The Rio Deal

Frank Expósito at the 4th ArtRio

Left: ArtRio director Brenda Valansi. Right: Curators Pablo León De La Barra and Julieta González. (All photos: Frank Expósito)

OPEN RELATIONSHIPS are racy; they reconsider the “you and I” in an otherwise closed system by granting foreigners entry, if only for a moment. For the fourth edition of ArtRio, the Cariocas once again opened their city to the Paulistas, their fellow Brazilians from São Paulo. “I don’t know what first went down between them,” mentioned fair director Brenda Valansi, addressing the fraught relationship between the country’s two largest cities. But Valansi’s sights for the fair are not domestic. “I didn’t decide to do ArtRio to compete with SP-Arte,” she continued. “I created ArtRio to compete with Art Basel.”

Notoriously closed off to global markets by large tax hikes for imported goods, Brazil is currently working to rebrand itself, with Rio leading much of its economic and political change on the world stage. The World Cup was just the tip of the iceberg; overnight oil billionaires have created an entirely new demand for art in Brazil, prompting radical cultural shifts. Last year, after Valansi petitioned the Ministry of Culture, Rio de Janeiro became the country’s first state to receive tax breaks for the sale of international art. São Paulo was soon included and, during this year’s fair, it was announced that the neighboring state of Minas Gerais would be granted fiscal clemency too.

But even more challenging than changes to state policy may be entertaining an art-world outpost amid the throngs of its thirty-first biennial. “It’s like inviting New York to LA,” mentioned Mendes Wood DM’s Felipe Dmab at his gallery’s joint fete with Galeria Fortes Vilaça, held at dealer Márcia Fortes’s beach apartment on the second night of the fair. Though New Yorkers might shudder, because of proximity, Paulistas often flock to the tropical city. This year, it would also be curators and collectors who attended the biennial’s opening then dashed to Rio. “I’d rather fly to Rio,” continued Dmab. “Our ‘Hamptons’ is thirty minutes from São Paulo, but driving there takes two and a half hours. Everyone comes to Rio over the weekends because it’s easier.”

Left: Dealer Luisa Strina. Right: Dealer Luciana Brito.

It was an international crowd at that Ipanema apartment that night. I saw Dmab’s cohosts, dealers Pedro Mendes and Matthew Wood, with Galeria Fortes Vilaça’s Alessandra d’Aloia. Guggenheim UBS MAP Latin America curator Pablo León de la Barra chatted with Museo Rufino Tamayo’s senior curator Julieta González—both of who were in Rio to cocurate the fair’s solo project. Fundación Jumex’s Patrick Charpenel, Galeria Vermelho’s Eliana Finkelstein, Instituto Inhotim’s Rodrigo Moura, curator Ricardo Sardenberg, Fiorucci Art Trust’s Milovan Farronato, artist Emilia Azcárate, and local collectors Fabio Szwarcwald and Gabriela Moraes were there, as was apparently Brazil’s equivalent to Julia Roberts.

The lights in the apartment kept dimming as if to signal the end of the night, but it was actually to reinvigorate the crowd. “This is Rio!” Warm air came in from the open windows. It was only when Fortes’s mother made an appearance—presenting those still buzzing with an elegant tray of espressos—that we were bid a (naturally hospitable) “get out.” It was 4 AM. As we crammed into the apartment’s elevator on our way elsewhere, “Só Love” (Only Love), a popular Brazilian tune, rang out from the group. “This is Rio!” exclaimed another partygoer over tall glasses of Bohemia beer at a subsequent bar we wouldn’t let close. As the sun rose, Brazil’s national bird, the Rufous-Bellied Thrush, took charge of the melodies.

Earlier that night, Rio de Janeiro–based artist Renata Lucas debuted The Museum of the Diagonal Man, the result of the Absolut Art Award she won in 2013, in an abandoned warehouse two blocks up from the fair. The work, among other features, takes apart two of the warehouse’s walls and places them on a turnstile axis set into the existing structure. The exterior graffiti of one was sliced in half, enabling the crooked smile of an evil clown to rotate in and out of the building.

Left: Director of Fundación Jumex Patrick Charpenel. Right: Galeria Fortes Vilaça’s Alessandra d’Aloia and dealer Felipe Dmab.

