The axiom that what goes up must come down has never seemed so clear. But the Brazilian art market, which has grown at a steady 20% rate over the past decade, according to government data compiled from the leading galleries in the country, seemed immune to the crisis, at least up until now. The first undeniable sign things had started to derail came in December of last year with the closing of Casa Daros, the Swiss foundation’s Rio outpost. After spending over $20 million converting a former mansion-cum-school into a museum in the leafy and lush neighbourhood of Botafogo, the group, based in Zurich, uprooted their collection and put the building up for sale, claiming it was an unsustainable operation. In short, they were victims of what local economists label the “Brazil cost,” meaning the daunting taxes that come with importing any work of art to the country, its complex and bureaucratic business regulations, and inflation on the rise.
Not long after Casa Daros announced its demise, it became clear that other hyperbolic structures still taking shape in Rio’s skyline were threatened. Santiago Calatrava’s Museu do Amanhã became a reality late last year after three years of delays in its construction. Meanwhile, the new Museu da Imagem e do Som—designed by the New York firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro—has now postponed its inauguration until further notice, with multiple sources indicating that issues with the structure’s foundation might be causing it to sink into the ground right on Copacabana beach. Two major institutions in Rio, the Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, one of the city’s most traditional art schools, and the Casa França-Brasil, a major cultural center, have just collectively fired around 40% of their staff and halted a significant amount of their programming for the year to come.
In worse shape, São Paulo, the Brazilian city that, unlike Rio, is not hosting the summer Olympic Games, has scrapped Herzog & De Meuron’s project for a dance theater downtown, having already used $15 million in public funds to pay for the project—and leaving a gaping hole in one of the city’s poorest areas, which has been plagued by the use of crack cocaine by its homeless population. The Museu Paulista, the city’s oldest museum, known for its collection of historic artefacts, has been shuttered since engineers warned that lacking conservation efforts left its roof at risk of collapse. The Museu de Arte Contemporânea, which holds one of the most important modern art collections in the continent, is also at a standstill. It currently has no money to independently stage temporary exhibitions and is relying on the generosity of patrons to fix its storage space, in which no works can currently be kept because of excessive humidity and a risk of flooding.