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Work by Nuno Ramos

Rio Versus São Paulo:
Rivals or Complementary?

by Christina Roiter

Is the traditional competition between the two main poles of the Brazilian art world—Rio, the center of art production and São Paulo, home to commercial galleries--ultimately beneficial for Art?

Rio is the Americas, young, vital, energetic, looking forward towards the future;

São Paulo is Europe, conservative, steady, slow pace, elegant, chic....

Rio de Janeiro has been inspirational for artists in Brazil, the center for Art creation, whereas São Paulo is known for being where Rio sells the art created here....

Rio is an organic city, lively, surrounded by spectacular vistas of lush, green tropical rain forests, pristine beaches bathed by the Atlantic ocean, and superb girls in “dental floss” (as the g-string is called here) swim suits, known for its urban quality and effervescent night life. It is the capital of music production, where the leading musicians choose to live. And for these reasons, it evolved over the last decades into the capital of art production in Brazil, although in recent years some other cities are revealing some new and good production.

São Paulo is the megalopolis, the financial center, where the biggest industries have their main offices, where the money flows. A very urban city of skyscrapers, heavy traffic, pollution, and scarce green vegetation.

It is the competition between these two most important cultural centers of Brazil that drives the art engine here.

See for instance the number of very important commercial art galleries in São Paulo in comparison with Rio. Far fewer….

Rio has a few, very good galleries, like the ones owned by art dealers Sylvia Cintra, Laura Marsiaj, Heloisa Amaral Peixoto, Mercedes Viegas, and Anna Niemeyer, who struggle to sell in our charming, but commercially less favored city, at least where art is concerned.

In the last decades, Rio has also gained several important cultural centers, like the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB), owned by the Brazilian state owned bank Banco do Brasil, which has sponsored large and important exhibitions.

On March 3rd, 2008, CCBB has brought in from Berlin´s Ethnological Museum, which is considered one of the most important of the world, the exhibition The Tropics – Visions from the Center of the Globe, including 130 ancient works of Art from countries in the tropical regions of the planet (Africa, Asia, Americas and Oceania) and 87 works of art by 23 contemporary artists from several countries, among them paintings, photos, sculptures, videos and installations. The exhibition proposes a dialogue between ancient and contemporary art. Alfons Hug, who did the curatorial work for recent editions of the São Paulo Bienal, Viola Konig, and Peter Junge were the curators. The artists include: Caio Reisewitz, Candida Höfer, David Zink Yi, Fernando Bryce, Fiona Tan, Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger, Guy Tillim, Hans-Christian Schink, Lucia Laguna, Marcel Odenbach, Marcone Moreira, Marcos Chaves, Maurício Dias & Walter Riedweg, Milton Marques, Paulo Nenflídio, Pilar Albarracín, Sandra Gamarra, Sherman Ong, Theo Eshetu, Thomas Struth and Walmor Corrêa.

Work by Hilal Sami Hilal

Another big show happening in CCBB is about one of the pioneer photographers in Brazil, Marc Ferrez. It’s worth attending for the collection of 396 photos of Rio in the turn of the 20th century, and for those aficionados of the history of photography.

Hilal Sami Hilal, a great artist known for his sculptural structured paper nets, is showing at the Museum of Modern Art, the MAM, Rio. This time he is doing a collective work, with the collaboration of four teenagers from an Apprentice Project of Vale Museum in his home state of Espirito Santo. Names of family friends form the structure of some works, like the copper and paper books in one of the exhibition’s nuclei, the library. The books are created from sheets and names piled like pages. All identical, they intensify the empty spaces, creating a sense of profundity.

Rio is hosting the 2008 edition of the International Festival of Electronic Language, sponsored by Spanish Bank Santander, in a partnership with the Cultural Center Oi Futuro, owned by the state-owned cellular telephone company, Telemar. The Festival promotes and stimulates aesthetic production in electronic and digital culture. It’s the largest art and technology festival of Latin America. This year, it presents the project Se Liga (Be Connected), inviting the public to the cities where the festival is taking place, to the involved institutions, the virtual world, the web and electronic art.

Turning to private galleries, we have a “paulista” gallery (from São Paulo) showing in Rio. The internationally renown Fortes Vilaça has surrendered to Rio´s charms and opened the Casa do Saber (House of Knowledge), a new meeting place for the elite to attend courses in all types of contemporary matters like philosophy, music, art and also to see and be seen. The works exhibited are by excellent artists like Adriana Varejão, Ernesto Neto, Janaina Tschäpe, Luiz Zerbini, Nuno Ramos, Sara Ramo, Valeska Soares, and Vik Muniz.

I know I´m raising a big issue by comparing and contrasting the two cities’ art scenes and I know that Paulistas and Cariocas can get very angry with each other, and make a lot of jokes at each others’ expense.

In fact, let’s get serious.

Although Rio is considered the more “creative” city, the art production in São Paulo is very significant, with great islands of creativity and leading conceptual artists like Tunga, Nelson Leirner, and Leda Catunda.

The bipolar condition between the two cities is constantly shifting; the pendulum keeps searching for a balance, and has even moved outside their borders. Cities like Curitiba, Goíania, Salvador, and Recife have intelligently kept traditional competitive exhibitions rolling, which now substitute for the biggest and second most important national art show, The Salão Nacional de Artes Plásticas in Rio. The presence of these exhibitions brings art production to their cities as well, not only to Rio or São Paulo. 

To be continued …

For more information please visit the following websites:

Casa do Saber:
Laura Marsiaj Arte Contemporânea:

Christina Roiter is an artist based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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