Interview with Luiz Camillo Osorio

Rio de Janeiro, September 3, 2018

Luiz Camillo, what has changed over the last two decades in the world of Latin American art and culture?

I think there have been two phases. In the early 2000s, the international market began to pay more attention to Latin American art. But this process started in the late 1980s with globalization, the arrival of the Internet, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The 1989 exhibition “Les Magiciens de la Terre” is a milestone in this regard. The institutional gaze was focused on other modernities–which has to do with the crisis of European modernity and the possibility of thinking about other temporalities, with other dominant hubs beyond Europe and North America. In this regard, a new gaze began to focus on “peripheral” production. For example, the interest in Neo-Concrete artists arose as a result of better organized and touring exhibitions, and consequently, the acquisition of their work by major museums. Both the Reina Sofia and Daros Latinamerica, of which you were the director and curator, were already thinking about this Latin American network and its contribution to the history of modern art. That is why it’s now in the MoMA, the TATE, and everywhere.

 How do you view the market? Has it changed much in recent years?

Markets always need to open new territories and find unsaturated niches. And collectors want to find artists that are still “cheap”—hence the interest in Eastern Europe, Latin America, China… Brazilian galleries began to go to fairs and international galleries began to represent Latin American artists. The Brazilian collector and gallerist Marcantonio Vilaça started to form partnerships with foreign galleries. One day in the late 1990s, Ernesto Neto called me and asked me to meet with Christopher Grimes, an American gallerist who was coming to Rio and who was allied with Marcantonio; he represented Neto, José Damasceno, and Valeska Soares at the time. I took him straightaway to see the work of Hélio Oiticica. The Hélio Oiticica Art Center had just opened and there was a magnificent exhibition of his work. Then I introduced him to Tunga, Waltércio Caldas, Artur Barrio… We visited their workshops. It was then that he became aware of a genealogy of contemporary Brazilian art and the singular meaning of our modernity. Around this time, the international insertion of Brazilian art was triggered. Today Oiticica is at the same level as an Andy Warhol… Waltércio, Tunga, and others are consolidated in the international market.

I have my doubts as to whether Latin American art really did penetrate the heads of my colleagues. Who knows if in Europe it wasn’t just a bubble, a trend, like African art used to be, and then Chinese art…

Look, I think the market always lives on trends. However, institutions like Daros Latinamerica can crystallize, in the Swiss and European circuits, more culturally durable trends. I remember that in 2007, I visited the Daros Latinamerica exhibition in Bochum, and I was able to see important works by Richard Serra next to those by Antonio Dias, Iole de Freitas, Waltércio Caldas… This creates a cultural environment that goes beyond trends. It may start off as a fashion, but it matures over time, as it penetrates cultural institutions. The Reina Sofia in Madrid has contributed a lot to this rereading of the 20th century, with much attention focused on Latin America. The hanging of their collection is a bold staging that rediscusses various concomitant processes of modernity. You see Jorge Oteiza next to Franz Weissmann and Lygia Pape; Oiticica next to the post-minimalists. The museum has also offered major exhibitions of artists like Meireles, Barrio, Jaar… A repertoire of major artists who transcend the Latin American context.

The Reina Sofia is in fact the most solid and profoundly academic offer in Europe, delving into all aspects and taking the time required to analyze these topics. It’s a lot harder that way than just producing a brilliant one-off event from time to time, as it happens at the Tate.

The work that Daros Latinamerica carried out in Rio was fundamental for Brazilian art and for its integration to the Latin American scene. For historical reasons, Brazil is a separate continent. Brazil was discovered in 1500 (and not in 1492!) and speaks Portuguese: two decisive cultural factors. To share and discuss the parallel paths of Latin American modernism, the common processes of emancipation, and how art reflects this history and can project a future, is very interesting. Daros was the ideal space to develop this horizontal south-south dialogue. The São Paulo Biennial is also partly working on this. Today, museums have more scope to think about these cultural exchanges and displacements. It is essential to try to produce these alternative cartographies. Daros Latinamerica played a key role in consolidating this exchange and this dialogue. It’s a shame it lasted such a short time.

In the 2000s, there was still a lot of discussion about Latin American identity. I have the impression that, despite globalization, even today many Latin Americans still feel inferior because of their peripheral status. I have always wanted to combat this idea, which I consider to be an erroneous projection.

The defense of identities prevents the possibility of transformative exchanges, and if it becomes too restrictive, it leads to the exclusion of the other. However, minority identities have long suffered from a harsh marginalization. It’s essential to abandon this dichotomy of the universal and the particular, and start thinking in terms of a transuniversality or a pluriversality, where we are not trapped in this dichotomy of many particularities and an absolute universal. How can we conceive of this pluriversality in a process of de-identification? The question remains open.

Changing the subject, has the artistic field in Brazil become more consolidated today, compared to thirty years ago?

Brazil has become institutionally stronger. The art circuit is stronger, with better galleries, better museums, greater international visibility, and more art studies than thirty years ago. But its cultural policy fluctuates far too much. Early this morning, one of the country’s greatest museums of archeology and anthropology—and one of the most important in the world given its indigenous collection—burnt down. Twenty million objects were destroyed. In Brasília we recently built a football stadium that cost more than one billion reais! The National Museum in Rio is in ruins. We created the “Museo do Amanha” and the Olympic Village in Rio, we carried out three consecutive renovations of the Maracanã stadium… A fortune was spent. And meanwhile, hundreds of years of history disappear as a result of everyone’s negligence. How sad it is to realize the extent to which we always neglect important cultural developments and prefer to invest in mere events, in the ephemeral. 

The precarious state of the Museo de Arte Moderna or of the Hélio Oiticica Art Center in Rio, as well the loss of Daros Latinamerica… All this is very pitiful. We still have the international biennial, the art fairs in São Paulo and Rio, major galleries (especially in São Paulo), as well as good museums and institutions. But we still lack a public policy, a state policy committed to Brazilian cultural diversity, to its asymmetries and its potential. All projects are subject to the changes and oscillations of governments, of power. Brazil is extremely complex. Education has improved over the last 25 years. But in the rest of the world, it has improved even more. We must think about art and education together.

How do you see the status of art criticism at the moment? In Europe, there is considerably less than before. There is no space for it anymore and critics are underpaid. What happened?

This merits a long discussion! There’s academic criticism, which by its nature is more hermetic and has a very limited circulation. In the 1990s, I wrote art reviews for O Globo. It was a weekly column. But the debate was already constrained. The public space was already completely fragmented. Now texts circulate differently, on the internet or restricted to niches. However, let’s think about the dislocations between criticism and curatorship, which has attained a greater scope and requires a reflexive redimensioning of criticism so that it will not become institutionally usurped or conditioned by the affectation of spectacle. Moreover, a historical narrative developed through a permanent exhibition such as the one the Reina Sofía has laid out seems to me to play an essential critical role in our contemporary context, coming from a museum. It is no small matter to make an institution of this scale receptive to critical debate. MoMA itself, which dominated Modernism’s narrative, is rethinking itself in terms of its own constructions. Curating in this sense is a consequence of criticism: a spatialized, unwritten criticism.

This implies a huge historical and social responsibility.

Many debates and discussions are still pending.

But where do the criteria come from today? Above all, good training is required in order to be able to develop these criteria. I’m frustrated by a serious lack of training; students have increasingly less time to prepare themselves.

A serious shortcoming of universities is their scant participation in public discussions about art. They want to maintain their theoretical and intellectual purity, abstract and sterile, which erodes their ability to engage in debates. They often lack substance, materiality, experience… One must think about the state of curatorship! 

A good exhibition involves the viewer in the way the works are presented and in their interplay. Many curators underestimate the intellectual power of the public.

 Let’s organize a seminar in Switzerland and Brazil about criticism and curating!

Yes. We must!

Luiz Camillo Osorio (Rio de Janeiro, 1963) teaches at the Philosophy Department of Rio de Janeiro’s Pontifical Catholic University, and is a member of the National Association of Researchers (CNPQ) and a curator at the PIPA Institute. He was curator of the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro (2009-2015), of the Brazilian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2015), and of the exhibitions “Calder and Brazilian Art” (Itaú Cultural, São Paulo, 2016), and the 35th Panorama of Brazilian Art (MAM, São Paulo, 2017), among others. He is the author of the books Flavio de Carvalho (2000), Abraham Palatnik (2004), Razões da Critica (2005), and Olhar à Margem (2016).

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