More Courage: experimental practices and Brazilian contemporary art

20 Jun 2016, 5:30 pm

More Courage

(by Maria Montero)

Marcelo Rezende’s text titled Collect Time and Space, written for the SP-Arte/2015 catalog, introduces us to Belgian couple Annick and Anton Herbert, collectors described by the author as atypical and tuned into the political issues of the time (1973 was the year they began their collection). Active participants in the debate surrounding artwork, the couple possesses in their collection a significant part of the historical conceptualism, of arte povera and of minimalism between 1968 and 1989 in Europe and United States.

During this period, in these places, the conceptual production, which aimed to distance itself from formalism, triggered an important gear in the art system, found in the figure of certain collectors and gallery owners (many of them critics, artists and activists) major allies for creating a space of visibility dedicated to a new production that, given its radicalism, challenged old ways for circulating, conserving and commercializing valuables.

Rezende ends his text leaving an important unanswered question: how to understand the same production period (many times ephemeral) in other regions like Latin America? The powerful question presents itself in consonance with everything that permeates my daily practice as manager of an independent space in the city of São Paulo. A series of questions operates simultaneously, in tension: why are experimental practices in Brazil marginalized in their historical context? Is it truly possible, in conceptual or formal terms, to experiment? Is there space (in art) for radicalism, rupture or contra culture in the economic and social context of Brazil today?

Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Lygia Pape and Paulo Bruscky became icons of experimental practice, having been internationally recognized. On the other hand, other big names, such as Hudinilson Jr., 3NÓS3, Gastão de Magalhães and Arte/Ação, active figures in the 1970s and 1980s, had their productions totally obscured and are only beginning to gain visibility today, especially through the work of São Paulo gallery owner Jaqueline Martins, who opened her gallery with the proposal of rescuing these historical productions.

It is possible to say that support for the production and dissemination of this practice (conceptual, ephemeral, experimental) occurred through scarce utopic-heroic figures. In the institutional field, in São Paulo, this mission was headed by professor Walter Zanini, who headed Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo (MAC-USP) between 1963 and 2013. In his text Mais coragem, he suggests that: “the museum should find more courage for organizing spaces to work, with the objective of satisfying the active creation, that is, the forms of expression recognized as continuous pursuit processes”.1

There are a few notorious words pertaining to the global repertoire on the conceptual practice of past decades: radicalism, marginality, ephemerality and experimentalism. However, Zanini’s text offered me a valuable insight, a possible key that could help decipher this big enigma in Brazil: to work in the opposite direction in our country, it is necessary to, above all, have more courage. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been in Brazil a system, neither institutional nor associated to private collecting, that had sufficient courage to understand and embrace this production that abolished the significant structures of artwork.

In the Brazil of the 1960s and 1970s, such artists or proposers understood art as a situation to be experienced, an aesthetic position, something that Oiticica called a permanent inventive state (in his speech, such state seems like a mantra; see documentary on his life, with the Heliotapes 2 as starting point). It was necessary to be brave to assume this position in the midst of censorship and dictatorship. Perhaps because of this, Brazilian artists placed themselves on the outside, hindering their assimilation. Hence, a political gesture.

It is interesting to think that postal art was vital for the circulation of ideas and the forming of networks among artists. Given their own circulation nature, however, a large part of this valuable production is still found in the hands of participating artists, that is, deinstitutionalized.

Exhibitions and actions that gave visibility to artists–proposers include: Domingos da Criação, coordinated by Frederico Moraes, an event that occurred in the gardens of Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (MAM-RJ), between January and July 1971, with the objective of offering new forms of creative leisure to the city’s population, combining art and public participation, questioning postures and academic or conservative opinions about Brazilian art of that time; and Zanini’s Jovem Arte Contemporânea (JAC) (MAC-USP, 1967-1974), which relied on principles like solidarity, cooperation and collectivity.

While in the United States and Europe there were dozens of gallery owners, collectors, museums and curators responsible for the circulation of these works, many times existing only in the form of documentation, Brazil relied (and continues relying) on a few courageous individuals, which resulted in decades of complete neglect in relation to big artists with key critical productions.

Within this context, it’s important to point out the work of São Paulo multimedia artist Hudinilson Jr. (1957-2013), one of the pioneers of xerox art in Brazil. A participant of the last Bienal de Arte de São Paulo, he died in his apartment, which abounded with the acid power of his production. He remained on the outside until death, not having lived to see his work recognized. An act of courage?

Today “artistic production reveals itself in time-space disorder relations, with games of citation between distinct temporalities, globalized spatial configurations and the emergence of questions and themes that are an integral part of multiculturalizing effects (gender, ethnicity, sexualities, culture and subcultures, etc.)”.3 What would, therefore, be the current scenario in the midst of the capitalist, neoliberal, globalized regime? What was produced in the past is slowly consumed, in a more private than public manner. And what about contemporary production? Is it possible to maintain it in this state of permanent invention?

