International Arts Corespondent Andrea Shortell Sends This ArtLyst Exclusive Report, From The Sao Paulo Frontline.
São Paulo flourishes with cultural energy the weekend before the 30th Biennial begins, as if it were preparing for a tsunami of visitors. Every cultural space from the contemporary arte commercial galleries in the chic neighbourhood of Jardims opens its doors to invite Biennial-goers to one of their most important exhibitions of the year. A survey of Lygia Clark was inaugurated at the Brazilian bank’s cultural centre Itau, whilst downtown Tate curator Julieta Gonzalez put on a vibrant group show at Luisa Strina’s highly acclaimed gallery space. Just this week whilst the Biennial is still in its final tweaks, eight spaces from a university to a Chapel have taken in artists, who, whilst participating in the Biennial, have ventured out of the classic location with the intention of bringing the Biennial out of hiding. “The Biennial needs a city”, argues the chief curator, Luis Peres-Oramas. One could almost realise the concept, The Imminence of Poetics, of the Biennial without actually visiting the Oscar Niemeyer’s Pavilion, which sits inside the Ibirapuera Park.
The 30th Biennial, titled The Imminence of Poetics, includes 111 international contemporary artists collectively exhibiting some 3,000 artworks, 65% of which have never been seen before, and half of which were constructed specifically for the Biennial. The contact art has with the viewer and the space around it is what defines The Imminence of Poetics; how contemporary art works in a place of imminence; how its form is received in today’s world where our futures are still so uncertain.
There is the strong sense that all artists were chosen for their strong contemporary practice. Peres-Oramas states; “you don’t know anything about an artwork until you physically experience it”. Artists were chosen not because they were Latin American or Brazilian, but because they were successful artists and deserved to exhibit, argued Perez-Oramas. However, the variety of artists makes the Biennial seem like it could be in any city in the world: it is the immediacy of our reaction to these works, in these spaces, which forms the work. Our interpretation is valid. Of course, we see established names appearing: Robert Smithson, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Allan Kaprow. But where the praise goes to the team of curators is their pairing of already well-known artists with those practitioners who very much up and coming. Sofia Borges, Alexandre Navarro Moreira, Cadu, PPPP, Moris, are all artists who have produced their most significant body of work in the last five years.
Living in São Paulo’s version of the East End, Vila Madalena, artist Nino Cais (see below) speaks of his installation for the Biennial. “All of my work is sculpture”, Cais mentions, although looking at his work, that which ranging from collage to self-portraiture, one would think otherwise. It is his manipulation of the everyday, mundane objects, which is the starting point for Cais, turning “bad taste into good taste”. Think naff antiques, passed down by your grandmother. Cais has decorated his space with dozens of his own photographs, stuffing the space with inherited furniture and china, and covering the upper walls with an elongated curtain, of horrendous pattern, naturally. Once entering, the objects join to become one artwork which speak of Brazilian cultural, and for those who have no personal reference to the artefacts notice too the overload of “bad taste” which transforms itself into a delicate, poignant comment on our own home, our obsession with collection and storage.
Spanish born Daniel Steegmann Mangrané’s foreign insight into Brazil is displayed through his 16mm film, in which he walks through a rainforest. The sound of the projector and the noises of the wildlife in the film creates an unexpected relationship which match beautifully, forming an atmosphere for the viewer that evokes our fragile relationship we have with nature.
Across town, and across a myriad of neighbourhoods, one ends up at the centre of the city; although run-down, still houses the most magnificent architecture in São Paulo. Luz train Station, built by the Victorians in the 19th century sees the late Charlotte Posenenske’s sculpture from the 1967 D Square Tubes. It is fitting to see Posenenske’s concrete-minimal object shown in a train station: the artist was always interested in exhibiting her sculptures in places of transit; a station, traffic islands, airports. Posenenske was one of the pioneering artists of the German minimal movement of the 60’s, whilst believing that art is not bound to museums and cultural institutions, she strived to encourage public interaction with art outside of what can be perceived as an elitist art-world. Attracting people from all echelons of social class, Luz Train Station is the perfect home for Posenenske’s work.
At MASP, another Oscar Niemeyer creation, two artists, Jutta Koether and Bennet Rossel have responded to Nicolas Poussin’s 1638 painting “Hymenaious Disguised as a Woman During an Offering to Priapus”. Jutta Koether, who produced “Embrace/Etriente/Umarmung” I-III, is a series of three oil on canvas paintings made recently in response to the painting and the space, whilst curators chose Rossel’s 1974 film “Ceremonials” aware that the themes of celebration and ritual were both present in his and Poussin’s painting.
The president of the Biennial, Heitor Martins, has mentioned that this year the São Paulo Biennial, for the first time is evolving, growing to become like its older brother, the Venice Biennial. The curatorial group sought to make the São Paulo Biennial an event, not an art-event. Through its participation with important cultural institutions, the Biennial team have made education a priority. The Educations curator, Stela Barbieri, has made sure to invite a huge number of school groups from cities all across the state.
Free of charge an open to the public from Friday, the Biennial looks to attract more visitors than ever, its location sits perfectly inside São Paulo’s largest park, amongst the Museum of Modern Art, which just inaugurated the first survey show of acclaimed Brazilian artist, Adriana Varejão.
Diversified, energetic, and full of young and old talent, this year’s Biennial is certainly a success for MoMA curator, Luis Perez-Oramas.
Words/Photos Andrea Shortell © ArtLyst 2012