An Ode to São Paulo

monica novaes esmanhotto
Sep 3, 2014 12:26AM

Artsy couldn’t be featuring São Paulo at a better time. Every other September, the city breathes art. The opening of the 31st Bienal de São Paulo, the second oldest biennial after Venice, is an inspiration for galleries, institutions, and autonomous spaces to offer top quality programming. This guide not only informs international art lovers of the shows that are not to be missed, but above all it offers an immersive look at the city’s social and historical layers. Here is my homage to the city that welcomed me 10 years ago!

A. PHOSPHORUS | Rua Roberto Simonsen, 108

On view: “The Interview Room” (Aug. 31st to Oct. 4th)

A few hundred meters from Pateo do Colégio, São Paulo’s city center, the first stop is Phosphorus, one among a young generation of autonomous spaces based downtown. The lovely 19th-century building is currently hosting a show in which Maria Montero, the artist and curator who runs the space, confronts both Rodolpho Parigi and Fancy Violence, Parigi’s female extravagant alter ego. “The Interview Room” is the result of an in-depth dialogue among these three characters whose encounter creates tension between fiction and reality.


On view: Mira Schendel (July 24th to Oct. 19th)

The centennial brick building remodeled by Pritkzer Prize-winning architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha sits on the corner of São Paulo’s oldest park and is home to one of the country’s most respected public art institutions, Pinacoteca do Estado. A visitor can go from the Brazilian fine art painting and sculpture collection to the temporary contemporary art shows and site-specific commissioned works. Today, it is the last stop for the retrospective of Swiss-born artist Mira Schendel, who lived and worked in Brazil for most of her life. Her oeuvre is extensive and crucial to understanding experimentalism in Brazilian artistic production in the 1960s and ’70s. The show was first featured last October at Tate Modern—which co-organized it with Pinacoteca—and it later traveled to Museu Serralves in Porto, Portugal.

As you head to the next stop, Estação Pinacoteca, I recommend walking to see Parque da Luz—which is very beautiful—and then crossing to go inside Estação da Luz [the Luz train station]. It’s amazing to see simultaneously the iron architecture from the 19th century and the trains from above.

C. ESTAÇÃO PINACOTECA | Largo General Osório, 66

On view: “Leonilson: Truth, Fiction” (Aug. 9th to Nov. 9th)

Estação Pinacoteca is Pinacoteca’s satellite space located around 500 meters away. As the name suggests, it is a former train station, which was crucial in the 19th and early 20th centuries in São Paulo’s coffee production-based economy. Later, during the Brazilian dictatorial regime, it housed the department for controlling social movements that were in opposition to the government. Since becoming an exhibition space, some artists have refused to show here because of its bloody past. On the fourth floor one can visit the later production of artist Leonilson, who died at the age of 36 in 1993. Curated by Adriano Pedrosa, the works on view bring together a mix of facts from private and public domains; as a result one cannot tell the difference between truth and fiction.

D. PIVÔ | Edifício Copan - Avenida Ipiranga 200- loja 54

On view: “Que Coisa é? – Uma Conversa / A Conversation” (from Aug. 31st to Nov. 1st)

Copan, the sensual vertical city designed by Oscar Niemeyer in the 1950s, houses Pivô, a multidisciplinary autonomous space with a surface of 3500 sqm. The project now on view is the result of a conversation between the publisher Alexandra Garcia Waldman and the director of Pivô Fernanda Brenner, also including artists Mario Garcia Torres, Cildo Meireles, and Yael Bartana, and curator Moacir dos Anjos. Mario meets Cildo and makes audio propositions based on his work that fill the infinite space of Pivô. Here, different generations of artists coming from different parts of the world are connected by the admiration of the two curators.

E. SESC POMPÉIA | Rua Clélia, 93

On view: “Unerasable Memories: A Historic Look at the Videobrasil Collection” (from Aug. 31st to Nov. 30th)

Some people visit for the sports facilities, some for the art and concerts, others for the library and educational programming. This factory, remodeled by architect Lina Bo Bardi 30 years ago, is a one-of-a-kind public living room. Among Sesc Pompéia’s various attractions, the highlight currently on view is the video exhibition curated by Spaniard Agustin Perez Rubio, bringing together 18 artists from the Associação Cultural Videobrasil’s 3,000-work collection. Videobrasil is a highly respected institution dedicated to the memory of audiovisual production from the Southern hemisphere. This is the first experiment involving a guest curator and in 2015 the resulting show will travel to MALBA (Buenos Aires) and MARCO (Vigo).

