PRINT Summer 2010

Adriano Pedrosa

CONTEMPORARY ART INSTITUTIONS perpetually run the risk of inadequately performing their fundamental task of exhibiting work that artists are currently producing—and so are doomed, in a sense, to become ossified and therefore outmoded in the face of newly emerging formats and processes favored by each new generation of artists with access to unprecedented technologies of production and installation. Although drawings and paintings everywhere fit into white cubes, some other artworks require conditions that traditional institutions are rarely able to offer. Some exhibition spaces have fostered or even brought into being such new kinds of work: One may think of the parkland in Münster, the pavilions in Venice, and the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London as privileged sites due to the physical, topographic, or financial resources they make available to artists—even if such venues tend to be available only temporarily.

Some permanent installations of oversize, outdoor art have succeeded (Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, 1970, offers a historical example; Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, 2004, in Chicago’s Millennium Park could count as a more recent one), but these tend to be single works—whether in urban or remote environments. Sculpture parks, meanwhile, provide a model for the permanent display of museum-grade collections, but they restrict themselves mostly to traditional sculpture and quickly reach their spatial limits so that they become historical by default if not by intention. The practice of collecting substantial numbers of ambitiously scaled and technically complex works (including but not limited to sculpture) and displaying them on a permanent basis is almost unheard of. Yet any museum that wishes to take stock of the range of art being produced today needs to consider the challenge posed by the proliferation of such works: How can they be acquired, maintained, and made available to the public beyond documentation, plans, and photographs? The category of the museum itself, typically architecturally confined and entrenched as it is in its original urban context, might not be sufficient to respond to such needs—“unless, that is, the category can be made to become almost infinitely malleable,” to borrow a phrase from Rosalind Krauss’s essay “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” (1979), which heralds the shifts in the nature of sculpture and in the practice of object making in general that have placed the museum in its current predicament.

One alternative paradigm for the collection and display of contemporary art is currently being developed in the interior of Brazil, in the small town of Brumadinho, some forty miles from Belo Horizonte, the country’s third-largest city: the Instituto Inhotim. This museological complex (for lack of a better denomination—the nomenclature is tentative) opened to the public in 2006 and has rapidly gained international recognition; it has, for instance, been featured several times in these pages. Despite its remote location, Inhotim is one of the most visited of Brazilian institutions, with 130,000 visitors in 2009. The claim that no Latin American city has been able to produce a world-class international contemporary art museum still holds true: Inhotim is just such an institution—but in a rural setting. In various buildings and sites spread over nearly 250 acres, it has amassed (and continues to collect) artworks in all media, though it is best known for its ability to purchase or commission and permanently exhibit large, site-specific installations. (Full disclosure: I coedited Inhotim’s catalogue Através: Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporânea in 2008.)

A number of outdoor pieces establish a strong rapport with the terrain, their positions selected and surroundings at times landscaped with substantial input from the artists: Chris Burden’s enormous Beam Drop Inhotim, 2008; Simon Starling’s upturned boat The Mahogany Pavilion (Mobile Architecture No. 1), 2004; Dan Graham’s mirrored glass pavilion Bisected Triangle, Interior Curve, 2002; and Valeska Soares’s video installation Folly, 2005–2009, which is installed in a whimsical building of the artist’s own devising. Hélio Oiticica’s Invenção da cor, Penetrável Magic Square #5, De Luxe (Invention of Color, Penetrable Magic Square #5, De Luxe), 1977, another outsize sculpture in ebullient dialogue with its environment, was reconstructed at Inhotim following the detailed plans and sketches left by the late artist. Other works that have been exhibited elsewhere on a temporary basis have found permanent quarters at Inhotim: Cildo Meireles’s Através (Through), a labyrinthine five-hundred-square-foot installation, was first exhibited in 1989 at the Kunststichting Kanaal Art Foundation, Kortrijk, Belgium; Olafur Eliasson’s By Means of a Sudden Intuitive Realization was made for the first edition of Manifesta, in Rotterdam in 1996, and is now nestled in a corner of Inhotim’s gardens; Doris Salcedo’s architectural installation Neither was first produced in 2004 for London’s White Cube, whose interior dimensions are replicated in the building constructed to house it at Inhotim.

