“I don’t go fighting with places,” Abaseh Mirvali says, in a rare moment of calm while rushing between Pier Mauá and downtown Rio de Janeiro in the final days before ArtRio. “When you have a setting that’s this beautiful, it’s really quite ridiculous to pretend that no one’s going to stand there and look at your view.” As curator of the fair’s newly-created initiative, LUPA, Mirvali was granted a breathtaking open air gallery on the Guanabara Bay, where she features 14 site-specific projects and monumental, large-scale installations that interact with the city’s architecture and views—like the hammock Ernesto Neto created especially for the exhibition or the James Turrell room that encapsulates the energy of the city. Using the project’s title (Portuguese for “magnifying glass”), Mirvali cast her lens upon Rio de Janeiro and the expectations that come to mind when considering the Brazilian city.
Artsy: Can you tell us a bit about LUPA, and how the exhibition came about?
Abaseh Mirvali: LUPA is a newly created curatorial initiative of ArtRio that will be exhibiting site-specific projects, many of them on rather large scale, by international contemporary artists who are represented by very important galleries that are at ArtRio this year. The majority of the projects that are being presented were specifically chosen and are adapted specially for LUPA; such is the case of the amazing pieces by Ernesto Neto and Julio Le Parc.
I really believe that ArtRio, in the great tradition of Brazilian Geometric Abstraction and the amazing artists that have existed—Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape, Hélio Oiticica—wanted to have a sculpture section and a monumental sculpture exhibition. In approaching it, I used Brazilian Geometric Abstraction and the artists as a base, and then I worked to complement it with other artists. That’s how it led to about 16 works, either that were created just for LUPA or that took an important work of an artist’s and contemplated it for this site.
Artsy: What can you tell us about the setting?
AM: The site is a really privileged location where you have a view completely of the sea. Yesterday, the technical people were able to remove two cranes that were right in front of my section, so now I have a full on view of the water, and that’s just amazing. I have ten-meter ceilings and a nearly 2000-square meter space with a view of the sea.
Artsy: As an open-air art gallery, how does LUPA engage with the city outside of Pier Mauá?
AM: As you know, ‘lupa’ is a magnifying glass, so this inaugural LUPA is meant to look at what we, as people from outside of Brazil, think of when we hear the name Rio de Janeiro, and what comes to mind—the sounds of Carnival, the beauty, James Bond in Moonraker, the amazing flora, the light. Those are the images that come to us immediately, but also, this is the site of the next Olympics, the World Cup, a site of protest in the last months (much like many places in the world) and a country in transition economically, for quite a few years being a BEM country (a big emerging market) but having all of the the social issues. I wanted to look at both sides of it, the part that is spectacular and beautiful and the part that is real.
There is also a focus and play with structures. LUPA’s setting lends itself to a rich dialogue with the lines, space, and forms of Brazilian architecture, in specific with the interesting Postmodernist buildings, which populate Brazil and are both abstract yet sculptural. Overall, LUPA is the perfect stage to create connections between the private and the public sphere; between the space of ArtRio as a relevant art fair and the life and architecture of this multilayered city as they are envisioned by contemporary artists.
Artsy: What are some of the interesting dialogues that have been created between the artists?
AM: The idea with LUPA is to create a quiet conversation between the artworks, as the viewer has the ability to experience the work intimately. For instance, there is a subtle, yet evident, dialogue between the works of renowned American artists James Turrell and Fred Sandback and Brazilian artists Hélio Oiticica and Amilcar de Castro, in particular when you think of these artists and the way they work with form, color, light, and space. This dialogue then resurfaces through the work of the current generation of Brazilian artists such as Ernesto Neto and Artur Lescher.
Artsy: We’d love to hear more about the piece Ernesto created for you.
AM: Ernesto Neto made a beautiful, beautiful project just for me [pictured]. He and I have known each other for a long time—of course two days ago I found out that it was extremely heavy—but other than that, I was very honored. Not only because Ernesto Neto is an amazing and incredible artist, but because he defines all things carioca for me, and so it was wonderful that he would do me the honor of creating something that would work with the architecture of the place. It’s actually an interactive piece, and is based on a work of his that I saw that has a hammock in the work. I think I’m a very pragmatic person in some ways, and art for me is something that must be beautiful and it must serve, but it must serve an intellectual purpose, and I don’t go fighting with places. When you have a setting that’s this beautiful, it’s really quite ridiculous to pretend that no one’s going to stand there and look at your view. So the fact that Neto made a piece that has hammocks so that people can lie on it and look at the view is just my way of acknowledging the reality, the two worlds coming together.
Artsy: Can you tell us more about your James Turrell room?
AM: The Turrell is a beautiful construction. When you reduce James’ work, it comes to light and color, but it’s also about the sensation. It’s a light piece and so you will experience it going into the room that has been built to feel the sensations. So in a way for me, James was very much bringing the outside of Rio—the color, the energy, and the beauty—and for one moment, encapsulating it. It was supposed to be the one instance where I did want to artistically, in the work of an artist, demonstrate how beauty and art come together and can be encapsulating it in a work of art, if you go beyond the academic.
Let’s remember we’re in a fair setting. One hundred twenty thousand people are supposed to come. I want people to have a relationship with the work without being disrespectful to the work. The work is going to be right there for them to enjoy, and they’re going to be able to establish this relationship with the work and not make it such a distant object that is related to New York or wealthy people, but rather with what the artist really started out with, which was just a commentary about the issues that were closest to them.
Artsy: Last, you must have a favorite local spot to visit in Rio. Can you share a go-to for dinner, drinks, or sightseeing that is not to be missed?
AM: I have been working hard on all the details for LUPA, so I have not have much time for sightseeing, but I must tell you that both the Museum of Modern Art [MAM] as well as the the newly inaugurated MAR museum [Museu de Arte de Rio] have been refuges. In particular MAM’s garden currently curated with a sister sculpture show in front of the sea is my favorite. I have a fresh coco water every morning on the beach before jumping in the cab, and that is priceless.
Abaseh Mirvali is an independent project producer and curator based in Istanbul, Mexico City, and Berlin.
Images: View of exhibition space; Julio Le Parc, Cloison à lames réfléchissantes, 1966/2012, Nara Roesler; Fred Sandback, Sem título (Estudo Escultural, Construção Vertical em Doze partes), 1987/2012, David Zwirner; José Bechara, No intervalo entre as coisas importantes, nos minutos à toa, 2013, Marília Razuk; Ernesto Neto, no que estamos pensando... 2013, Fortes Vilaça; Ana Roldan, Mensajes Primitivos Decorados con Signos en Oro, 2013, La Central.