Silent Nights

Left: Architect Rodrigo Ohtake and writer Ana Carolina Ralston at Z42. Right: Artists Lenora de Barros and Raul Mourão at Jacaranda.

IN A PACKED GALLERY AT JACARANDA, a new artist-run space in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Lenora de Barros kicked off a string of openings and parties surrounding the sixth edition of ArtRio with a performance in which she nailed paper letters forming the word silence to a wall. Her very loud action spells out the very absence of sound, a noisy and visual translation of the bizarre state of affairs in this city still in financial hangover from the Olympic Games. The sporting event that ended over a month ago left indelible marks in urban planning here, some of it now resembling scar tissue outlining glitzy postmodern contraptions already rotting under the sun, like Santiago Calatrava’s Museu do Amanhã.

So while some noise was made before the official VIP opening on a recent Wednesday, a gloomy silence dominated sales and the mood. The first days of spring in Rio came with cold gusts of wind, heavy clouds on the horizon and rounds of thunderous showers. Dealers idled at their stands waiting for collectors who wouldn’t show up in the smallest edition of ArtRio since its inception in 2011. The five warehouses it used to occupy along the oceanfront have now been reduced to three-and-a-half and most top-tier galleries from abroad—Gagosian, Pace, Hauser & Wirth, White Cube—aren’t to be seen. David Zwirner is the only superpower left, braving the turmoil, perhaps helped by the fact that Greg Lulay, a director at the gallery in New York, still has a seat in the event’s selection committee.

Left: Artist Brígida Baltar at the opening of her solo show at Nara Roesler. Right: Sergi Arbusà inside his installation at the Museu da República.

Max Perlingeiro, founding partner of Pinakotheke Cultural, a Brazilian blue-chip secondary market empire with branches in São Paulo and Rio, also sits on the board, but didn’t mind telling me upfront that this is not a fair for closing deals. “It’s more a vitrine,” he said, in his empty stand on opening day. Though the sun outside would come and go, temperatures inside the Píer Mauá soon rose with news of a scandal involving Graphos, a young gallery making its debut at the fair. In the first hours of the vernissage, a group of dealers denounced Graphos to the selection committee, alleging the gallery had brought a score of fake works to the event, among them pieces by Willys de Castro, Raymundo Colares, Ubi Bava, Antônio Maluf, and Maurício Nogueira Lima, all mainstays of Brazilian modernism and highly desired by collectors. Ricardo Duarte, the owner of the gallery, was forced to take down the works in question, an episode that dominated party banter around town.

At a cocktail on the rooftop of Caesar Park hotel on Ipanema beach, dealers and critics speculated on what could be real and what was fake. Brenda Valansi, director of ArtRio, showed up in an orange dress with a smile that would not leave her face for the rest of the evening. She told me the issue would be settled with a careful review of the documents related to each piece—but in a country where catalogues raisonnés are rare and signatures on authenticity certificates are sold and trafficked by money-hungry inheritors, will this lead to clearer answers?

Left: Artist Katia Wille at Z42. Right: Writer Beta Germano at ArtRio.

Scandals aside, the week brought to light the best and the worst of a series of new art spaces in Rio. They go from the gritty warehouses once abandoned and now teeming with artists in the old port area of Santo Cristo to a castlelike mansion in Cosme Velho, near the Christ statue that looms over the city. A show at Átomos, a place that actually squats the first three floors of an abandoned building doubling as a parking lot and studio for artists Manoela Medeiros and Romain Dumesnil, was named after a verse in Caetano Veloso’s song “Baby,” something about living in South America’s greatest city. While he was talking about São Paulo when he wrote the classic, artists like Adriano Costa, Vivian Caccuri, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Carlos Vergara, and the collective Opavivará made it sound like an ironic homage to Rio with works discussing the hype and failure of the sexiest of Brazilian cities. Powerful curators like Jochen Volz, behind this year’s Bienal de São Paulo, and the Guggenheim’s Pablo León de la Barra browsed the good pieces on display.

In contrast, Z42, an artist residency and exhibition space that took over a mansion near Corcovado, had a silly selection of works hung alongside similarly ridiculous captions. If it were all a joke, what a piece of institutional critique it would have been. But it wasn’t. The house later filled up with the fashion crowd as Vogue magazine rented the basement for a party. Nearby, the Solar dos Acabaxis, another abandoned mansion, was made over to house yet another art space. They had a bash on opening night, making it clear that Rio still shines beyond the dark clouds hovering over Píer Mauá.

Left: ArtRio founding partner Elisângela Valadares and Leo Jassus at Z42. Right: Inhotim founder Bernardo Paz, ArtRio partner Elisângela Valadares, and Pirelli CEO Paolo dal Pino at ArtRio.

Left: Curators Jochen Volz and Tobi Maier at ArtRio. Right: Curators Pablo León de la Barra, Bernardo de Souza, and Victor Gorgulho at Átomos.

Left: Curators Tereza de Arruda and Danniel Rangel at the opening of ArtRio. Right: Directors of Casa Triângulo gallery Rodrigo Editore and Ricardo Trevisan at ArtRio.

Left: Dealer Nathalia Lavigne and artist Ana Holck at ArtRio. Right: Dealer Myra Babenco, artist Iole de Freitas, and dealer Raquel Arnaud at an opening at Jacaranda.

Left: An Opavivará performance at the opening of ArtRio. Right: Eduardo Rodrigues and artist Eduardo Sued at his show at Mul.ti.plo Espaço Arte.

Left: Artist Lenora de Barros’s performance at Jacaranda. Right: Iole de Freitas’s installation at Jacaranda.

Left: One of Regina Silveira's installations at the Fundação Eva Klabin. Right: Artist Regina Silveira at the opening of her solo show at the Fundação Eva Klabin.

Left: View of the exhibition at Átomos. Right: View of the exhibition at Átomos.