The Rio World

Rio de Janeiro

Left: ArtRio founders Alexandre Accioly, Brenda Valansi, Elisângela Valadares, and Luiz Calainho. Right: Artist Vik Muniz.

YOU CAN COMPLAIN about the one-hundred-degree heat when it’s still officially winter. Or the twelve-dollar semifrozen sandwich that’s more Arte Povera than food. You can contemplate sending an urgent plea to Human Rights Watch to ban loud, impromptu performances of the Blue Man Group at art fairs. But if you were an ArtRio visitor last week you could hardly deny the cheerful atmosphere that goes with the setting. Sure, the food was appalling. But you downed that inspired “sandwich” staring at the nineteenth-century castle on the tiny Fiscal Island, in the Guanabara Bay.

And this being Rio, just when you think of waxing poetic about the 1889 ball that brought fame to that island—the last great wasteful pageant of the Brazilian Empire, which would be overthrown within days—you bump into the great-great grandson of the deposed Dom Pedro II. Dom João de Orleans e Bragança, who displays no air of royal entitlement, walked around with a broad smile and a new girlfriend, the artist Cláudia Melli. Unlike the 47 percent of freeloaders populating Mitt Romney’s imagination, he earns his living (and pays his taxes) by making cachaça and running an inn in picturesque Paraty, the seventeenth-century town on the Atlantic coast between Rio and São Paulo.

Left: Artist Claudia Moreira Salles. Right: Collector Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, Paula Bergamin, Kreëmart founder Raphael Castoriano, and Doris Bicudo.

The second edition of ArtRio was a far bigger event than the first and it attracted sixty international galleries, twice as many as last year. The four founding partners (Alexandre Accioly, Brenda Valansi, Elisângela Valadares, and Luiz Calainho) decided to irk paulistas and the hosts of the São Paulo Bienal, and put Rio in the international arts circuit—in that order, it seems. They are celebrating big numbers, even if the only ones they can officially quote are the visitors (75,000). If you took a brisk walk with a gallery owner, you would hear that a Tarsila do Amaral painting was sold for more than $7.5 million. White Cube might have sold $1 million worth of goods during the private view, even though gallery director Daniela Gareh was far more circumspect in her assessment of ArtRio’s prospects.

Gagosian, the biggest presence, with two showrooms and $130 million worth of art alone on display, unloaded, it is rumored, works by Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, Lucio Fontana, and Cecily Brown. (International celebrities such as Damien Hirst, whose presence was announced by several PR teams, never materialized, but a few out-of-town art luminaries—Kenny Scharf, Neville Wakefield, Jean Pigozzi—dropped by Gogo’s big party at the Fasano hotel on the Wednesday of the fair.) More than one visitor who marveled at the muscle of the Gagosian show longed for the gallery’s furniture. It was specially designed by artist Claudia Moreira Salles, whose iron-wood bench was not for sale but will travel to her solo exhibition in New York in 2013. In the huge exhibition set up by Gagosian at a pavilion on the end of the string of piers, the usually shy Salles was overseeing the installation of the stands she designed for sculptures. “I have opted for many shades of gray,” she winked.

Left: Dealer Marcio Botner of A Gentil Carioca Gallery. Right: Dealer Daniela Gareh of White Cube.

Marcio Botner, artist and founding partner of A Gentil Carioca, echoed many exhibitors’ satisfaction with a visit by deep-pocketed collector Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, which resulted in “interesting” sales. Waltercio Caldas, a contemporary of Helio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, took a walk with us along the piers that housed his work in two galleries and confessed he couldn’t agree more with John Baldessari’s oft-cited remark about these kinds of events. (You know: For an artist, an art fair is like walking in on your parents having sex.)

And for the exhibitor? No such tortured fantasies but plenty of material for nightmares. Pigeons invaded a string of gallery booths that had no protection from the elements and the place was promptly nicknamed “favelinha” (little slum). “The fair grew too fast,” complained Alberto Magnan, an early supporter and member of this year’s organizing committee. “There is no buyer market to support the size of the fair,” said dealer Gregor Podnar, who sold one piece by Swedish conceptualist Alexander Gutke to a Brazilian institution. A veteran São Paulo gallery owner who, unsurprisingly, reacted to the fair’s many shortcomings as carioquices (a derogatory reference to the behavior of cariocas, Rio natives), said that, in spite of all the headaches, the business was enough that he has to come back next year. “And it’s much fun!” he said. This carioca, who didn’t take the comments personally, couldn’t agree more.

Lucia Guimaraes

Left: Artist Waltercio Caldas. Right: Charmaine Picard and curator Neville Wakefield.

Left: Liliana Leirner and artist Nelson Leirner. Right: Artist Claudia Melli and Dom João de Orleans e Bragança.

Left: Dealer Luisa Strina. Right: Emilio Kalil, culture secretary of Rio de Janeiro.

Left: Walter Salles, director of On the Road, and artist Maria Klabin. Right: SP-Arte founder Fernanda Feitosa.

Left: Artist Marçal Athayde. Right: Artists Carlito Carvalhosa and Clifford Ross.