Tanya Barson, curator of one of the world’s preeminent galleries of contemporary art – the Tate Modern, in London – likes Brazil’s art production. She is coming to the SP-Arte Fair and will take advantage of the trip to visit São Paulo’s ateliers
By Gisele Kato
Photo by José Pedroso
London’s Tate Modern is to contemporary art what Milan’s Scala Opera House is to opera. For an artist to be on exhibit there is tantamount to success, just as Italian audiences acclaim or bury tenors. The Tate began to observe Brazilian art more closely, and to buy it, at the end of the ‘90s, exactly when Tanya Barson joined the museum’s team of curators. Today, more than twenty Brazilian names can be found in the collection of the prestigious British gallery, such as Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980), Lygia Clark (1920-1988), Sérgio Camargo (1930-1990), and Leonilson (1957-1993). Tanya, who has been responsible for the Tate’s Latin American art department for nearly ten years, has had much to do with each of those acquisitions. At the end of the month, the English curator will arrive in São Paulo to attend the sixth edition of the SP-Arte Fair. Ms. Barson has made two or three trips per year to Brazil, since 2002. This time, she should spend ten days, here. Tanya gave the following telephone interview to BRAVO!:
What has changed on the Latin American art scene over the last ten years?
That young generation that we all had our eyes on at the beginning of this decade is now established. Especially the Brazilians are well-known names on the international market, and I think that their success makes it easier for the newer ones. I think more about Brazil, now, than I did ten years ago. In fact, talking about contemporary art, today, demands taking Brazil into consideration.
Around here, we hear a lot of people saying that this is an especially favorable moment for Brazilian art, abroad. How true is this?
There is real interest in what is going on there, and the visibility of Brazil’s production has grown incredibly in the last ten years – and it continues to grow. I think there is still a lot to be discovered about Brazilian art by international institutions. The number of artists who have had exhibits abroad - Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Cildo Meireles, Ernesto Neto – is very small, compared to the number of people who need to be made known.
You spoke of Hélio Oiticica, whose art has been reevaluated on the foreign market. How significant is Hélio in the history of art, in your opinion?
Any museum in the world that deals with art from the 20th century must have Hélio Oiticica in its collection. He, Lygia Clark, Mira Schendel (1919-1988), and also Lygia Pape (1927-2004) created something unique, breaking the paradigms. This type of thing happened in different countries, at different moments in time. Suddenly, a generation or a group of artists causes an impact and changes the direction of art. That moment in Brazil was one of extreme experimentalism, from the late ‘50s to the late ‘60s.
How do you handle your trips? Do you arrive here with a list of ateliers in hand that you want to visit?
(Laughing) Hmmmm... I can’t say much about what my days will be like, there, because that would probably have an impact on the market. Generally, my trips focus on checking out the new things that appear throughout a year, which is normally the time between visits. And one year can be a long time for contemporary art. It is very exciting, because every time I go to Brazil I discover something different. So, I try to always have an open mind. Now, to give you a name, what I can say is that I am always interested in knowing what someone like Cildo Meireles is doing. He is my favorite Brazilian artist.
Why is Cildo your favorite?
Do I have to explain why? I think Cildo is one of the most important active contemporary artists anywhere in the world, for both his intellectual rigor and his incredible capacity for bringing powerful and moving things together in a work. There is a profound political meaning in his works. I consider him to be a very intellectual artist but, at the same time, it is not that characteristic that strikes you. Rather, it is the form he uses to organize his raw materials.
I know you can’t reveal which artists are on your list this time. But could you name a few who impressed you on previous trips?
Ah... OK (laughing). I have been very impressed by Andre Komatsu, Cinthia Marcelle, and Renata Lucas.
Let’s talk about the SP-Arte Fair. Would it be important for the Fair to be more international?
To me, SP-Arte is nice specifically because it focuses on the Brazilian context, making it something unique, compared to other fairs around the world, like the Frieze, in London, and Art Basel, in Miami. In them, you see practically the same thing, by the same artists. But not at SP-Arte. Even at that, there is a very big variety of galleries and artists, because Brazil has an exceedingly rich production. But, at the same time that a more international character would give the fair a broader audience, it would draw in the initiatives that exist abroad.
In closing, how do you see the power in the hands of curators in these times? At some exhibits, they are more important than the artists, isn’t that right?
I wouldn’t say power, but rather influence. Personally, I don’t agree. A good curator is like a good movie director or a good text editor. They make a difference, but cannot stand out more than the artist. I think that curators sometimes get in the way of the fruition of art, by imposing their own viewpoint on a work.
WHEN AND WHERE
SP-Arte 2010. Biennial Pavilion (Ibirapuera Park, gate 3, São Paulo, SP). From 4/29 to 5/2. Thursday and Friday, from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, from 12 noon to 8:00 p.m. Admission: R$ 25. More information: www.sp-arte.com.