Heleno Bernardi, Enquanto falo, as horas passam, 2017-SP-ARTE 2019
Kalinca Costa Söderlund, born in Brazil, with a PhD in Latin American Art, based in London founder of Arrière-Garde Art Consultancy and Laura Tori Petrillo, born in Zurich, graduated in London, professor, director of Academy Now, former curator of the British art patron David Roberts's London gallery, consultant of ArteFiera Bologna between 2009 and 2012, discuss the Current Global Trends of the art production through the lenses of two major art fairs in the countries they respectively know well, Brazil and Italy.
Laura Tori Petrillo: CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOU AND YOUR SPECIFIC INTEREST IN ART?
Kalinca Costa Söderlund: It has been years since I began to look into the globalisation of art. It all started with my PhD, which was in itself a process of analysing the relationship between modernist Latin American art with avantgarde trends and the institutionalisation of art in Europe and the USA, and, subsequently to the end of my research project, it came spontaneous to explore the contemporary art scene through a macro-perspective. Moreover my multicultural background and the fact that I was brought up in a cross-cultural family, which has determined my nomadic way of living, contributed to shaping my views and interest on art and culture.
LTP: …TRANSNATIONAL IDENTITY. I GROW UP IN ZURICH, THEN MOVED TO ITALY TO STUDY, AND EVENTUALLY TO LONDON TO WORK. CAN YOU BE MORE SPECIFIC ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
KCS: I grew-up between Italy and Brazil, and I have lived in the UK from 2003 to 2018 with a 5 and a half years stint in Stockholm, Sweden. I was educated in London, and after specialising there in Latin American art, and having family members based in Brazil, it made sense to spend about a year there trying to understand the country’s cultural and visual production from inside and ‘in practice’, so to speak, and away from all the theoretical and historiographical discourse that I am part of back in the scholarly environment of the UK. In Brazil, I have conducted extensive fieldwork, meeting artists, curators, gallery owners, and visiting art studios, museums, galleries, and obviously also the most important art fair in the country, and one of the major in Latin America: the SP-Arte 2019, in São Paulo.
LTP: HOW WAS THE TIME YOU SPENT IN BRAZIL AFTER SO MANY YEARS IN THE UK AND SCANDINAVIA, AND WHAT DID YOU DISCOVER ABOUT THE ART SCENE AND ART SYSTEM THERE?
KCS: I had an amazing full immersion and I have not only met great art practitioners and thinkers, as I have also gained vital insights on the effervescence, types of creative and conceptual lines of enquiry, and, in particular, on a finely tuned willingness to embrace those fresh approaches that are pervading the global art scene both in terms of art practice and its resonance within top museums in other centres of cultural production such as New York, Chicago, London and Berlin. And I was particularly pleased to see that at SP-Arte, despite the obvious limitations that market forces may impose on the portfolio selection and agenda of galleries, Brazilian art businesses are actually forward-thinking and are open to the most experimental and cutting-edge world currents in contemporary art. Of course, they are also very attentive when it comes to mediate pure innovation with sales potential; when it comes to downscale what is going on internationally in the institutional sphere as irradiator of the latest world currents to formats and voices which are faithful to themselves as uncontaminated cultural producers yet are also marketable and even able to fit the views and styles of that type of collector who will mainly buy to display his/her acquisitions in the entertainment areas of his/her adobe.
LTP: SO, AFTER BRAZIL YOU EXPLORED THE ART PRODUCTION OF THE OTHER COUNTRY YOU HAVE ROOTS IN: ITALY. I AM CURIOUS TO HAVE YOUR POINT ON ARTEFIERA BOLOGNA WHICH HAS JUST TAKEN PLACE.
KCS: I flew from São Paulo to Milan in Autumn 2019, and since then I have been doing my mapping, talent scouting and analysis of the art system here. Accordingly, I have visited ArteFiera in Bologna a few days ago, and I must admit that I have not noticed the same daring, visionary and risk-taking approach that characterises art businesses in the New World. My impression whilst going around the booths of Pavilion 15, the one dedicated to young and mid-career artists and their respective gallerists, was that - apart from the exceptions I will highlight later on in this text – ArteFiera’s profile is timid, cautious, and as adverse to boldness as possible in order to secure business and to reflect the character and expectations of the collectors of its galleries. Despite the geographical proximity to experimental centres of cultural productions such as Berlin and London, and obviously to one of the foremost art events in the Planet, the Venice Biennale, ArteFiera Bologna has put its fingers on the latest leading world currents of contemporary art with an extremely light touch; so much so that it is hard to say that it was capable of leaving any significant mark or impression on them. Taking away the few projects which I will discuss, it felt like Italian gallerists are turning a blind eye to some of the global art trends – assuming that they are aware of them and prefer not to address them so to be collectors pleasers.
LTP: THIS IS ONE OF THE MANY SIGNS THAT ITALY, LIKE IT OR NOT, WITHIN THE CURRENT GLOBAL ART SYSTEM, PLAYS THE ROLE OF A 'PROVINCE'.
KCS: Yes. Even São Paulo which is much bigger than London and culturally is as rich and as diverse as the British capital, still has the features of a cultural province too. Brazil has been known as an insular reality even within Latin America itself, since time immemorial, for being the largest of all countries and the only Portuguese speaking one. Gallerists think a lot of the Brazilian collector and are aware that they will sell to foreigners at fairs outside Brazil. Having said that, I think that the main divide in this specific case is really that of the New World as opposed to the Old World. In spite of all the persisting social and political problems, Brazil still see the growth of affluent society groups that are enjoying the advantages of increasing economic power, that want to catch up with the type of lifestyle they see when travelling to Europe and the USA, but are more receptive, less stable and rigid when it comes to issues of aesthetic status and taste.
LTP: TRUE. COULD YOU GIVE ME SOME PRACTICAL EXAMPLES BY COMPARING THE CHOISES OF GALLERIES AT SP-ARTE AND ARTEFIERA?
KCS: Sure. For instance, when it comes to the current global revivals of trends such as Minimalism, Neo-Geo, the Memphis Group and the 1980s visual iconography, they remain strong in both geographical areas, with recurrent formalism and use of light, fluorescent hues and relational modes of functioning with the viewer. Milanese galleries have excelled in such current: Menhir Arte Contemporanea showed work by German artist Albert Hien, made of neon panels which emphasise the power of words, often dematerialising letters into strict geometrical forms. Also great was Dep Art booth, headed by Antonio Addamiano, which proposed work by German artist Regine Schumann, a hybrid revival of the work of Dan Flavin and Donald Judd, highly atmospheric and that invited its admirers to move around to perceive the work from different sensorial perspectives. Addamiano is commendable also for being the only one to propose art that adopts the digital and technological advancements in recent years with a video-artwork by Tony Oursler, which required the viewers to use special glasses to enjoy the 3D features of Oursler’s screening. However in this case one can notice how cautious Italian galleries can be when it comes to propose innovation, given that, as you have mentioned, they play save by doing so by recurring to big international names rather than taking the risk of a new perspective coming from little known talents. Yet, I was delighted to find out that somebody intended to break the status quo and to really tell collectors what they should consider including in their repertoires in order to be abreast of the latest currents. Far more daring was the 20th century art revision seen at SP-Arte and proposed by Casa Triângulo Gallery, which has entwined the visual iconography of the 1980s with performance and LGTBQ culture by showing AVAF (Assume Vivid Astro Focus) and the work ‘Alôca Vudu Avoa Furiosa’ (2019) a highly staged and political performative work which saw a gay dancer wearing a retro style neon-yellow body suit and cat-eye sunglasses moving sensually to the hybrid song which brought together local ethnic and Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ genres, and was sang by a guy with multicoloured face-covering dreadlocks. This was a daily event that would develop slowly until the blast of the dance/music performance towards the end of each day and at the very time the fair had its highest concentration of visitors; an event between art and showbiz perhaps, yet able to state clearly that performance and new forms of relational art must have its place at art fairs. At ArteFiera performance was totally absent, without mentioning such an explicit reference to popular and minorities’ cultures.
