What made us choose Rio of all places? We deliberately wanted to establish Casa Daros in a city with a thriving art scene that yet left ample space for new venues. And we were also looking for a location that would in itself be attractive to our future visitors.
Why Rio of all places?
Immediately after starting the collection, in the end of 2000, we began the search for a place to set up the future Casa Daros, originally in La Habana. My idea was, quite straightforward, to establish the Casa in a geostrategically convenient situation. Things were looking good for us, and we had reason to believe that we would have settled in quite comfortably by the time post-Castro social order would fully catch on. But Cuba’s Black Spring in 2003 thoroughly thwarted our plans, leading as it did to the country’s total isolation. That also put an end to our negotiations with the Cuban authorities, which had been going surprisingly and overwhelmingly well up to that point. We originally had the idea to open up two centers in Latin America, one in the Spanish-speaking area and the other in Brazil. So, when our Cuba project failed, we readily turned to Rio de Janeiro. It took some time and intense searching, but we eventually succeeded to find our spot.
The rise of the Brazilian art scene was already looming, but it was not yet manifest. The number of galleries in Rio was certainly not overwhelming and the artistic climate was predominantly marked by stagnation, while most of the trade was being conducted in São Paulo. As viewed from São Paulo, Rio was a good weekend destination for a beach outing, but hardly the palladium of art and culture.
The art institutions in Rio at the time are quickly listed. The hotspot was the exhibition center Centro Cultural do Banco do Brasil (CCBB), and among the museums, the Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM), followed by the Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) near Niterói, the Paço Imperial and the Centro Hélio Oiticica. Less visible were the Casa França-Brasil and its neighbor, the Centro Correios. Over and above those, there were the “classics”, such as the small but excellent Instituto Moreira Salles and the Fundaçâo Eva Klabin. All in all, we found a diversity that would definitely benefit from the addition of Casa Daros.
Competition is good for business
Interestingly enough, an impressive number of initiatives were popping up in Latin America at the same time as we were building up the Daros Latinamerica Collection. They had all started around the year 2000, all with completely different approaches and motives and without even knowing from each other—and all of them would substantially participate in the generally positive situation for art from Latin America in the years to come – not even the global financial crisis of 2008 brought a significant slack. A change for the better had set in regarding the overall conditions for art in Latin America.
(Somewhat) simultaneous startups:
- The international art center and botanical garden of Bernardo de Mello Paz in Inhotim near Belo Horizonte in Minas Gerais, Brazil: an incredible story of success with a suite of art pavilions in the middle of a vast park; a utopia come true, emerging out of nothing and today attracting visitors worldwide.
- The International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA) at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH), initiated and headed by Mari Carmen Ramirez, and one of the major science and research centers on Latin American art, in charge of conducting the long-term project of digitalizing archives and source materials of Latin American art.
- The Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), founded and operated by Eduardo Costantini, which over the years has succeeded in adapting to political and social necessities and has become an integral part of the museum landscape of Argentine and of Latin America.
- Ella Cisneros` foundation in Miami for supporting Latin American artists, Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation (CIFO).
- The Mexican Fundación Jumex Arte Contemporáneo with museum in Mexico City, launched by Eugenio López as a sort of “Kunstverein plus collection” boasting an international agenda.
- The Bruce and Diana Halle Collection in Phoenix, Arizona, with a focus on Latin America since around 1995.
- The Collection Alfonso Pons, a Venezuelan collector of Catalan origin, as well as his legacy to the Museu d` Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA).
- The new Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA) in La Habana was inaugurated by Fidel Castro in 2001, however, with only little impact beyond Cuba.
- Extremely important for Latin America, on the other hand, were the Mercosul Biennial taking place in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil since 1997; the Bienal de Artes Visuales del Istmo Centroamericano (BAVIC), which takes place in a different country every time since 1998; and the Bienal Iberoamericana de Lima, which took place only three times from 1997 to 2002.
- The Art Fair of Bogota (ArtBo), and the Art Fair Zona Maco in Mexico City emerged in 2004 and over the years became regionally well-established institutions. The international flagship fair for Latin American art dominating the scene since 2002 is the Art Basel Miami Beach.
- Two vital changes further occurred within the Latin American gallery landscape in the year 2000: after the original founders Ruth Benzacar and Marcantonio Vilaça had died, their galleries were realigned and relaunched. The new Gallery Ruth Benzacar was headed by her daughter Orly in Buenos Aires, while the Gallery Fortes Vilaça was renewed in São Paulo.
- With varying degrees of success, the MoMA in New York, the TATE Modern in London, and the Centre Pompidou in Paris made attempts to accommodate Latin American art – more on this later.
- The Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas, the Americas Society in New York, and, of course, the outstanding and excellent Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros (CPPC) in New York remain important institutions.