F. INSTITUTO TOMIE OHTAKE | Avenida Faria Lima, 201

On view: “Mestizo Histories” (from Aug. 16th to Oct. 5th)

The colorful and playful tower by Ruy Ohtake is a landmark in the Pinheiros neighborhood. One can’t miss this building, which houses offices at the top and a Cultural Institute at the bottom named after 100-year-old Japanese artist Tomie Ohtake. One of the shows currently on view is the result of a two-year-old investigation by curator Adriano Pedrosa and anthropologist Lilia Schwarcz into the complex Brazilian DNA. The combination of their complementary backgrounds results in this dialogue of artworks, documents, and artifacts from different generations and origins that intrigues the spectator by juxtaposing narratives of domination and subjection, inclusion and exclusion, acceptance and denial.

G. BIENAL DE SÃO PAULO | Ibirapuera Park, Gate 3, Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavillion

On view: “31st Bienal de São Paulo: How to (…) things that don’t exist” (from Sept. 6th to Dec. 7th)

Running continuously since 1951, the Bienal de São Paulo is the greatest art event in Latin America. This 31st edition is a first in many aspects: never has there been a horizontal curatorial team formed entirely by international professionals (Charles Esche, Galit Eilat, Nurya Mayo, Pablo Lafuente, and Oren Sagiv); never have there been so many commissioned artworks (60% out of the 250 works were produced especially for the show); and never have there been so many subsequent destinations that parts of the show will travel on to later (10 cities in Brazil and Museu Serralves, in Porto).

Titled “How to (…) things that don’t exist,” this edition has a curatorial concept that places artists’ processes and experimentation above concerns regarding executing a perfect show, following the museum format, and providing an answer to a question. According to the curatorial team: “It’s neither leaving fully, nor arriving yet.”

While presenting the audience with some unfamiliar and surprising artists and collectives, the intriguing show is complexly layered in its concept and is unusual in its formal solution. Occupying the amazing Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavillion by Oscar Niemeyer was a challenge for Sagiv—the member of the curatorial team responsible for the show’s architecture—who was able to create interventions in the building that manage to respectfully defy the amazing monument.

As you go to your next stop, MAC, I recommend going by foot and crossing the pedestrian bridge over the avenue. It’s great to get a sense of São Paulo’s energy and scale and also to have a better notion of Ibirapuera Park and the complex designed by Niemeyer in the 1950s.

H. MAC-USP (Contemporary Art Museum - University of São Paulo) | Avenida Pedro Álvares Cabral, 1301

On view: “Henrique Oliveira: Transarquitetonica” (from Apr. 26th to Nov. 30th)

This site-specific spatial intervention is a combination of a maze and an unknown fossilized animal. Intertwined with the columns of the modernist Niemeyer building, the work opposes the environment in which it was placed in every single aspect—the colors, materials, organic form, and unpredictability—except for scale. The work allows visitors to walk inside its winding body, leading them from a white cube space to the interior of giant tree roots.

The 60-year-old building has recently been fully remodeled and is occupied by the incredible and precious collection of the museum. Its seven floors are filled with both permanent and temporary exhibitions that are not to be missed, and on the roof, one can enjoy a breathtaking view of São Paulo that is also unmissable.


Images (in order of appearance): Portrait of Monica by Patricia Araujo; Mira Schendel at Pinacoteca do Estado; “Leonilson: Truth, Fiction” at Estação Pinacoteca; façade of Pivô; Alberto Henschel, Criança com ama de leite (Pernambuco), 1870-1880. Carte de visite, 10,6 x 6,3 cm. Collection Fundação Joaquim Nabuco (at Instituto Tomie Ohtake); Tamar Guimarães e Kasper Akhoj, A família do Capitão Gervásio (Captain Gervásio’s Family), 2013 • 14' • filme 16mm e estruturas concretas • cortesia: Galeria Fortes Vilaça/Ellen De Bruijne Projects. ©Tamar Guimarães e Kasper Akhøj.(at Bienal de São Paulo); “Henrique Oliveira: Transarquitetonica” at MAC – USP.

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monica novaes esmanhotto