A Brazilian Biennial

One of the few Biennials that doesn’t carry its city’s name, the Mercosul Biennial reaches its 5th edition as one of the greatest Latin American art shows in the world. Since 1997 the event has been held in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil. It takes place in nine different locations in the city: museums, cultural centres, port warehouses and public spaces such as the Guaíba Lakeside and Glênio Peres Square. The exhibition presents approximately 900 artworks by 173 different artists from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay.

Curated by the Brazilian art critic Paulo Sergio Duarte, together with three assistant and six international curators, the 5th edition was conceived around the theme "Histories of Art and Space"; a rather classic subject that could work as the starting point for several different exhibitions. "Instead of standing up for a personal thesis – which would satisfy my ego and reinforce respectfulness among my colleagues – the exhibition project aims at bringing the general public closer to contemporary art. In a country such as Brazil, it wouldn’t be fair to use US$ three million [the show’s budget] to support a personal vision of art", says Duarte. These ideas help to explain the didactic, and sometimes conservative emphasis of the exhibition, which is divided into four thematic sections based on formal categorisations: The Persistence of Painting, From Sculpture to Installation, Directions in the New Space and Transformations in the Public Space.

The works presented in the first section seem to illustrate the insistence of painting more than its persistence. Though it contains some very interesting pieces, most of them don’t bring anything particularly new to the debate about contemporary painting. Among the works that do succeed in doing this are the object-paintings by Dudi Maia Rosa, created with resin, pigments and fibre glass, and works by Nuno Ramos, which also question the bi-dimensional nature of painting, although in a much more ostensive way – his pieces literally throw themselves out of the canvas. The second section brings vigorous examples of the work of artists who, just like Dudi Maia Rosa and Nuno Ramos, are already renowned in Brazil. Lucia Koch is one of them. She has covered three gates of one of the port warehouses with a slightly coloured translucent canvas. The procedure, which is already a trademark of Koch’s work, transforms the light, as well as the landscape, of the large exhibition room. Another good example is the installation by Laura Vinci – a giant hourglass called Máquina do mundo [Machine of the world] (2004-2005). The piece is comprised of an apron that transports, grain by grain, a large quantity of sand from one side of the room to the other. Finally, the third section presents photography as well as video and web artworks, while the fourth consists of two temporary interventions and four permanent ones, built during the exhibition by the Guaíba Lakeside.

In terms of quantity and, most importantly, of quality, the Brazilian production is the star of the 5th Mercosul Biennial. Among the 173 participating artists, 83 are from Brazil and many of them are represented by more than one work. "The great amount of Brazilian art is proportional to the international projection and respect it has been achieving. No other country in Latin America is recognised in the same way", says Duarte. Amílcar de Castro, the artist chosen for the tribute in this edition, has more than 150 pieces being exhibited, including jewels, drawings, sculptures, paintings and public artworks. One of the great names of Neoconcretismo, together with Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, Castro is known for his steel sculptures, which he builds using no more than two simple movements: cutting and folding. The tribute is actually a great chance to see remarkable examples of the sculptor’s work all assembled in the same place.

The aim of bringing the general public closer to contemporary art – which prompted Duarte to divide the show into the four mentioned sections – also led him to preference renowned names instead of young and lesser known ones. The great majority of Brazilian artists participating in this edition have already gained national, and in some cases international, prestige. That’s the case with Tunga, Ernesto Neto, Waltercio Caldas and Adriana Varejão, just to give some examples. "Mature works offer better elements to bring the spectators closer to the artistic production. Less experienced works, even if they may have incredible qualities, generally commit more mistakes", explains Duarte.

The option not to take risks didn’t prove to be as safe as the curator imagined. On the one hand, it did give the public the opportunity to become familiar with essential names in Brazilian contemporary art, which is certainly a notable achievement, especially in a country where even the greatest contemporary artists are completely unknown by the people. On the other hand, it didn’t accomplish one of the crucial roles of a show such as a biennial: that of revealing new artists and trends. Not that biennials should always present only young artists and take 100% risk, but I do think they must be open to new production (even if the biennial format is not always compatible with projects developed nowadays) and there is indeed a percentage of risk they should assume. In the 5th Mercosul Biennial, however, this percentage doesn’t exceed 10%. One of the few names representing this minority is the young artist Thiago Rocha Pitta. He presents a simple but extremely potent video. From an airplane window he has filmed the whole trip from Santos Dumont Airport (situated in the middle of the city of Rio de Janeiro) to Congonhas Airport (situated in São Paulo, also close to great avenues and skyscrapers). The work presents the most popular Brazilian air route – which links two cultural and economic centres – in a very particular and poetic way. Pitta’s video proves it is possible to support new names without being afraid of being mistaken.

* Texto originalmente publicado na revista Contemporary Magazine, em abril de 2006. A 5a Bienal do Mercosul aconteceu em Porto Alegre entre 30 de setembro e 4 de dezembro de 2005.
** Máquina do mundo, 2004-2005, de Laura Vinci.

Nenhum comentário: