So let’s take our course for a daring—and hopefully eventful—trip. Please bear with me when my narrative appears slightly chaotic or somewhat roundabout: those qualities precisely keep it true to life.
… And green the golden tree of life
The time was now ripe for in-depth stocktaking and a close analysis of the continent and its art scene—something that could only be accomplished “ex vivo” by traveling rather than by reading books. I had been to Latin America long before. I traveled through Peru and Bolivia for two months in 1979 and for another two months backpacked the so-called Gringo Trail in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras in 1980 with a marked anthropological and archaeological interest, my travel companion then being a student of anthropology, myself a student of art and archaeology. Nevertheless, these new trips were genuine expeditions.
“Little Hans went alone out into the wide, wide world”
Hänschen klein ging allein in die weite Welt hinein … is the first line of a German folk and children’s song by Franz Wiedemann, 1860. The melody is also known from the English Mother Goose song “Lightly Row”.
Did I ever feel doubtful or intimidated when I started with this mega task of building a collection? No, never. To tell the truth, quite the opposite was true. I had thousands of questions to god and his wife, and an overwhelming enthusiasm that spread to my immediate surroundings, to my employers, and to my colleagues, and that grew exponentially the more I became involved with Latin America. I was absolutely thrilled and regarded it as a privilege to be part of discovering and developing something new. Although the Daros Latinamerica Collection was a limited company under Swiss law, to me as ideator it always remained an undertaking, a venture, a project. Actually, it was an advantage that I was not “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” (Hamlet) and absolutely unencumbered in my direct encounters with the artists and their works. And there certainly was more than enough to discover!
Free as a bird
I was given complete freedom to plan and realize my trips, both in terms of frequency and sequence. Also, the criteria for art purchases, indeed, as well as all priorities that I set, were at my sole discretion. I could buy plenty or nothing, as the case may be. I enjoyed the complete confidence of my superiors and was committed to no one else in this world. I had to live up to nobody’s agenda, not even to my own, if circumstances required me to readjust my priorities. I was independent to the highest degree possible and fully flexible to do whatever seemed reasonable at a given moment. My only benchmark was “quality”, as defined and detected by myself—I will go into more detail on this later. It was initially intended that I first build the collection for ten years, and then proceed from there, but suddenly, things were happening much faster than expected …
For a closer impression, I am amending a sample report of a trip in September and October 2000 that took me from San Diego, California, via a number of stops, to São Paulo:
Travel Log: San Diego — Minneapolis — Montreal — Salvador de Bahia —Rio de Janeiro — São Paulo
September 22 to October 12, 2000
Visit of the opening of the exhibition “Ultrabaroque—Aspects of Post Latin American Art” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla, San Diego. The exhibition will tour the USA for the years to come and will contribute to informing the current understanding of Latin American art (curator: Elizabeth Armstrong, La Jolla). Most of the represented 15 artists are on the international agenda already or about to be put onto it. This improves neither their works nor the exhibition, though. A bit overstrained, good in parts, slightly too clean American; all in all it lacks spirit. Meeting with Alfredo Jaar and the Brazilian artist Lia Menna Bareto (Porto Alegre), who works with dolls a lot.
“Conceptual Photography from Cuba”, 11 Cuban photographic artists are exhibited at the semi-profit oriented alternative gallery “pARTs” (curator: Cristina Vives from Habana). Gallery director Vance Gellert is not on the best of terms with the provincial backwaters in the US. The exhibition is nicely set up; the works tend noticeably toward European conceptual photographic art.
Walker Art Center: intense discussion with Cathy Halbreich, director, and a tour through the museum together. Excellent impression, significantly fresher and more vital than the NY museums, interesting international acquisitions in the recent years. Herzog/De Meuron are the architects for the extension here, too. Good potential partner for the future.
Opening of the Biennale exhibition of the Centre International d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, discussion with Claude Gosselin (director), Orlando Brito (Spanish curator), and Martha Langford (Canadian photography curator). Due to financial cuts, the exhibition unfortunately turned out less extensive and international than originally planned, and is therefore merely of regional significance.
Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia, meeting with director Heitor Reis; well-managed museum in historical buildings immediately on the coast; excellent exhibition with works by Antonio Dias, one of the leading contemporary Brazilian artists. Vernissage at Paulo Darzé Galeria with works by A. Dias. Meeting with Mario Cravo, a leading local artist. Visit to his son’s studio, Mario Cravo Neto, one of the best Latin American photographers. We want to purchase about 30 of his b/w photos from the recent years, all 1 x 1 meter, Salvador imagery, frequently of symbolic character.
Visit of the Museu de Arte Contemporânea in Niterói, a UFO-shaped building designed by the architect Niemeyer and actually unsuited for exhibitions of any type.
Studio visit with Fernanda Gomes who works much with ephemeral materials (hair, paper) and creates idiosyncratic, formally consistent works; enchanting atelier with numerous objects, all of them in browns, whites, and grays.
Meeting with Miguel Rio Branco who informs us about his latest exhibition projects.
