How London’s White Cube is Fostering Contemporary Art in Brazil

When powerhouse London gallery White Cube inaugurated new outposts in Asia and Latin America in 2012, the aim was not simply to gain international reach and influence—it already had that, due to a carefully crafted roster of top contemporary artists, from Damien Hirst to Gabriel Orozco to Zhang Huan. Rather, the sites in Hong Kong and São Paulo were established to develop artistic exchange between Western and Nonwestern audiences. On the eve of the 31st São Paulo Biennial, and the fourth edition of ArtRio—where White Cube shows alongside over 100 Brazilian and international galleries—we caught up with Karla Meneghel, director of White Cube’s São Paulo space, to talk us through the latest at the Brazil site. “The gallery in São Paulo exhibits artists from the White Cube stable, but also other international artists who do not have representation in Brazil,” she told Artsy. “We are a gallery moved by our artists and our work consists in presenting opportunities to encourage our artists to develop their careers.”

Two years on, the São Paulo gallery has established a program of five shows per year, featuring Tracey Emin, Theaster Gates, and Mark Bradford, among others. In turn, the London base has embraced Brazilian talent; in 2013 the Bermondsey branch put on shows featuring São Paulo artists Jac Leirner and Marcius Galan. “The gallery has and continues to establish a cultural dialogue that includes exhibitions from Brazilian artists in London or Hong Kong and also of international artists in Brazil,” Meneghel affirms, and adds: “White Cube has plans to exhibit further artists from the region, in both its London and Hong Kong spaces.”

Located in a converted warehouse in the residential Vila Mariana neighborhood, the São Paulo gallery is in close proximity to the Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC), Oca, an exhibition pavilion, and Oscar Niemeyer and Hélio Uchôa’s iconic Ciccillo Matarazzo pavilion, where the São Paulo Biennial takes place. Alongside this year’s Biennial, the gallery mounts a major solo exhibition for Julie Mehretu—her first in Brazil, which arrives 10 years since her inclusion in the Biennial in 2004. Titled “The Mathematics of Droves,” the show debuts new works by the New York-based, Ethiopian artist featuring her trademark imagery—intricate, layered networks of line and form, with imagery mined from architecture and city maps and inspired by recents events, including the conflict in Syria and the Arab Spring. “Our opening of Julie Mehretu supports the strength of the Biennial as we celebrate local and international artists,” Meneghel states. She emphasizes that exhibitions like this one are key to the gallery’s mission: “Brazil has a significant number of important collectors and the challenge for the gallery is to expand their interest in international contemporary art and make our dialogue stronger.”

A vibrant selection of the international contemporary art that White Cube is known for will also be on view this September, at Rio de Janeiro’s major art fair, ArtRio. The gallery brings Gary Hume’s Unicorn 8 (2014), from his recent show at the São Paulo gallery, Sarah MorrisRio Atlantica [Rio] (2014), and a tapestry work by Tracey Emin, executed in her classic style but embroidered in shades of blue thread on a sheet of calico. Additionally the gallery brings large cabinet installations by Damián Ortega and Jack & Dinos Chapman, respectively; Ortega’s sleek minimalist presentation of customized found objects on shelves is an intriguing contrast to the Chapman brothers’ dioramic display, which features tiny skeleton figures and a tower of dead and decaying human figures.

The gallery also taps into the local through its exhibitions and programming. This summer debuted the São Paulo location’s “Inside the White Cube” exhibition series—which engages artists that are not represented by White Cube—featuring the Brazilian Daniel de Paula. Further, Meneghel revealed that a dynamic roundup of programming is in the works: “We are developing a lecture series and also a partnership with art schools that allows people to have a better understanding of artists exhibited in the São Paulo space.” Grasping what Meneghel describes as “the opportunity to develop a cultural dialogue with Brazil and the region,” White Cube São Paulo is off to a promising start, with the potential to become a major player in the fostering of contemporary art in Brazil.

Casey Lesser

Installation shots of “Inside the White Cube: Daniel de Paula” and “Julie Mehretu: The Mathematics of Droves,” courtesy of White Cube.

Visit White Cube at ArtRio 2014, Panorama, Sept. 10th–15th.

“Julie Mehretu: The Mathematics of Droves” is on view at White Cube São Paulo, Sept. 1st–Nov. 1st, 2014.

Explore ArtRio and follow White Cube on Artsy.