Albert Hein, Papalapap -ARTEFIERA Bologna 2020
LTP: WHAT DO YOU THINK WAS THE LEAST EXPLORED GLOBAL WORLD CURRENT AT BOTH FAIRS?
KCS: I think it was what I would call ‘Art, Nature, the Post-Human and Indigenous Cosmovisions’, which addresses the global environmental crisis, and the way we are trashing our Planet and its ecosystem in name of capitalism, greed and irrational consumption. Many artists, nowadays, are negotiating their practices with Cosmovisions coming from non-Western epistemologies, with notions related to the current ecological debate and to the Anthropocene, that is, the era of the significant human impact of Earth’s geology and ecosystems. They are also exploring theories on Post-humanism, which claim that human beings are interconnected to, rather than separated from, non-human beings. Indeed, latest generations of artists are advocating an ethical position that extends moral concerns to everything which is ‘different’ from human beings, and, in particular, to other living species and objects with which we cohabit in the world.
LTP: BOLOGNA THOUGH, AS YOU MENTIONED ‘ANTHROPOCENE’, HAS JUST HOSTED A SHOW WITH THE SAME TITLE AT MAST. THE EXHIBITION HAD WORKS BY EDWARD BURTYNSKY, JENNIFER BAICHWAL AND NICHOLAS DE PENCIER.
KCS: Indeed many museums are addressing these issues in their programmes. Now, one may ask in which ways these intellectualised cultural discourses and debates may permeate the membrane of capitalism and of the art market and manifest themselves in the reality of the commercial gallery space, and most relevantly to this article, within the walls of an art fair booth. Having said that, aA29 Project Room at ArteFiera has clearly put forward its ethos as a gallery (with branches in Milan, Reggio Emilia and Caserta) committed to research-based artistic practice interested in the social, anthropological, in issues surrounding ecology and sustainability and against new forms of colonialism and authoritarianisms. In fact, aA29 booth showed photographic work by Tiziana Pers, and Kyle Thomson. Pers’ work records one of the artist’s performances that symbolically proposes the possibility of art becoming a mean of negotiation for the preservation of living species other than the human one. Whereas Thomson’s one denounces the American production of ‘landscapes of waste’ as a result of USA’s colossal industry and of the technological advancements of Silicon Valley by highlighting, as a counterpoint, that side of the USA unknown by the majority - like, for instance, the Midwest with its vast areas of wild, deserted and untouched Nature. I have greatly appreciated the way in which aA29 has opted to promote artists who are challenging the philosophical and ethical movements that are unified by their unshakable belief in the unique value, agency and moral supremacy of human beings, therefore fighting against the era of the Anthropocene.
LTP: SO IF SUCH ETHICALLY SOUND APPROACHES TO THE FUTURE OF OUR PLANET ARE STRUGGLING TO PERMEATE THE ART MARKET, WHAT DO YOU THINK REMAINS THE STRONGEST TREND BOTH AT THE BRAZILIAN AND THE ITALIAN ART FAIR?
KCS: I think that the predominant world current at SP-Arte in Brazil a few months ago and at ArteFiera in Italy a few days ago was ‘Spectacularism’ for obvious reasons: because art chewed-down to consumer-good conditions sells and it does not require specialist awareness to be purchased. For instance, Luis Maluf Gallery’s booth at SP-Arte, as much as his gallery in the upscale Jardins neighbourhood in São Paulo has shown to which extent art and capitalism are going hand in hand, and how the approximation of art to street culture, advertising, Hollywood and the fantasy film industry have made of art objects a product of consumption. Luis Maluf’s booth not only was curated to take an extremely accessible veneer - looking more like a cheesy shop merchandised to mesmerize, enchant and make art palatable as any limited edition Nike sneakers or Luis Vuitton accessory - as it also conversed with Brazil’s 21st century yuppies and millennials ready to spend their high disposable incomes on (totally non-ecological) spray cans decorated and signed by artists, sculptural pieces that recall ‘The Hobbits’ or Brazilian versions of ‘Pocahontas’, and on canvases that bring to the house walls graffiti art reminiscent of the celebrity Brazilian twins and artists ‘Os Gemeos’.
