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Reflections on Brazil: Katrina Brown, Director, The Common Guild

by Katrina Brown
Image: Engrossed by films in the Hudinilson Jnr exhibition at MAC, Sao Paolo

Research visit to Brazil, led by the British Council and supported by Creative Scotland.

The opportunity to visit Brazil in September 2014 was hugely welcome as it was a country in which I had scant knowledge of the contemporary art scene or its institutions. In addition to this, the visit was scheduled to allow a visit to the Sao Paolo Biennial. Although I had worked with some artists from Brazil in the past, and had from them some idea of the situation, I knew little about the institutions and I had only actually visited Rio de Janeiro before, never having been to the Biennial.

The schedule for the visits to both Sao Paulo and Rio were pretty perfect in terms of how much we got to see and learn, and the range of institutions we visited and met with, from artist-run spaces to major cultural institutions and museums. The very first visit – to the Itaú Cultural- was especially informative and interesting, thanks to the 2 excellent curators – Sofia Fan and Paulo Myiada – who spoke to us about the institution itself and the major ‘Rumos’ programme it has been running since 1997. This served as an engaging introduction to that particular institution, but also to the broader context of the non-commercial sector in Brazil, which is largely supported through a national payroll tax scheme.

We heard more about this funding structure at the incredible SESC Pompeia arts complex , where we also encountered the remarkable ‘Videobrasil’ project and its 2014 exhibition, ‘Unerasable Memories’, a thematic look back through the collection of some really powerful and significant video work, offering personal narratives and unique perspectives on various world events and histories by artists from all over the world. It was especially good to get to know about ‘Videobrasil but also to appreciate the quality and ambition of its work through the beautifully presented exhibition, which was introduced to us by the Argentinian curator, Agustín Pérez Rubio

The view from the south at MAR, Rio de Janeiro
The view from the south at MAR, Rio de Janeiro

As ever with inter-institutional visits such as this, so much of any future outcome depends on the potential ‘fit’ between institutions, which – in my experience – tends to be best identified through programme activity: do we work with the same or similar artists? Are we working on a similar scale, to similar budgets and timeframes? Several of the institutions we visited are working on a scale that would suggest the most natural collaborators here in Scotland would perhaps be the national institutions, rather than the kind of small- / medium-scale independent organisations that many of us on the trip represent. There were many surprises and interesting discoveries: some of the education and outreach work being done at, for example, the MAM in Sao Paolo and the MAR in Rio, was exceptional and inspirational. While the more established and collection-based institutions such as MASP in Sao Paolo and MAM Rio were of interest – not least for their remarkable architecture – the possibilities of co-operation were not so evident, especially where they were focused on the work of Brazilian or South American artists, as was the case at, for example, the Casa Daros in Rio. Where we did nonetheless see a fantastic exhibition of the Daros collection in the making and understand more about the relationship between Brazil and the rest of South America.

The ‘add-on’ visit to Inhotim at the end of our trip was quite different, not least as Inhotim itself is such a unique and distinctive ‘institution’ and the visit was really mostly welcome for the opportunity to see this renowned place in the flesh and to see the works collected there.

While I might have appreciated more time to visit some of the galleries, especially in Sao Paolo, it is always possible to find and meet with them elsewhere, through art fairs such as frieze London or Art Basel, but it is always interesting to see them in situ and understand the scale and pitch of what they do. Although I did manage to squeeze in a visit to an artist in Sao Paolo, as a curator it always feels strange to visit a place without getting a sense of the art scene form the artists who live and work there.

Ernesto Neto installation at Instituto Tomie Ohtake
Ernesto Neto installation at Instituto Tomie Ohtake

I have certainly come away from the visit with a very clear, useful and developed knowledge of the art scene in Rio and Sao Paolo, which I hope will feed into future work, both for The Common Guild and more generally into the possibilities in Scotland. I also feel that I know and understand more about Brazil as a cultural country, especially through the visits to the Daros Foundation and the incredible ‘Histórias Mestiças’ exhibition at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake , which also ran a very interesting ‘young curators’ programme, the likes of which would be a fantastic development in Scotland, where opportunities for emergent and / or freelance curators are limited.

1. Article on SESC and its funding in The New York Times
2. ‘Histórias Mesticas’ in Mousse