But before the celebration had begun, part of the newly released wall came crashing down. Someone had pushed the work to its limits, making it spin too quickly, and causing the work’s outer bricks to fall. The piece appeared to lose some of its laser-cut preciseness, but some found this to their liking: “It looks better now; it looks more real,” a few bystanders agreed. What happens to public works when no one is looking? Are they still legitimate if neglected and so independent from their publicness? And what if that publicness slowly corrupts it?

Charpenel had given a talk that day on the state of the art object. He spoke about art as tools in the example of the Danish art collective Superflex and their project, Supergas, where manure is turned into cooking fuel inside a large mechanical huevo. Outside the fair, the “Marginal” beltway that once ran along the outskirts of Rio and served many of the city’s bus lines was being torn down as part of the city’s rezoning plans. The ongoing construction dotted the path to Lucas’s work with stone piles and bulldozers. “Is there a road to Renata?” dealer Luisa Strina asked me a few hours before the unveiling. It looked as though it was still being built.

At the fair, which had opened the day before, Strina was showing a freestanding sculpture by Pedro Reyes, part of the artist’s “Colloquium” series, which comprises stacked speech bubbles made of marble. Yet, in their impossibly mortarless arrangement, the bubbles appear weightless, like hollow plastic. It sold in the first few hours. “His work is usually about violence, but I like this because it joins multiple conversations into one.” The gallery was celebrating its fortieth anniversary back at its São Paulo white cube with a multicolored installation by Rio de Janeiro–based artist Cildo Meireles. The gallery will also show at the Independent’s upcoming fair, Independent Projects—its first collaboration with established galleries—that will run alongside the auctions in New York this November. “It took forty years for the gallery to get to New York,” Strina continued. “We’ll be showing Marcius Galan because he deals with space. New York is a new space for us.”

Left: Fiorucci Art Trust director Milovan Farronato. Right: Curator Ricardo Sardenberg.

Galeria Nara Roesler opened a new exhibition by local Vik Muniz at their Rio gallery, and at the fair they showed Muniz’s rephotographed photographic collages. Luciana Brito presented Waldemar Cordeiro. Galería Espacio Mínimo reserved one of their walls for a graphite sphere by Liliana Porter. Baró Galeria had three works by Ricardo Alcaide, while Curro y Poncho showed Luis Alfonso Villalobos. At A Gentil Carioca, which was celebrating its ten-year anniversary that week, artist Ernesto Neto was enlisted to speak about the work on display, including a collapsible sculpture by José Bento, “part Sol LeWitt, part Lygia Clark.”

De La Barra and González’s solo project “Concreto / Concreto: Plan Piloto,” located in the second pavilion, took concrete poetry as a building material, uniting individual booths into one proper exhibition with the work of Pablo Accinelli, Guy de Cointet, Lucas Simões, Antonio Dias, Mauro Restiffe, Elena Damiani, and Matheus Rocha Pitta, among others, in a structure that spelled out “Lixo” (trash) when seen from the site’s accompanying staircase. Two years ago, the curators created a project that brought the Tijuca forest into the fair, dirtying the exhibition’s walls with mud and shrubbery. Reactively, the adjacent Gagosian booth built an extra wall to block out the installation. “This year’s platform allows us to see what is going on in other cities, like Caracas,” Bogotá-based Instituto De Visión director Omayra Alvarado mentioned to me before artist David Medalla arrived to give a reading of a posthumous letter to Concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houédard, one of the program’s highlights. “It allows us to know what it’s like to be Latin American.”

That night the festivities continued at the opening of Casa Daros’s “Ilusões” (“Illusions”), which showcased the work of Luis Camnitzer among more literal takes on the theme by Los Carpinteros, José Damasceno, and Mauricio Alejo. Camnitzer, A Gentil Carioca’s Márcio Botner, artist Fernanda Gomes, Casa Triângulo’s Ricardo Trevisan and Rodrigo Editore, and New York dealer Henrique Faria joined the local crowd.

Left: Artist Emilia Azcárate. Right: Emmanuelle Grossi and Instituto Inhotim director Rodrigo Moura.

