SP-Arte’s New Section Celebrates a Burgeoning Brazilian Design Scene Rooted in History

  • Installation view of SP-Arte 2015 courtesy of the fair. Photo by Pétala Lopes.

    Installation view of SP-Arte 2015 courtesy of the fair. Photo by Pétala Lopes.

Brazil may be facing its most severe economic crisis in decades, but as the 12th edition of SP-Arte approaches, the São Paulo-based fair shows no signs of a slowdown. Last year, the fair debuted a section featuring large-scale works and installations (slated to return in 2016 featuring exclusively commissioned pieces). This year, SP-Arte will inaugurate a new section devoted entirely to design. Within the section, all 23 galleries will hail from Brazil with a particularly strong showing from the fair’s host city—highlighting the country’s vibrant design history.

Works on display will span centuries, from the country’s colonial era to modern-day Brazil. Bridging that chronological gap is the latest collection by Brazilian duo the Campana Brothers, Humberto and Fernando. Their designs have been shown around the world—including in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998—and SP-Arte represents a homecoming of sorts for this particular series, the “Cangaço Collection.” Heavily influenced by Brazil’s history, the collection was inspired by the flashy style of the bandits who scoured the country’s northeast region in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, protesting the government and wealthy landowners.  

“Translating the Brazilian identity into design is the most important challenge for us,” Humberto told the Guardian, reflecting on their practice. “The challenge is to make a portrait of our poor, beautiful and culturally rich country.”

The history of Brazilian design is strongly tied to material, particularly wood, as SP-Arte’s newest section highlights. Early pieces dating from the 19th century can be characterized by accomplished woodwork, including traditional rosewood and straw furniture that will be on display at the fair. No discussion of design in Brazil would be complete without including iconic modernists such as Oscar Niemeyer, Joaquim Tenreiro, and Sergio Rodrigues, whose pieces garnered international attention for their clean lines and distinctive woods. Often, the furniture was produced on a much smaller scale than American or European designers of the same period (some pieces are even one-of-a-kind), meaning that it can be hard to find decades after it was made. SP-Arte will feature rare work by these masters, as well as re-editions of their designs.

Wood remains integral to contemporary Brazilian design, but today it is utilized with a preservationist ethos that reflects concerns about the country’s dwindling natural resources. Brazilian designer Carlos Motta began his career making works from driftwood he picked up while surfing; many of his current designs are created using wood reclaimed following a site’s demolition. Brazilian artist Hugo França’s enormous single-piece works are made from Brazilian pequi trees salvaged in the wake of clear-cutters. With designers like Motta and França, SP-Arte’s latest section seems poised to highlight a burgeoning Brazilian design scene that remains deeply rooted in the country’s past.



—Abigail Cain


SP-Arte will be on view in São Paulo, Apr. 7–10, 2016.


Explore SP-Arte on Artsy.