Jonathas de Andrade, O Levante (The Uprising), 2012, digital video, color, sound, 7 minutes 59 seconds. Production still. Photo: Ricardo Moura.

Jonathas de Andrade, O Levante (The Uprising), 2012, digital video, color, sound, 7 minutes 59 seconds. Production still. Photo: Ricardo Moura.

Cruzamentos: Contemporary Art in Brazil”

Jonathas de Andrade, O Levante (The Uprising), 2012, digital video, color, sound, 7 minutes 59 seconds. Production still. Photo: Ricardo Moura.

NÃO VAI TER COPA! There won’t be a Cup! This refrain has become ubiquitous in Brazil, registered in spray paint and Twitter characters and encapsulating tensions that have risen steadily since June 2013, when demonstrators across the nation began protesting the government’s lavish spending on facilities for the upcoming World Cup and Summer Olympics and its simultaneous neglect of basic public services. The phrase also appeared in Jonathas de Andrade’s O que sobrou da 1a corrida de carroças do centro do Recife (What’s Left of the 1st Horse Cart Race of Downtown Recife) 2012–14, an immersive installation commissioned for “Cruzamentos: Contemporary Art in Brazil” at the Wexner Center for the Arts. Here, the Recife-based artist presented text excerpted from news items relating to the protests alongside his 2013 video O Levante (The Uprising). For the latter work, Andrade staged a race between horse-drawn carts—which were recently outlawed despite their continuing economic importance to Recife’s poor—allowing the cart drivers to dominate again, however briefly, the northeastern city’s commercial center. Andrade’s project embodies several concerns that were at the core of “Cruzamentos”: an emphasis on documentary video, crosscutting genres, and looking beyond the Rio–São Paulo corridor. It was exceptional, however, in its direct invocation of the socio-economic tensions that have erupted into conflict in concert with Brazil’s skyrocketing growth.

While one might have expected these strains to play a more overt role in the show’s organizational framework, the curators opted not to highlight any particular thesis or overarching themes. Organized by the Wexner’s Bill Horrigan and Jennifer Lange with Rio-based art historian Paulo Venancio Filho as guest cocurator, “Cruzamentos”—which translates as “intersections”or “crossings”—brought together works by thirty-five artists from or working in Brazil to offer a broad view of artistic practices that emerged in the wake of the nation’s military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985. The wide-ranging exhibition included works by veterans of the international art scene such as Jac Leirner, Beatriz Milhazes, and Regina Silveira alongside pieces by Márcio Almeida, Theo Craveiro, Lucia Koch, Vânia Mignone, and many others whose names are largely unfamiliar to US audiences. The result was a heterogeneous installation that, while visually dynamic, remained conceptually opaque in the absence of explicit framing devices: Works were not installed according to any clearly discernible thematic groupings, and wall texts for individual pieces did little to illuminate shared contexts and concerns across galleries or the exhibition as a whole.

Nevertheless, curatorial juxtapositions provided suggestive glimpses into the historical, regional, and socioeconomic conditions underpinning contemporary artistic practice in Brazil. Works in the first gallery set the stage by conjuring the weighty legacy of the country’s post–World War II industrial boom and modernist movements. Claudia Andujar’s series “Através do Fusca (Rear Window)” (Through the Fusca [Rear Window]), 1976/ 2013, introduced the idea that the rapid modernization of Brazil’s cities colors perceptions of even its most remote territories, by documenting a journey from downtown São Paulo to the remote northern state of Roraima through the windows of her Brazilian-made Fusca, or Volkswagen Beetle—a key signifier of the nation’s postwar economic “miracle.” Nearby were two of Luiza Baldan’s Pinturinhas (Tiny Paintings), 2009–12, photographs which collapse and condense the intersecting planes, colors, and textures of Affonso Eduardo Reidy’s Pedregulho housing complex, a curving icon of midcentury Rio, into two-dimensional compositions.

Threads from this initial grouping surfaced elsewhere in the installation. The remote landscape through which Andujar retreated was vividly captured in works such as Cinthia Marcelle’s video Cruzada, 2010, shot at the intersection of two rich-red dirt roads in the state of Minas Gerais. The ongoing housing crisis—the original rationale for Pedregulho’s construction—figured in Laura Belém’s Veneza do Brasil, 2007, in which miniature versions of makeshift shanties built on stilts along the riverbanks in Recife float serenely in a large water tank. Marcelo Cidade’s Intramuros (Interwalls), 2006, was one of the most striking installations in the exhibition, evoking some of the tensions encapsulated in Andrade’s works. Here, rows of bricks studded with broken glass wedged in cement (of the type commonly used to deter undesirables from climbing garden walls) were felicitously placed along the Wexner’s Peter Eisenman–designed interior ramp. The contrast between the jagged edges of this ad hoc security system and the pure white expanse of elegant institutional architecture underscored the displacement from Brazil to Ohio of many of the works on display and reminded viewers of the uneven pace of economic growth and the unequal distribution of privilege, both within Brazil and internationally.

In a sense, such global crossings were the real theme of the exhibition. Horrigan, Lange, Venancio Filho, and their colleagues conceptualized “Cruzamentos” as the centerpiece of “Via Brasil,” a multiyear Andrew W. Mellon Foundation–funded Wexner initiative that coincides with the opening of an Ohio State University “Global Gateway” office in São Paulo to facilitate academic and economic exchanges. It comes, in other words, at a moment when culture, politics, and global economic development are closely intertwined, and when contemporary art continues to be deployed as an access point for international audiences to engage with foreign contexts. The exhibition’s open-ended approach left viewers to connect the dots on their own, and perhaps do little more than skim the surface of the deep reservoir of issues underlying the diverse and richly textured works on display.

Jennifer Josten is an assistant professor of the history of art and architecture at the University of Pittsburgh.