Next stop was collector Frances Reynolds’s party for London-based artist Oscar Murillo, who had been invited to a residency at the collector’s sprawling Jardim Botanica mansion. Upon arriving for the stay, Murillo had been struck by the fact that the house staff was predominantly black. He said he couldn’t ignore it. So the artist, dressed in a white jumpsuit, worked as a member of the house staff for the entirety of the residency. In a speech given at the start of the evening, Murillo chastised the country for what he perceived to be blatant “colonization,” which prompted Rio-based artist Tunga to leave the party and eventually brought Reynolds to tears.

Guests tried to enjoy the outdoor party after the polemical address, but it wouldn’t be so easy. The once pristine jumpsuit, now dirty by the knees, swayed overhead as a reminder. Murillo stood firm amid a fray of questioning. “Do you even know who Paula Cooper is? Do you?” badgered collector Luiz Augusto Teixeira de Freitas, referring to successful social activists in the art world. “Do you know who Karl Marx is? Read it again,” pursued another. Murillo shook his head and responded to the questions about his integrity with more questions. “Do you know of any other artist coming from the working class in Latin America? Do you know how much Gabriel Orozco sells now?” The crowd could not be satiated. On my way out, David Zwirner’s Greg Lulay gave the artist a congratulatory hug.

Back inside the house, I noticed an impressionistic seascape by Brazilian painter Lucas Arruda on the mantle of a wooden piano. It reminded me of the view I had just seen into Rio from the courtyard that was even better than the one on Vista Chinesa, a site perched high up Rio’s hand-planted forest that was made to commemorate the one hundred farmers imported from Macau to plant tea in the nineteenth century. Rio was the first Brazilian city to receive Chinese immigrants. Though the ongoing construction of it felt very far away, on that last night, the city seemed rife with possibility. Open relationships are uncomfortable, and that’s why they resonate. Above the courtyard, Christ the Redeemer glowed closer than I had ever seen it. I could almost make out the creases in the folds of his white robe.

Left: Renata Lucas's The Museum of the Diagonal Man. Right: Artist Renata Lucas.

Left: Mendes Wood DM’s Matthew Wood and Felipe Dmab. Right: Dealer Márcia Fortes

Left: Artist David Medalla. Right: Artist Ernesto Neto.

Left:  Dealer Henrique Faria. Right: A Gentil Carioca’s Márcio Botner.

Left: Artist Luis Camnitzer. Right: Curator Pablo León De La Barra and Julieta González’s solo project “Concreto - Concreto- Plan Piloto” at ArtRio.

Left: Collector Luiz Augusto Teixeira de Freitas. Right: Collector Frances Reynolds.

Left: Artist Beatriz Milhazes. Right: Absolut Art Award's Saskia Neuman and A Gentil Carioca's Elsa Ravazzola.

Left: Artist Fernanda Gomes. Right: Artist Lucas Simoes.

Left: Artist Pablo Accinelli. Right: Artist Ricardo Alcaide with dealers Luis Valverde Espejo and José Martínez Calvo.

Left: ArtRio's Luiz Calainho and Elisangela Valadares. Right: Bia Rosa and dealer Daniel Roesler.

Left: Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation director Jesús Fuenmayor. Right: Collector Eduardo de Almeida Pires Filho and dealer José Castañal.

Left: Curator Bernardo Mosquiera. Right: Dealer Alessandra d’Aloia and curator Abaseh Mirvali with dealer Alexandre Gabriel.

Left: Dealer Francisco Borrego Vergara. Right: Dealer Greg Lulay (right).

Left: Dealer Joao Azinheiro. Right: Dealer Maria Baró (center).

Left: Dealers Henrique Miziara, Elisio Yamada, and Jacqueline Martins. Right: Dealers Carlos García Montero Protzel and Cecilia Jurado.

Left: Dealers Nate Hitchcock and Adriana Farietta. Right: Dealers Livia Benavides and Omayra Alvarado.

Left: Museu de Arte do Rio director Paulo Herkenhoff. Right: Dealers Rodrigo Editore and Ricardo Trevisan.

Left: Opening of ArtRio. Right: Orange County Museum of Art's chief curator Dan Cameron and critic Sergio Martins.