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All Across Brazil, The Art Scene Is Shifting

Sep 20, 2013
Originally published on September 20, 2013 6:15 pm

Brazil is known for its music and distinctive dances, not necessarily for its paintings or photography. But that is changing. Not only are Brazilian artists now getting big play in major museums around the world, but something new is happening inside Brazil: There's a burgeoning appetite for art.

"It's booming. Brazilian art is booming," says Brazilian photographer Claudio Edinger, whose work was being exhibited at a recent photography art fair in Sao Paulo. A Rio de Janeiro native, Edinger lived for decades in the United States, but moved back to Brazil because his work sold more in his native country.

Edinger's pictures capture a country in flux: the bright lights of Rio at night; the soft folds of hammocks on a barge in the Amazon. He says the country is undergoing a transformation.

"Our references are all new, we are creating our references right now, so there are a world of things to do here that you don't find anywhere else," he says.

And, he adds with a wink: "Money makes art grow."

And there is money. Lots of money.

In the past decade, Brazil's economy has boomed, many of the poor moved into the middle class, and the rich got richer. People started to travel more, including to museums and galleries in New York, London and Paris.

People here have become less parochial, analysts say, and their appetites more sophisticated. And the younger set seems to be leading the way.

"There's definitely more happening, galleries opening, people talking about art," says Marianna Suchodolski, a 22-year-old Brazilian who studied art in the U.S., as she browses photographs for sale at the art fair with her mother. "People who really looked down on art — you know, I had friends who called it finger painting — and nowadays there's a lot more interest in it, and taking it seriously."

Fernanda Feitosa, founder and director of SP-Arte, the biggest annual art fair in Brazil, says there is a whole new class of people buying art.

"The fair has helped to promote the awareness in the young wealthy community of younger professionals who became more successful in their works," she says. "Art has become a preoccupation, a point of interest, and for some of them, an investment."

Numbers are difficult to track because the market here is so new, and many people don't disclose what they buy, says Feitosa. But from what's been registered at her art fair, she can see the appetite for art is growing, with sales doubling year to year.

And as demand rises, so do prices.

Collector Silvio Frota owns more than 2,000 photographs, and calls Brazilian art a great investment. In the past five years prices have gone up, and they will continue to rise, he says. That gives galleries more incentive to show the work Brazilians are creating, and artists more motivation to produce, he says.

But it's not just about buying.

For the past few years, according to an international survey of attendance at art exhibitions, Brazil has topped the charts with record-busting turnout for big museum shows. Many of them are free, attracting people from all social groups.

And the world has taken notice of Brazilian art. This year there will be a massive pavilion in the Art Basel show in Miami Beach, Fla., dedicated to Brazilian art.

There are shows of Brazilian artists slated as well in major museums.

This month, painter Mira Schendel is having an exhibition at London's Tate Modern. A top tier gallery, White Cube, has also opened the first foreign gallery in the country.

Back at the art fair, photographer Edinger says Brazil has always been fetishized — the beaches, the music, the women. But the culture here goes much deeper, he says, and it needs art to thrive.

"In many ways, we have a lack of education, a cultural void that needs to be filled if we are to become a nation," he says. "There is no nation in the world without strong cultural identity, and we are building that. It's fantastic."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Brazil has long been known for its music and distinctive dances, not for painting or photography, but that's changing. Not only are Brazilian artists now getting big play in major museums around the world, something new is happening inside Brazil, too. From Sao Paolo, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on Brazilians' burgeoning appetite for art.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: So I'm at the biggest photography art fair in Sao Paolo. All around me in the light-filled rooms perched on top of the most expensive mall in the city are 25 galleries and they're showing 250 works. The bubbly is flowing and deals are being made. Brazilian art is hot.

CLAUDIO EDINGER: It's booming. Brazilian art is booming.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's photographer Claudio Edinger, whose work was being exhibited at the show. A Rio de Janeiro native, he lived for decades in the U.S., but moved back to Brazil. His pictures capture a country in flux: the bright lights of Rio at night; the soft folds of hammocks on a barge in the Amazon. He says the country is undergoing a transformation.

EDINGER: Our references are all new. We are creating our references right now, so there is a world of things to do here that you don't find anywhere else.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there's something else, too.

EDINGER: Money makes art grow.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And money, there is - lots of it. In the past decade, Brazil's economy has boomed, many of the poor moved into the middle class, and the rich got richer. People started to travel more. That included trips to museums and galleries in New York and Paris and London. People here have become less parochial, analysts say, and their appetites more sophisticated. And it's the younger, as always, who seem to be leading the way.

Marianna Suchodolski is a 22-year-old Brazilian who studied art in the U.S. She's at the fair today looking at what's on offer with her mother, a collector.

MARIANNA SUCHODOLSKI: There's definitely more happening, galleries opening, people talking about art. People who really looked down on art, you know, I had friends who called it finger painting and nowadays there's just a lot more interest in it, and taking it seriously.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fernanda Feitosa is the founder and director of SP-Arte, the main art fair in Sao Paolo, one of the galvanizing forces in the art world here. She says there is a whole new class of people buying art.

FERNANDA FEITOSA: The fair has helped a lot to promote the awareness in the young wealthy community of younger professionals who became more successful in their works. Art has become a preoccupation and a point of interest, and also perhaps for some of them, a point of let's diversify investment and invest in art.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says numbers are difficult to track because the market here is so new, and also many people don't disclose what they buy. But by what's been registered at SP-Arte, she can see the appetite for art is growing.

FEITOSA: What we hear from the fair is like every year, galleries improve their sales by 30 percent. Last year, the number of works sold was 45 million reals and this year was 100 million reals. So we doubled.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And as demand rises, so do prices. Silvio Frota is a collector. He owns over 2,000 photographs.

SILVIO FROTA: (Through translator) Today, it's a great investment. In the last five years prices have gone up a lot and that will continue. And it's good because it gives incentive to galleries to show the work people are doing and for artists to produce it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's not just about buying. For the past few years running, according to an international survey of attendance at art exhibitions, Brazil has topped the charts with record-busting turnout for big museum shows here. Many of them are free, and they attract people from all social groups. The world, too, has discovered Brazilian art.

This year there will be a massive pavilion in Art Basel Miami dedicated to Brazilian art. There are also major shows slated as well. This month, painter Mira Schendel is having an exhibition at London's Tate Modern. A top tier London gallery, White Cube, has also opened the first foreign top tier gallery in the country.

Back at the photography art fair, Claudio Edinger says Brazil has always been fetishized, the beaches, the music, the women. But the culture here goes much deeper and it needs art to thrive.

EDINGER: We have a lack of education, a cultural void that needs to be filled if we are to become a nation. There is no nation in the world without strong cultural identity, and we are building that. It's fantastic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paolo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.