Ernesto Neto La vida es un cuerpo

Music isn't the only rhythm


Colourful Rio, its spectacular carnival, samba schools... In recent dec­ades a more diverse rhythm has been building, of contemporary art fairs introducing a host of young emerging artists.

"Is there a Brazilian contemporary art scene?" you may ask. Indeed there is, one whose vitality and diversity is well established since it dates right back to the Sixties. Let us look back to some pioneers who initiated this new Brazilian art scene. First, Hélio Oiticica (died 1980) whose Parangolés, in which men in costume-sculptures performed black slave dances in public places, gave perf­ormance art an avant-garde identity. As did Artur Barrio in 1969-70: again in public places, he dump­ed 60-70kg packages of meat (a person's weight) loosely wrapped in blood-stained cloth. A provocation denouncing political assassin­ations – don't forget the country only shook off dictator­ship in 1985. In that decade Antonio Jose de Barros Carvalhos e Mello Mourão, known as Tunga, produced his first installations mixing sculpture, video and photography. In painters such as Nelson Leiner (born 1932) the influence of Pop Art is very evident. We see the rational world of Walt Disney shoulder-to-shoulder with the irrational world of death inherent in South American cultures. Photography also proved an artistic means of political dissent. The recent exhi­bition Photographies America Latina 1960-2014 at the Fondation Cartier in Paris allowed us to discover pioneers such as Antonio Manuel, Hélio Oiticica, Claudia Andujar, Anna Bella Geiger and Regina Silveira.

Headlining and emerging artists
Among today's successful artists, three stand out. Rio-born Beatriz Milhazes produces multi-coloured canvases and geometrical collages inspired by the carnival and her country's luxuriant nature. Vik Muniz uses literally anything – choco­late, sugar, blood – to create portraits which he then photographs. Ernesto Neto's big, soft, biomorphic sculptures, sometimes filled with fragrant spices, can presently be seen and experienced in the Bilbao Guggenheim until 18 May. Around these three – arguably figureheads but undeniably very present on the international art scene – there is of course a host of emerging artists, as we could appreciate recently at Madrid's 33rd ARCO international contem­porary art fair, a much-favoured showcase for Latin American art, where no less than 14 Brazilian galleries exhibited. Thanks to a hopefully stable upturn, the world's sixth largest economy is also feeding the art market.

"There's a boom in Brazilian art"
So many gallerists and Latin American art experts have been saying for some years. Works by Beatriz Milhazes, Vik Muniz or Adriana Varejao can easily fetch $500,000 (€400,000). Eliana Finkel­stein, president of ABACT, the Brazilian contemporary art association that represents some 40 galleries throughout the country, says: "Brazil is a very prosperous and promising market. Over the last 10 years or so we've seen an incredible surge in sales, buyers and collectors." This artistic vitality we can admire 'in the flesh' from 6 June at Lyon's contemporary art mus­eum, in the evocatively titled exhibition Imagine Brazil, a sort of quintessential snapshot of what Brazilian contemporary art can mean today, with more than 20 young artists showing. Thierry Raspail, co-curating the exhibition with Gunnar B. Kvaran and Hans-Ulrich Obrist, feels: "Brazil wants to be watched, not from the outside, like some ethnographic specimen, but from the ins­ide. Its relationship with Western art has existed for a very long time, that's what distinguishes it from the emerging Indian or Chinese art scenes, which have fewer links with Europe. The young artists born in the 80s and 90s are following in the footsteps of their predecessors, who never split away from Europe or Western art but tried to reverse the pattern by sending their art to the West. They've bought into this modernity dating from the 50s. Brazil accepted the principle that it wasn't cut off from the world and had to neg­otiate, accept or contest everything that arrived from Europe." For many professionals, Sao Paulo continues to be the global benchmark for Latin American art, if only because of its renowned biennial dating from 1951, although the advent of ArtRio, that city's contemporary art fair started in 2011, is tending to create some positive rivalry within Brazil's art community. Thierry Raspail believes these two hubs are encouraging "interesting young gallerists such as Mendes Wood, who presents an emerging scene in which we find Paulo Nazareth and also Paulo Nimer Pjota who's known the world over for his street art. These galleries make sure they attend all the big international fairs to promote young Brazilian artists. In a way that's the positive side of globalisation."