Words PEDRO MONFORT
While a great part of the planet has been keeping its eyes on the World Cup, NEVILLE WAKEFIELD, one of the most prominent and sought-after curators and writers in the art milieu, has kept his focus somewhere else. In 2011 he was commissioned by ABACT, the Brazilian Association of Contemporary Art, to conduct a study on emerging Brazilian artists, which has been published this year by Latitude, a platform for local art galleries that also took part in the research. He shared with us his discoveries and spot-on impressions on the different colors, shapes and forms currently being expressed in the Brazilian territory.
"Is it really happening?" he inevitably asks, and both of us laugh. It's funny, really, because as it turns out, Mr. Wakefield has maintained his attention not only on artistic manifestations but also on the times of upheaval being experienced in the country during the last few years as well as on the controversial handlings of the upcoming soccer event—and also because, unbeknownst to him, it is the exact question that has been taking over social networks and graffitied walls around the country. So much so that it has now become an inside joke among millions of Brazilians.
My answer is that it most likely will happen, albeit under a weird climate that surely wasn't part of the Country's administration agenda, following protests and public manifestations of different sorts. Right now Brazil is clearly divided between those who are anxiously waiting for the matches (and all the partying) to begin and those who are clearly dissatisfied with the way things have been handled. "We all want the World Cup, but not under these circumstances,” Neville comments, as he scores his first goal in the conversation.
He’s been to Brazil more than 15 times, “mainly to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. I actually went to Bahia because I shot a film with Matthew Barney out there. It was a film for this series called Districted, with Arto Lindsay. In a way, the survey came through a pre-existing interest in what these artists are doing.” He went on to clarify that “I’m very anti-surveys, generally. I think they suggest a false kind of continuity of ideas, of nationality, obviously, and all those kinds of things are problematic. As a curator, you are not an interest; you are interested, and your interests shape the journey that you take through whatever the scene is that you are observing.”
According to him, of the forerunners of this emerging landscape is Marcos Chaves, who is known for his work ‘Eu só vendo a vista’, among others. Against a classic photo of a breathtaking view of the city of Rio de Janeiro we see a play on the Portuguese verb ‘vendo’, which means both ‘to see and to sell’. “It represents the moment we have been witnessing in Brazil, where there is this economic efflorescence and cultural efflorescence, and what is seen is also being sold,” he expands.
Neville was already curious about a few artists before starting the official research, particularly in a few female artists. “I had a longtime interest in Renata Lucas and Cinthia Marcelle, who are doing not dissimilar things but coming from very different places to achieve it. I think both are, in some ways, about sort of choreographies of everyday life. It is still something that I was drawn to because in a way it seems Brazilian; in North America or even in Europe, where I come from, we’re not really so observant to that dance in the everyday.” And he scores again. We do have our way of dancing around day-to-day situations.
He makes it a point to clarify, though, that this wasn’t at all an attempt to boil these pieces down to a singular theme or pinpoint any theory in particular. “The idea that this is in some way trying to throw a lasso around Brazilian artists is crazy. But I think what it is trying to do is just pick my way through all points to the kind of interests that I had in this myriad of different possibilities. When you are doing a survey, there are a lot of different forms of curating to begin with. There is a form where you set up and you have a thesis and you set out to illustrate it. And your thesis might be: this Brazilian art is about concrete, or whatever, and then you are going to do that. That is not really interesting to me, and I don’t know that it is respectful using the art to make a point. And then the other thought is where you’re really just pursuing your interests and seeing where this curbsides with other people’s interests”.
Although the works that were brought to surface through the research are very diverse, Mr. Wakefield recognizes a few threads connecting some of them. “I think one through line is how we organize and choreograph our engagement with the world, whether it is through traffic lights or a revolving door. The other one might be a kind of concretism, which obviously has roots in an older generation of Brazilian art. And let’s face it, there’s a lot of actual concrete, from Marcelo Cidade to Marilá Dardot. And then I think there is a kind of more romantic aspect, which is kind of being remade in certain ways. Like Thiago Rocha Pitta, some of those pieces, the boat pieces seem incredibly romantic. The way the plant gets split off, and biology and botany moves across oceans.”
Neville also comments that he hasn’t observed much social commentary in these parts, despite the turning of events during the last couple of years. “I think it is important, but to be honest, I do not see a lot of it particularly. Obviously someone like Paulo [Nazareth] is commenting on the systems of exchange and the economics of trade and those kinds of things.”
He then goes on to reflect on the whys of the apparent lack of protesting in recent Brazilian art. “With some exceptions, and you can correct me, it seems that to go through art school and to get to this place of making art you need a certain sort of privilege and possibly wealth to be able to do it, which is true of most places, but it is maybe particularly true of Brazil. It seems to be a very different situation from England, where if you think of the generation of artists who came out of London in the nineties, most of them, Sarah Lucas, Damien (Hirst), all those people came from a working-class background and have this idea of kind of social protests as part of their culture. Maybe there’s more protest graffiti in Brazil, though. I think art is one avenue, it is about raising consciousness”, he muses.
Although the official survey has already been concluded, Neville’s interest and reach for these and other new artists will continue, and he still plans to expose these works in a different way. “It was commissioned as a research for a traveling show, essentially. There is still a show there, and it would be nice to figure out. The show has not been done in its complete form, but (the research) is ongoing”. He is also currently supporting Marcos Chaves’ new endeavor, which will take the form of a show that is expected to happen in Rio de Janeiro in late 2014. And at this moment, Neville has scored so many points I can barely keep track. They’re all pro Brazil, anyway.
This article was originally published at U+MAG issue nº 106.