The institution and its curators—Jochen Volz, Inhotim’s artistic director, who formerly worked with Daniel Birnbaum at Portikus in Frankfurt and at the 2009 Venice Biennale; Allan Schwartzman, who is also a New York–based art consultant; and Belo Horizonte native Rodrigo Moura—seem to know no limits and are able to establish long-term collaborations with artists in order to develop new commissions. It is not so much a matter of unlimited funds—in fact, given the very restricted demand for such large works and the handful of institutions that can buy them, they are proportionately much less expensive than more collectible gallery-scale works. What is at the heart of Inhotim is its commitment to artists, and that above all is what distinguishes it from other institutions. Its flexibility, moreover, means Inhotim is able to bring works into its collection through different processes, whenever possible in dialogue with artists. Rivane Neuenschwander, for instance, restored an old building at Inhotim to install her Continente/Nuvem (Continent/Cloud), 2007. Doug Aitken took five years to finish his Sonic Pavilion, 2009, which consists of a building erected around a hole about one mile deep and a foot wide, which is lined with concrete and has microphones hung deep inside to capture the sound of the earth—a work that would surely never have been made without Inhotim’s support. Jorge Macchi was invited to transform an image from one of his small watercolors into an outdoor sculpture, which he did with Piscina (Swimming Pool), 2009, a large pool with an adjacent patio. Matthew Barney designed a geodesic glass and mirror pavilion to house his De Lama Lâmina (From Mud, a Blade), 2004–2009. Adriana Varejão’s paintings and sculptures are installed in the only pavilion with a distinguished architectural character, a stark brutalist box designed by Rodrigo Cerviño Lopez. The roster of artists most heavily represented in Inhotim’s collection attests to the breadth and independence of the institution’s program. It includes names celebrated in Brazil and abroad, yet steers clear of the household names that populate so many United States collections, such as Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, and Richard Prince. New individual pavilions are currently being planned with or for the work of Miguel Rio Branco, Carlos Garaicoa, Cristina Iglesias, Lygia Pape, Pipilotti Rist, and Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Such audacity comes at a price. Perhaps as a symptom of its voracious collecting spirit, on the one hand, and feeble marketing strategies, on the other, Inhotim has committed certain faux pas that would embarrass institutions in the Northern Hemisphere. Consider its branding—within its short history, it has already had three different names: Centro de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim, Inhotim Centro de Arte Contemporânea, and finally (or provisionally), Instituto Inhotim. In addition, its buildings, although large in number and mostly new, have architecture of an uneven quality, which extends to Inhotim’s overall design. If the recent buildings are more purposeful or have been designed in collaboration with artists, the galleries predating 2004 are mainly built in a generic international suburban style. An architect pointed out to me that one of these buildings in fact deploys a template from a well-known architectural computer program. It is telling that while museums across the globe are commissioning stellar architects to refashion old buildings and erect new ones, Inhotim focuses its efforts on long-term collaborative projects with artists, keeping the architecture deliberately low-key.

An inevitable question that accompanies discussion of the project is, Where do all the resources come from? Inhotim was founded by the mining entrepreneur Bernardo Paz, who personally finances the institution. Much has been said in Brazil about the origins of the money—that some of it was routed through an offshore company in the Caribbean to evade taxes—but nothing has been proved. Despite Paz’s alleged megalomania (he has been compared to both Fitzcarraldo and Willy Wonka), he has been wise to increasingly retreat and grant artistic direction to his curators, making the institution stronger than his own persona—a difficult path for all pioneering collectors. He has certainly managed to distance himself from the so-called Miami model, whereby private collectors refashion themselves into curators of their own institutions and inscribe their names on their buildings’ facades. Although Inhotim is born from a private collection, it has become a private nonprofit institute, which owns a number of permanent installations donated by Paz—those of Aitken, Barney, Burden, Janet Cardiff, Eliasson, Victor Grippo, Macchi, Meireles, Oiticica, Salcedo, Tunga, and Varejão.

Any type of urban setting would be inconceivable for such a sprawling collection. One must leave the city behind and find the museum “in the backlands,” as Moura puts it. Galleries and exhibition spaces are here dispersed in an expanded field, where the distinctions between art and site, between architecture and landscape, are all blurred. Even if Inhotim’s land is limited, its territory seems endless—there are not enough hours in the day to cross all of its terrain by foot. The white cube has long been left behind, recomposed in the infinite green.