER comes from optimism,” said SP-Arte fair director Fernanda Feitosa confidently on the second day of its eleventh edition. Fresh off Brazil’s reelection of President Dilma Rousseff and news of its shrinking economy, the national art market had yet to be tested under new conditions. The worst, I was told, was yet to come. Yet despite this, the fair had generously welcomed on its first day five thousand guests who had—optimistically or not—drunk one thousand bottles of champagne.

“It has affected our mentality,” said dealer Alessandra d’Aloia of Galeria Fortes Vilaça, referring not to the festive consumption but rather to the largest political corruption scandal in Brazil’s recent history, allegedly involving kickbacks by state-owned oil company Petrobas—consistently strewn across the front pages. “Art offers an escape from that,” d’Aloia explained. International dealers like Monica Manzutto, on the other hand, planned for the reality of 40 percent markups for imported art. “Knowing the situation, we chose to bring younger artists,” she said. That week, all would see if art behaved more like a mirror or if it turned a blind eye.

The fair itself was designed to grow organically within the sinuous interior of Oscar Niemeyer’s Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion, which it has occupied since its first edition. This year, the building’s third floor was reserved for its inaugural “Open Plan” exhibition that left the floor in its “natural state,” without partitions amid the canopies.

Left: Dealers Andrew Hamilton and Pedro Mendes. Right: Dealer Luisa Strina.

But below, the art being sold contradicted architectural confinement. Carolina Caycedo examined the impact of dams on surrounding populations at Institution de Visión in the solo section of the fair, curated by Instituto Inhotim’s deputy director Rodrigo Moura and Contemporary Art Museum Bordeaux director and curator María Inés Rodriguez. “The indigenous people of Colombia believe that all rivers are connected,” said bright-eyed dealer Omayra Alvarado. Caycedo’s video showed rivers turning in on themselves in a kaleidoscopic mélange. “Those peoples remember that the sea came first. If we’re not connected, it’s easy to take three-hour showers during shortages.” The work recalled the low water levels in California as well as those currently plaguing Brazil. “I can’t escape it,” said collector Mera Rubell, about the environmental themes she was seeing in work by contemporary artists. “Last night I dreamed I was at one of these dinners at a friend’s who had run out of water, and all the lights turned off. I was the only one with a lighter.”

Deeper in, Noguerasblanchard showcased Bochner-inspired work of Cuban artist Wilfredo Prieto involving two pebbles and a spotlight. Upstairs, Alexander Gray dedicated its curated booth to artist Luis Camnitzer for the gallery’s first appearance at the fair. The historical works included the diptych Canales, 1980, which addresses the creation of canals after Panama to redistribute world power. Galeria Fortes Vilaça showed anthropomorphic work by Erika Verzutti and Ernesto Neto, while Luisa Strina showed work by Brazilian Beto Shwafaty that made apparent the failed promises of oil in the development of Brazil. “The real dropped by a third in value in the months leading up to the fair,” noted dealer Eliana Finkelstein.

Outside the fair, duo Gisela Motta and Leandro Lima and installation artist Ana Maria Tavares addressed the shortage trope at Galeria Vermelho. In one of Motta and Lima’s works, Chora-Chuva (Cry-Rain), 2014, blue buckets filled with water are equipped with an internal speaker that plays the sound of falling droplets, vibrating the clear liquid to create reverse-gravity mandalas that exist only for a moment. In another, the level of the “dead volume” of the country’s water reserve is painted bright sapphire on the lower periphery of the black outer walls of the gallery. “The Brazilian government brought in an expert from California,” said dealer Jan Fjeld. “Over there is a nine-ton water tank; it’s a very important part of this project.” Back inside, Tavares’s video installation took apart the facade of Alfred Loos’s plan for Greta Garbo’s house with rushing river water. The house included a design feature that would allow onlookers to see Garbo bathing naked in her backyard pool. It was unclear if she was ever in on the provocation.

Left: Artist Marina Abramović. Right: Dealers Eduardo Brandão and Eliana Finkelstein.

The next day, over a long, traditional Brazilian lunch of steak, rice, farofa (fried cassava flour), and chocolate brigadeiros with New York dealer Simon Preston and Brazilian artist Jessica Mein, discussions moved from the local gallery scene to distinctions between Paulistas and Cariocas. Mein was showing her billboard painting series at the fair as well as at Galeria Leme’s local Brutalist space, designed by Pritzker Prize–winning Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha. The work engaged with the inheritance of the interior. “We can’t be a Club Med for the world,” said the artist about Brazil. “This is why Paulistas are generally negative. We often contradict the Rio mentality of carefree consciousness, which has been stereotypically limited to the body.”

