SAO PAULO, Brazil — Despite much ado about Brazil’s anemic economy, the recent SP-Arte (Latin America’s most prestigious modern/contemporary art fair) seems to have been a well-needed transfusion.
The fair, for which most of Brazil’s art community prepares the entire year, was held once again in the Bienal pavilion designed by Oscar Niemeyer and showed more signs of a recovering, than a slowing, economy. The government had savvily granted a partial tax holiday for the event – an effort to counteract the typically onerous transaction costs associated with buying anything in Brazil. This incentive seems to have had the desired effect with many works selling quickly in the opening hours of the fair.
Cher was smitten by the work of Columbian artist Olga de Amaral. Unfortunately for her, the work she most wanted was already sold.
While most fair sales involved the fiscally “safer” modern offerings by known artists, a surprisingly high number of works by younger, emerging Brazilian artists were sold as well, though collectors were more discriminating in this area.
Not only were Brazilian modern masters’ works in abundance (Mira Schendel, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Helio Oiticica, Cildo Meireles), galleries such as White Cube (who has a Sao Paolo outpost), Van De Weghe, and David Zwirner shared a selection of non-Latin American heavyweights (Basquiat, Calder, Warhol, Judd, Hirst).
Powerhouse Miami collectors Mera and Donald Rubell were all about town before and after the Fair preview – visiting galleries, artist studios, museums and private collections, while advisors and European collectors were also in abundance. Even Cher, in town as an honoree at the amfAR Inspiration Gala, was smitten by the work of Columbian artist Olga de Amaral. Unfortunately for her, the work she most wanted was already sold.
De Amaral’s luminous and luscious textile work (frequently in the $200k range) is typical of the Latin American fascination for the minimal, the conceptual and the strong presence of the artist’s “hand.” These characteristics carry through to the best of today’s younger Latin American set.
Here is my “Watch List” of emerging and mid-career Latin American artists (primarily Brazilian) who merit inclusion in anyone’s collection and are underappreciated outside of Brazil:
José Damasceno (b. 1968) groups everyday objects in ways that transform our perceptions of them. He has been included in multiple Sao Paolo Bienals and in the 52st Venice Biennale. Installations are $75k and up.
Lucas Simões (b. 1980) is among the youngest in this group and has a background in architecture and design. Challenging traditional uses of common materials, the majority of Simões’ current work involves juxtapositions of concrete and paper in ways that celebrate gravity and geometric principles. His works were readily snapped up at the fair by prominent, “in-the-know” Brazilian collectors (hint hint) and are well worth the $7k - $15k price range.
Afonso Tostes (b. 1965) collects hand tools from farmers and building sites, transforming the raw, well-worn handles into delicately carved sculpture, evoking human and animal bones. Formerly discarded, functional objects are elevated and preserved. The works are typically wall-mounted in multiple sculpture installations. While individual works begin at $3k, massive multi-part works of up to 50 sculptures range into the six-figure sums.
Rodrigo Matheus (b. 1974) is currently in residency at the Cité des Arts in Paris. Poetic and object-based, the artist’s work is largely guided by the “circulation of materials” and frequently incorporate postcards, travel documents and other ephemera presented as landscape in frames. Matheus is included in the impressively curated (Hans Ulrich Obrist is one of three) “Imagine Brazil” exhibition that has traveled from Oslo, Norway to Lyon, France to its present location in Doha, Qatar. The last and final exhibition will be in Montreal, Canada. Matheus’ works typically sell in the $25k - $35k range.
Eduardo Basualdo (b. 1977) is the one non-Brazilian in this group. The Argentinian will be included in this year’s Venice Biennale and commonly addresses the human body’s reaction to its architectural surroundings. Frequently large in scale, Basualdo’s works are often influenced by literature related to man’s position in the universe. The artist’s works vary greatly in price, depending largely on the scale of the piece.
Alexandre Da Cunha (b. 1969) currently lives in London and creates wall-mounted sculptures that are essentially sculptural assemblage. Enjoying the proximity between art and everyday life, da Cunha often deconstructs objects such as bicycles, mops and other commonly used materials into works that evoke modernist elegance. His current show of “mandalas” at Galerie Luisa Strina in Sao Paolo exemplify this technique. The “mandala” works are $60k each.
Paolo Monteiro (b. 1961) is a painter and sculptor who is one of the founders of Brazil’s “Casa 7” group. He completed a large-scale sculpture for MoMA and will be in another David Zwirner group show this summer. He rarely strays from an elegant, minimal line in his work, be they painted or cast. Watch for value here. Small-scale works begin at $4k.
Erika Verzutti (b. 1971) recently had her first solo museum show at the Tang Museum in New York, was included in a Guggenheim group show and will have a solo show at the Sculpture Center (Long Island City) at the end of this month (great value indicators). Most known for her bronze sculptures, she frequently uses paint or pigmented wax to create the impression of minerals within the sculpture. Sculptures, depending upon scale, are in the $15k - $50k range.
Ana Mazzei (b. 1980) produces sculpture, photography, video and sound-related installations. Influenced by walks through the city, her most intriguing recent work is concrete and felt sculpture that inhabits both wall and floor, creating minimal and modernist, Lilliputian urban architecture. Mazzei’s pieces range in complexity and price from $10k - $30k.
Fernanda Gomes (b. 1960) is among the most seasoned artists in this group with many biennials under her belt. As with several of the other artists, she works with everyday objects, yet her work is the most minimal and precarious feeling of all of them. Bits of wood, string, cigarette papers are the most frequent components of her work, which is almost always in palettes of white. A frequent target of the “I could have done that” comment, Gomes is a curator and collector favorite. Works begin at $20k.
Lea Weingarten, founder of the Weingarten Art Group, is a CultureMap contributor on major art fairs around the world. She has previously reported on New York's Armory Arts Week and the Dallas Art Fair.