PRINT February 2001


Guggenheim for Brazil

BRAZILIAN ART CIRCLES are variously welcoming and wary over news that Rio de Janeiro may become home to the first Guggenheim Museum branch in the Southern Hemisphere. In November, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation announced that it would undertake a “feasibility study” to investigate cultural projects in Brazil, but grand plans are already well along. Thomas Krens, director of the foundation, has visited the country three times in thirteen months. Frank O. Gehry, the architect behind the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, on his first-ever visit to Rio last fall, praised the “Cidade Maravilhosa” (wonderful city) and expressed his desire to build there. Rem Koolhaas, architect for the Guggenheim’s planned Las Vegas branch, is involved via his AMO research group. And Edemar Cid Ferreira, president of the Associação Brasil +500 and the Brazil-US Council, nonprofits formed to promote Brazilian culture, is officially on board; his organizations are funding the study.

According to Ferreira, a Guggenheim complex in Rio would cost between $300 million and $500 million, several times the bill for the Bilbao branch. While the price is steep, the returns look promising: The Guggenheim Foundation would establish a presence in a highly visible city; investors would profit from an adjacent hotel complex and convention center; and Rio would attract still more tourists. Lauro Cavalcanti, director of Rio’s Paço Imperial, is among the art world’s optimistic: “The interest in a city with as many cultural institutions as Rio is a recognition of the health of the cultural milieu.”

Some in the Brazilian arts community, however, fear that existing cultural institutions, already short on finances, will suffer in the shadow of a Rio Guggenheim. “What’s needed is a necessity study, not a feasibility study,” cautioned Paulo Herkenhoff, curator of the 24th São Paulo Bienal and currently adjunct curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Isabella Prata, director of the Núcleo Contemporâneo de Museu de Arte Moderna São Paulo, criticized the plan more vehemently. “The winner in this business is the Guggenheim, and the losers are all the Brazilian institutions. We’re still acting like some Indians open to exploitation by a new set of colonizers. . . . Wouldn’t it be better to invest in Brazilian institutions?”

Teixeira Coelho, director of the São Paulo Museu de Arte Contemporânea, suggested a compromise—a more remote location (as with Bilbao), outside the Rio-São Paulo axis. “The museum should be installed in a city where there isn’t a strong cultural and artistic context . . . [which] could stimulate cultural production and tourism,” he said. The Guggenheim Foundation is in fact considering an outpost in Brazil’s northeastern region—Recife and Salvador have been named—but this would be in addition to, not in place of, a Rio branch.

Time will tell whether the Guggenheim ever comes to Brazil, but Brazil will definitely be coming to the Guggenheim—once, that is, Ferreira’s association raises $8 million, the full cost of mounting the Guggenheim’s “Brazil: Body and Soul,” an exhibition of Baroque and modern art and architecture scheduled to open at the museum’s New York flagship in September 2001 and at Bilbao the following spring.

Celso Fioravante is a journalist based in São Paulo. Translated from Portuguese by Clifford Landers.