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Brazil: the new collectors

Brazil: the new collectors

Posted by Laura Zúñiga on April 02, 2014

To step into Regina Pinho de Almeida’s home is to enter São Paulo’s art world itself.

The front door in the house’s security wall in the leafy neighbourhood of Alto de Pinheiros opens on to a beautiful courtyard and pool, whose minimalist white lines provide the perfect backdrop for her collection of contemporary artworks. The art starts at the gate, with an untitled 2010 work by São Paulo artist Nino Cais, consisting of the bottom half of a dummy with a suitcase on top instead of a torso, and a distinctive untitled and undated piece by the late, internationally renowned Rio de Janeiro sculptor Sergio de Camargo, a vertical block of marble with shapes jutting elegantly from one side.

São Paulo is a deceptive megalopolis – its grey expanse of utilitarian residential towers and office blocks conceals a vibrant cultural life, including an increasingly active art-collector market of which Pinho de Almeida is a pioneer.

“I like art that has a sense of humour,” she says, explaining one of the threads that unite the works in her collection. “I don’t like ugly pieces, scatology.” On the ceiling of her living room is a piece by the artist João Loureiro entitled “Nuvem” (“Cloud”, 2001). Nearby, hovering like an angry rainstorm, is “Alguns anos depois” (“A Few Years Later”, 2004), a work by his São Paulo counterpart Nazareno that looks like a chain of miniature hospital beds.

Brazil’s economic expansion over the past decade and a half has led to a flowering not only of new shopping malls to serve the growing middle classes but also a broadening interest in art beyond the tiny circle of enthusiasts and gallery owners who once dominated the scene.

A measure of the growth of interest in art in Brazil is the dynamism of the market. More than two-thirds of the country’s galleries were created after 2000, a quarter of them since 2010, according to a study last year by the Latitude Project, a collaboration between the Brazilian Association of Contemporary Art and the government’s Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, or Apex. “Today, you have an educated market of people who will buy art not just to have something to put on the wall to agree with the sofa,” says designer and collector José Marton. “You have collectors who really are collectors, who collect genuine artworks.”

The Latitude study found that average ­gallery sales grew 22.5 per cent in 2012. Private Brazilian collectors snapped up 71 per cent of works sold in Brazil in 2012 compared to 11.5 per cent for foreign individual collectors. Brazilian corporate collections bought a further 6 per cent and Brazilian institutions just 4.25 per cent.

Another indication of the growing buyer enthusiasm in the market is price. According to the Latitude study, 60 per cent of galleries surveyed reported that they increased prices by 15 per cent in 2012. The average price in the primary market across the galleries surveyed was R$22,000 ($9,400).

Long-time collectors such as Pinho de Almeida recall an era when few would have dreamt of such prices, especially for the works of younger artists. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Brazil’s art world was still closed to the outside world – it was even difficult to import art materials. Indeed, when Brazil’s great physicist and art critic Mário Schenberg died in 1990, his family passed on to Pinho de Almeida a large number of works by his friend Mira Schendel, the Swiss-born ­Brazilian artist known for her use of rice paper. Today, Schendel, who died in 1988, is considered so significant that Tate Modern in London held what it described as the “first ever international full-scale survey of her work” between last September and this January, featuring more than 250 pieces. Schendel, the museum said, “was one of Latin America’s most important and prolific post-war artists. With her contemporaries Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica, Schendel reinvented the language of European Modernism in Brazil.”

Pinho de Almeida says that 24 years ago, however, when she offered the Schenberg family’s Schendel works to various collector friends for prices of between $100 and $400, few bought them: “[Schendel] did not have any market, there were few collectors here and … artists did not make a living from selling their works.”

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