That night, dealers Pedro Mendes, Matthew Wood, and Felipe Dmab hosted their annual house party. “We kept the guest list tighter this year,” said Mendes, though there seemed to be a thousand infiltrators. “We get party spies who come in early to let others know,” explained Wood. “This year I told them we would play bossa nova and turn in early.” But of course that trio never turn in early. This year they even offered their guests a place to charge their iPhones should they run out of juice Instagramming. “There’s an outlet in the Neïl Beloufa upstairs,” said Wood. Guests like Guggenheim UBS Map Latin American Curator and Casa França director Pablo Leon de la Barra, curator Bernardo Mosqueira, collectors Eduardo and Camilla Barrella, and dealer Sylvia Kouvali hung off the third-floor balconies or danced in the basement to TLC’s “Waterfalls.”

Left: Dealers Monica Manzutto and Jose Kuri. Right: Dealer Luciana Brito (right).

Museo Jumex chief curator and interim director Julieta González had just taken a post as adjunct curator at the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, which opened two shows that night in a first of a series that will delve into the history of the collection. The exhibition displays are a reconstruction of the project designed by Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. “It’s so interesting how we both ended up here at the same place—MASP’s artistic director Adriano Pedrosa and me—in a way rejecting contemporary art all together,” said González. “It’s so much fun! And Adriano can do it because he came from that world.” An upcoming show at MASP will reconsider the anthrophagic work of Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral, a dual show with the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

At the Lina Bo Bardi–designed SESC Pompeia, Marina Abramović was celebrating her exhaustive local retrospective. “Since I first came to Brazil in 1985,” she said, “I’ve taken material from here and showed it somewhere else. Now I’m taking the material and bringing it back.” For “Terra Comunal,” all objects come from collections in Brazil. Along with the Abramović Method, three large-scale installations, Abramović curated eight long body-art performances by local artists. Each at one point seemed to have cited Abramović as an influence in their work—particularly Grupo Imprensa, whose bloodletting recalls Abramović’s early durational performances.

Left: Dealer Jacqueline Martins. Right: Dealer Daniel Roesler.

A select few from the art world accompanied Abramović to amfAR’s Inspiration gala the next night, where two socioeconomic classes attended the open-air manor. One served, while the other posed in sequins and propped their hair before friendly cameras. Cocktail hour turned into “How to Model 102.” Kate Moss didn’t like to take free pictures, learned one cameraman whom she had apparently pushed the year before. Naomi Campbell forgot to thank the gala’s chair, Dinho Diniz, in her opening speech for hosting the event again this year and had to backpedal later on.

Kylie Minogue performed; honoree Cher didn’t. Abramović and Vik Muniz blended in with Jean-Paul Gautier, Ricardo Tisci, and Kenneth Cole, along with Victoria’s Secret model Izabel Goulart and New York club promoter Ladyfag. Plastic gold chalices held dry champagne. Few ate their stuffed tomato appetizer. “I hate this part,” said Valentino brand ambassador Carlos Souza between cigarettes during the night’s auction, which included Givenchy travel luggage and Harry Winston diamonds. “The reason I’m here is not because I have deep pockets. It’s because I worked with Elizabeth Taylor.” The benefit that night raised $1.8 million for AIDS research—money in exchange for goodwill and a good time. Maybe D’Aloia was right. That weekend, 200,000 protesters took to Avenida Paulista demanding answers to Rousseff’s corruption. A lucky few, days before, had welcomed Cher to SP-Arte, though there wasn’t word if she bought anything.

Left: Kylie Minogue at the amfAR gala. Right: Curator Pablo León de la Barra.

Left: Dealer Stephen Friedman. Right: Jan Fjeld.

Left: Dealer Matthew Wood. Right: Dealer Sylvia Kouvali.

Left: Collectors Don Rubell and Mera Rubell. Right: Dealer Nicolo Cardi.

Left: Art Rio director Brenda Valansi. Right: Dealers Alessandra d’Aloia and Alexandre Gabriel.

Left: Curator Julieta Gonzalez. Right: Dealer Rodrigo Editore.

Left: Dealer Omayra Alvarado. Right: ArtBO director María Paz Gaviria Múñoz.