Art Market: Brazil’s Global Influence

Art Market: Brazil’s Global Influence

Deborah Oyeyemi

Photo: Lucas Arruda, Untitled XVIII, 2011 (I-20 Gallery).

Two years ago, we might have assumed that the scene of a bustling art fair, surrounded by white sand, glimmering waters, and vibrant music is Miami Beach. Now, we can confidently add São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to the list of possibilities.

Brazil and a number of other rising Latin-American powerhouses—Chile and Mexico, to name a few—are changing the landscape of the art world. As a BRIC nation, Brazil has faced substantial economic growth over the past few years, and according to Goldman Sachs, it is expected to have one of the five largest economies in the world in a few decades. Naturally, Brazil’s elite, many of whom are newly made millionaires, are gravitating toward art. Many view their collections as evidence of prestige, and they invest in traditional Western pieces while also promoting strong local artists.

The business world bolsters Brazil’s art world significance, and São Paulo leads the charge. This city has a longstanding tradition of art, as it has hosted Brazil’s biennial in the majestically modern Ciccillo Matarazzo Pavilion in Ibirapuera Park for over fifty years. More recently, notable galleries like Galeria Raquel Arnaud and Choque Cultural have expanded, though they continue to focus on local Brazilian artists. To gauge São Paulo’s recent progress, one has only to look to its art fair, SP Arte, which saw the number of participating galleries increase from 41 to 109 over the last seven years.

Adding to Brazil’s newfound vigor is the new, vibrant generation of artists that have reaped the benefits of the country’s prosperity. Twenty-nine-year-old São Paulo native and painter Lucas Arruda has been getting much of the attention, selling landscapes for around $9,000 a piece; two years ago, ten paintings would have sold for half this price. Arruda’s mute, natural scenes are a weighted contrast to the effervescence stereotypically associated with Latin American and African artistry.

The popularity of street art, as evidenced by galleries like Choque Cultural, gives reason to believe that art in Brazil is not purely economic, but also social. Brazil has an energy that few art markets can match, with material ranging from Arruda’s subdued paintings to boisterous, graffiti-covered walls.

Still, a growing number of wealthy collectors drive Brazil’s art market more than its artists. Similar to the recent East-Asian boom in China, Brazil’s nouveau riche flock to art auctions to make their wealth known. Art serves as a measure and reminder of class division, but Brazil’s tale is not so one-sided. All over Brazil, there is a newfound hunger for collecting, and everyone from investors in the new private equity fund Brazil Golden Art Fund to art-savvy members of the middle-class want in.

Camila Tome and Stephanie Afonso, founders of MUV Gallery, recognized this universal desire among Brazilians when they began their virtual gallery last year. They use the internet, along with a few pop-up shops, to promote Brazilian artwork and integrate more people into the art world.

While millionaires can purchase international artwork, middle-class collectors are hindered by high taxes and resort more to local galleries and pieces. In this sense, the fiscal hurdles that make it difficult to purchase paintings and sculptures abroad allow local markets in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to continue to prosper.

Brazil’s recent rise has implications beyond its borders. Art Basel Miami Beach, for example, saw a dramatic increase in entries from Latin America, many of which came from Brazil. Despite criticisms the art fair sometimes receives, Latin American art was on full display last year and generally much appreciated. However, Miami’s prominence as a venue for showcasing and selling Latin American art is not as stable as it may seem. Miami’s is the most commercial Art Basel, and it seems to attract a crowd as kitsch as some of the art, including jet-setters, celebrites and wannabes along with eager art lovers and well-known gallerists. Some visitors can seem like showgoers in the sense of visiting an amusement park, and critics wonder if Art Basel is more about being seen than seeing. With the surge of Brazil’s art market, as authentically Latin American as it is becoming international, could Miami’s role in the art world be threatened?

For now, one can only wonder and witness in amazement Brazil’s ability to herald both international and local artwork. This year’s SP-ARTE, held at the Matarazzo in April, exemplifies this balance. Within the white walls of this snake-like building, visitors hail from the shores of Rio to the far reaches of Europe with artists like Jenny Saville and galleries including Gagosian and London’s Max Wigram Gallery. Alongside them firmly stands young Lucas Arruda and Rio’s own gallery, Amalanegro.

The influence of Brazil, along with other up-and-comers in Latin America like Mexico and Chile, is undoubtedly shaping the twenty-first century art world. This trend should continue, and regions like Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East may follow suit.

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