New Perspectives From Brazil: “Brazilianess” Defined By Maria Do Mar Guinle

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It’s something of a challenge but gallerist Maria do Mar Guinle is happy to attempt it: define “Brazilianess” in art. “People tend to expect colour” she says, pointing out that prominent artists of the Neo-concretist period (Lygia Clark and Helio Oiticica, for example) weren’t producing the kind of tropical frescoes that one might expect. “It’s actually the diversity of contemporary Brazilian creation that draws me to it” says Guinle, who set up her gallery in Paris after a stint in London. Yet she concedes that cultural factors do apply: “Brazilians are often more experimental in their approach to the exhibition space, which makes for a more collaborative experience as a gallerist.”

MARIA DO MAR GALLERY
PHOTO: GREGORY COPITET

Shying away from work with overt symbols or messages, Guinle says she’s guided by her eye first and then her gut, with a weakness for the poetic, the sensual and the delicate when it comes to seeking out work to display. Her latest show shines a light on the work of Carolina Ponte: intricate, dreamlike and whimsical with a strong sense of craftsmanship; the hand of the artist is never far from the surface. Taking stock of the state of the the market, she muses that Brazilian art has lurched into the international consciousness in a relatively short space of time.

“When I came to London in 2006, there were only four or five Brazilian artists who were known outside of the country; now you’ll see a handful of Brazilians represented at every major fair.”

If the world’s been slow to wake up to the country’s artistic output, Guinle puts it down to protective import laws and prohibitive tax codes; bureacracy has long been the enemy of collectors in Latin America’s largest nation. Yet with the proliferation of prizes such as the programa Rumos sponsered by Itaú bank and the Premio Pipa, she’s confident that her stable of artists will be just one among future generations of Brazilian artists celebrated abroad.

TAPUMES,2009 | RICE GALLERY, HOUSTON- USA | PLYWOOD AND PIGMENT | 4,7 X 13,4 X 2M.
PHOTO: NASH BAKER

Indeed young artists looking at the path ahead could do worse than following in the now illustrious footsteps of Henrique Oliveira. Scientific taxonomy may be a useless pastime when looking at art, yet when faced with Oliveira’s pulsing, curvilinear installations you can’t help but wonder: are they animal, vegetable or mineral? “Something in between” says the artist himself “although its flesh is wood!”. Timber is certainly at the root of Baitogogo,his 2013 permanent structure in Paris’s Palais de Tokyo. Its writhing tendrils extend accross the exhibition space, enveloping the visitor with branches overhead, its skin flakey, coarse panels of plywood. Throughout his career Oliveira has worked consistently with this modest material, citing its variation in colour, tone, age and texture as the ideal surface for creating a brittle overlay that comes close to the process of painting. Its creator is aware of the arte povera overtones: “It’s paradoxical; this material is deeply associated with an idea of poverty in Brazil, but it is also very sensorial and beautiful”.

Momento Fecundo is another case in point; its swollen forms all the more voluptous in the manicured gardens of the Chateau of Chaumont sur Loire, where it has been installed in the domaine’s old honey barn. This snake-like intruder displays the sense of movement that’s present in so many of his pieces; you suspect that this sculpture could have just stopped growing, slithering or swallowing as you step into the womb-like space.

Being around and even inside his sculptures feels warm and their universal appeal has travelled far beyond Oliveira’s native Brazil. Identified early on by French gallerist Nathalie Vallois as a rising star and the recipient of a number of awards and fellowships, the artist maintains that there were moments when he feared his career “might never happen; or not until I was old or dead”. Instead, he’s now riding the crest of a wave of interest in Brazilian art. However he, like many others, is wary of the sort of benevolent xenophilia that seeks to celebrate and include more “exotic” work but which can end up pigeonholing art and artists from newer markets. Oliveira is confident that the notion of a Brazilian ‘moment’ is unimportant: “I believe that good critics will recognize good art, independent of geography”.

MOMENTO FECUNDO, 2014 | DOMAINE DE CHAUMONT-SUR-LOIRE – FRANCE.
PHOTO: OLIVIA SALAZAR-WINSPEAR
BAITOGOGO, 2013 | PALAIS DE TOKYO, PARIS – FRANCE | PLYWOOD AND TREE BRUNCHS | 6,74 X 11,79 X 20,76M.
PHOTO: ANDRÉ MORIN

Photos of Maria do Mar Gallery used with permission.

Olivia Salazar-Winspear

Olivia Salazar-Winspear is a journalist specializing in arts and culture. Working in both television and text, her interests meet in a Venn diagram of London, Rio and Paris or - if you like - Fine Art, Cinema and Literature.