A similarly daring and tongue-in-cheek approach has been taken by Giordano Raffaelli of Raffaelli Gallery, and by Davide Raffaelli of Cellar Contemporary, both from Trento. The former had the courage of taking 1980s born Italian artist Laurina Paperina, who although still at the early stage of her career is producing that kind of witty ‘Neo-Pop’ art that has taken London by storm and is decorating the homes of the wealthy Russians, Arabs and Asians who are buying the very prime of Central London Real estate. Laurina Paperina is an invented personality who lives in Duck Land and, from there, produces exquisitely executed, multi-coloured statuettes at the crossroad between children’s dreams, cartoons, and any improbable character one may bump into Instagram or surfing the internet. Her paintings and drawings are irreverent, and she is not scared to recur to sexual connotations to seduce her admirers and collectors. Davide Raffaelli, Giordano’s son and the Director of Cellar Contemporary has opted for a foreign name: Bäst, the American enfant terrible that since the beginning of its activity has appropriated the visual identity of brands using logos for his own ends, has produced pictorial work reminiscent both of those of 20th century masters and those of the underground art scene, and has signed a collection for fashion designer Marc Jacobs. Well, ok…the choreographic impact of Maluf’s booth at SP-Arte was a far cry from the sober approach of the Raffaellis at ArteFiera, but still.
LTP: COULD YOU COMPARE THE TWO SHOWS ALSO IN GENERAL TERMS AND GIVE ME SOME EXAMPLES OF THE DIFFERENT APPROACHES TAKEN BY BRAZILIAN AND ITALIAN GALLERISTS?
KCS: By way of drawing general comparisons, I can also say that SP-Arte felt like a Luna Park: entertaining, vibrating, variegated, even unapologetically cheesy in some of its ‘Spectacularist’ productions, yet finely-tuned to the other (less superficial) major global trends and capable of adjusting them to the needs and more facile demands of the Brazilian art market and collectors’ taste. Whereas ArteFiera felt more like a Ceremony: formal, solemn, composed, willing to bask in the safe heaven of conservativism and guaranteed business, and a tad dull in its attempts to put forward its edgy, innovative and ‘we are so cool’ outbursts. The fingers of one hand are almost enough to list the booths that were original, that showed awareness of the major global currents, and that were brave enough not to explore them by recurring to the big names of the international art scene - and which nowadays sell more for what they stand for as art celebrities than for any conspicuous contribution to culture they may still make.
LTP: INTERESTING. HAVE YOU GOT ANY FURTHER CONSIDERATIONS, THINGS YOU NOTICED IN ARTEFIERA AFTER BRAZIL?
KCS: Painting was omnipresent at both SP-Arte and ArteFiera, with the Italian event taking the lead when it comes to proposing emerging and mid-career artists whose works draw on that of Western figurative masters from the late 19th century and early 20th one. Example of this would be Francesca Antonini Gallery from Rome, which showed works by Guglielmo Castelli, impeccable in their intricacy and harmonious colour palettes and which bring to mind Lautrec, Matisse, Klimt and the existentialist approach to the human body. Ribot, a young Milanese gallery founded by Monica Bottani in 2015 and which focuses on international emerging artists showed an original contribution to contemporary painting through the work of British artist Jonathan Lux, who was shortlisted, like Castelli, for the ‘Premio per la Pittura Mediolanum’. Here too, we noticed explicit references to the Western history of figurativism re-worked out through an existentialist key, and a nostalgia for the socio-cultural environment, domesticity and bohemianism typical of the 1950-60s. It is not surprising that at art fairs paintings may take the lead as collectors still have a penchant for objects they may hang in their home and office walls, however, the Brazilians have shown much more sensibility when it came to being experimental and to showing relational, politicised and interdisciplinary art: the AVAF performance I have mentioned early on is an example.