Studio visit with Beatriz Milhazes, a young artist who works with ornamental motifs. We are neither convinced by her few works nor by her publications.
Studio visit with Nelson Leirner, one of the grand old men of contemporary Brazilian art who has created politically motivated art all his life, and whose style shifts between Fluxus, Object, and Pop, bringing forth witty to sarcastic works. Art that continues to be very fresh.
Studio visit with Rosângela Rennó, a photo artist with a conceptual approach, who has dealt with the topic of “Memoria” in such a clear and lucid manner as few others in Latin America have. Marginalized groups, such as prisoners, acquire a new, brilliantly realized presence in her works.
Dinner at Frances Marinho, a media mogul’s wife, in honor of the director of the New Museum of NY, Lisa Philips, who is in Rio for the Cildo Meireles exhibition.
Visit of the exhibition rooms of the Centro Hélio Oiticica; a friendly and informative talk with the current director, Paulo Sergio Duarte, a distinguished expert of the cultural-political scene.
Studio visit with Waltercio Caldas, an artist with exceptional sensitivity and marked political awareness; we look at a few artist’s books and conduct an extended, rewarding talk about art.
Side trip to SP for a dinner with the collector José Olympio. Here, we meet Gilberto Chateaubriand, the doyen of Brazilian collectionism who is still the first to buy anything; he is friendly, canny, and witty. Adriana Varejão seems to be more of a curly-haired art cherub than a seriously involved painter; we will continue to follow her with a critical eye; we were not convinced by her most recent exhibition in Camargo Vilaça, at any rate.
Studio visit with Iole de Freitas, who convinced us with an installation at the Centro Oiticica.
Casa França-Brasil and Paço Imperial are currently closed for setup. But the Museu de Arte Moderna had an opening for a major Cildo Meireles exhibition showing the artist’s large-format installations together for the first time. Everyone is impressed, and so are we. We will keep following him.
Studio visit with José Damasceno: A very young and dynamic artist with a wide range of approaches and styles of expression. Definitely to be followed.
Lunch at Marc Pottier, a French consular representative, together with all the artists (including Carlos Vergara), the gallery owner Mary Sabattino from NY, a number of Brazilian curators, and also with Tunga, whom we go to see at his home afterward. With the rain pouring outside, we talk to him and his wife for a long time, about art and life, his topic.
Studio visit in the collective space “Agora”: Marcos Chaves, very simpatico, not overly structured; Eduardo Coimbra and Raul Mourão are conceptually slightly straitlaced in their photo-based work; Tatiana Grinberg orates about her meager opus; Carlos Bevilaqua is interesting, with idiosyncratic, philosophically transcendental objects of metal, glass, and balloons.
Studio visit with Nuno Ramos: powerful, furious, and pompous clusters of materials in an abandoned factory hall that benefit from the artists explanations. Ramos is bold in working and thinking big and in challenging and straining beauty.
Casa Triangulo, a commercial gallery, does not convince us.
The same holds true for our subsequent visit with Waldirley Dias Nunes; his small paintings, however, sell well.
A number of visits at the Galeria Camargo Vilaça acquaint us, among others, with the works of artists who are currently not present in town.
Two discussions with Ivo Mesquita, the formerly designated artistic director of the Bienal de São Paulo, are politically illuminating. We learn about intrigues and entanglements within the Bienal management that have lead to the present stop of preparations for the Bienal.
Visit of the Museu de Arte Moderna, meeting with the director Taddeu Chiarelli (knows the Brazilian regions very well) and the curator Rejane Cintrão (well versed in new photography), as well as with the agile president Milu Villela. Well-managed, trustworthy house, the prime place in São Paulo.
Visit of the Pinacoteca do Estado: We are shocked by the poor quality of the works and by their wild agglomeration and aggregation—a horror ride.
Vernissage at Luisa Strina presenting the Australian Tracey Moffatt.
Studio visit with Jac Leirner: We cannot find many new ideas apart from the amassed cards and stickers.
Visit of Brito Cimino Galeria (and later at home, too): a young gallery to be reckoned with, well on the way to expansion.
Studio visit with Leda Catunda + husband: We leave the house aesthetically unsettled.
Studio visit with Edgard de Souza, interesting, highly sensitive plastic works; as his output is small and no major works are to be had, we will keep an eye on him.
Studio visit with Raquel Garbelotti, very young artist who works a lot with architectural models. With further concentration, we expect her to create excellent works.
Gallery visits: Thomas Cohn, meanwhile a tired old man, originally the pioneer among young Brazilian art mediators; Luisa Strina takes us to her home, where we see a number of major works we wouldn’t mind having…; Baro Senna: we politely browse through the dossiers.
We roam through Galeria André Millan representing Tunga; and Gabinete de Arte Raquel Arnaud, a former pioneer dealing in Schendel, constructive works, and many others more. Visit of the Oficina Cultural de Andrade, unprofessional exhibition room; visit of the MASP, exhibition “Freud in Brazil”, as well as the collection Assis Chateaubriand, older masters, decent collection of French works. Finis.