After living seven years in London and Australia, and participating in several independent artistic actions, I returned to Brazil ready to dedicate myself to contemporary art. I did not find a place. The scenario seemed extremely standardized, bureaucratic, paralyzed, with little space for risks and experimentations not linked to the market. The opportunity to rent a historical mansion on the first street in São Paulo appeared, and I founded the Phosphorus residence space, imagining the development of a place where I could work with more autonomy.

In spite of the enthusiasm of many, Phosphorus found little financial support. The invitations to bid served to finance part of the activities, but are not (by far) enablers of a continuity program. The utopia of a permanent invention space was overshadowed on a daily basis by other remunerated works that could afford the space (liberty in Brazil is expensive, as we already know).

A year and a half ago, Phosphorus became another project called Sé, an art gallery located in the same house, and that in 2016 will be participating for the first time in SP-Arte. This transition in modus operandi was due to the quick understanding that there aren’t sufficient policies (public or private) to maintain functioning a space that privileges practices that are not directly oriented at the market. In spite of its recognition, Phosphorus was never financially sustainable.

In this sense, Sé is a new attempt to potentially exist, a desire to have a fertile environment surrounded by artists whose practices are slowly being understood and absorbed, making it possible to generate funds for the project’s continuity.

There are many independent initiatives in Brazil (practices that expand the aesthetic notion itself of the so-called visual arts), and the vast majority of them suffer from the same problem: lack of funds. Even so, armed with more courage, they are able to maintain their critical power at a very high level. Here are a few noteworthy examples.

Recibo is an experimental print production that creates and publishes projects and actions related to artistic practices of critical analysis, circulation and dissemination of ideas. The magazine surfaced in 2002, in Florianópolis (SC), and is published by Traplev, an artist residing in Recife (PE). Functioning through a network of collaborations between artists from the entire country, this is a platform that has resisted for 13 years via public bid processes. Its distribution is free of charge, but is financially unfeasible to remunerate its participants, except for Traplev himself, who dedicates a major part of his time to this utopic project.

Project Terreyro Coreográfico, conceived by artist Daniel Kairoz, who was contemplated in the 16th invitation to bid of the Municipal Dance Promotion Program for the City of São Paulo, takes place in a giant covered area under the Minhocão overpass and next to Teatro Oficina. With dozens of events free of charge, it offers activities to all types of public, including the homeless. In addition to celebrations, the project proposes “permanent states of intervention always doing questioning re-creating programming and reprogramming at every movement”.4 The project is now being threatened by government, which published a commercial occupation bid for the location. It’s ironic to think that the basic proposal seeks precisely to make public that which is public, through choreographies in the architectural and urban scale, assuming the importance of its geographic context (the Bexiga neighborhood and proximity with Teatro Oficina.)

Cia. Teatral Ueinzz is another one of these heroic initiatives: a “scenic territory for those who feel the world reel. Like in Kafka, it makes nausea on land the material of poetic and political transmutation. In the set, there are masters in the art of fortune telling, with notorious experience in improvisation and neologisms; specialists in maritime encyclopedias, frustrated trapeze artists, dream catchers, interpretation actresses. There are also inventors of pomba-gira, musical unknowns, brew masters and birthing creatures. Lives on a threshold, experimenting in aesthetic practices and transatlantic collaborations. Community of the community-less, for a community yet to come”.5

The quality of Brazilian experimental production is unquestionable. The gap resides in the lack of funding possibilities earmarked for the production of local critical mass. Brazilian contemporary art today needs to avoid importing foreign theories and produce its own critical mass.

The fact is that every theoretical or conceptual thinking that has known how to look at the entrails of Brazil has survived, such as Antropofagia, Parangolés, Tropicália and Macunaíma, which clearly address issues associated to our complex historical, social and political reality.

Yes, it is necessary to collect time and space. In today’s reality, however, it is necessary, first and foremost, to collect more courage.


Maria Montero lives and works in São Paulo, where she is an independent curator, artist and gallerist. She studied Art Psychotherapy at Goldsmith College (London, 1998) and is currently getting a graduate degree in Art: History, Critic and Curatorship from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (PUC-SP). She worked in institutional relations at Luciana Brito Galeria (2009-2010), was curator of the first version of Red Bull House of Art (2009) and coordinated project Abotoados Pela Manga together with Franz Manata (2010). Maria is founder and manager of Phosphorus, an independent space for experimental practices, with a focus on art residencies and process critiques. She is also founder and director of Sé, an art gallery located in the same building that’s home to Phosphorus, a historical 1890 building located on the first street in the city heart of São Paulo.



(1) ZANINI, Walter. Mais coragem. In: FREIRE, Cristina. Walter Zanini: critical writings. São Paulo: Annablume: 2014.
(2) Hélio Oiticica: o filme. Belo Horizonte: Guerrilha Filmes, 2012.
(3) NORONHA, Márcio Pizarro. Economia das artes. 2. ed. Goiânia: Gráfica Qualicor, 2015, p. 19.
(4) Available at: <>. Access: Feb 16, 2016.
(5) Available at: <>. Access: Feb 16, 2016.

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