"There are many Brazilian arts, just as there are many Brazils and artists working in the geographical territory called Brazil"
Cristiana Tejo Revista das Artes ano1/6
In the 25 years since the restoration of full democracy, Brazil has become a major player on the world's stage, and contemporary art in Brazil has acquired similar importance. Artists working in Brazil are finding increasing recognition abroad, both within South America and in the global arena, as demonstrated by strong showings in international Biennials, and the growing presence of Brazilian dealers and gallerists at international art fairs.
Prior to this recent upsurge in global recognition of all things Brazilian, much cultural production within Brazil was less known on the global scene, with artists in exile often being better known than their compatriots at home.
With contemporary art acquiring increasingly international and global characteristics, there may appear to be little that distinguishes contemporary art made in Brazil from that produced elsewhere. Within Brazil itself it may be hard to find a ‘national identity' for a culture in general that stretches much further than popular infatuation with football, and the celebratory enthusiasm for carnaval. Brazil is a country of continental proportions with seemingly little apart from language, football and carnival to link it together. The Brazil of a metropolitan São Paulo is very different even from the Brazil of Rio de Janeiro and more especially from the dusty rural areas of the northeast or the distant jungles of Amazonas. Yet contemporary cultural production flourishes in all regions and on the level of more popular, craft-based visual arts regional differences are more pronounced.
Within Brazil itself, the major centres for contemporary art are generally considered to be Rio and São Paulo, and for many artists from other regions of the country success is often measured by showing in São Paulo. Without doubt, a considerable amount of very interesting and significant work is being produced in Rio and São Paulo. The major museums and commercial galleries are located here, and it can seem that all eyes are focused there rather than other activities in the regions. Prices for contemporary art are much higher in those two major cities. Yet other regional centres are increasingly making claims for inclusion on the itinerary as major centres for contemporary art production and exhibition. Belo Horizonte, in the Minas Gerais region, has the recently opened Inhotim, on a 3000-acre site, housing 600 works by more than 100 artists in 14 galleries and other exhibition spaces in gardens designed by the modernist landscapist Roberto Burle Marx. Salvador in Bahia has an important Museum of Modern Art, as does Recife in Pernambuco.
Early results of the globalisation of the Brazilian art system have begun to be felt in recent years. A new generation of artists is emerging that is less constrained by the restrictions of the past, with fewer memories of fear and repression. Liberalisation of the political system in the past 25 years, coupled with easier travel and communications and decentralisation have expanded the flow of information , which has driven greater professionalism and the growth of regional hubs in cities such as Recife, Fortaleza, Belem, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, and Porto Alegre, with the emergence of new museums, galleries and art events and a loosening of the perceived stranglehold formally exerted by the Rio - São Paulo axis. Recent cultural policies and growing professionalism have allowed more art professionals to remain in the regions rather than feeling compelled to migrate to Rio or São Paulo.
Art production has begun to find greater international recognition, largely through the efforts of gallerists and curators and wider international appreciation of Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark, two key names in Brazilian art since the 1950s
Yet while the Brazilian art system has certainly matured in recent years, there is still no great sense of institutional or financial stability. Many museums and events lead a hand-to-mouth existence, often only finding funding at the last moment and with little lead time for successful planning of exhibitions or events.
The creation of cultural incentive legislation, the federal Lei Rouanet and various similar state schemes, which allow individuals and companies to set off 6% and 4% of income tax respectively for cultural activities, has stimulated an upsurge in arts provision by both public and private institutions - particularly arts centres run by banking and telecommunications organisations and the state-owned petroleum company, and an increase in grants and funding awards for (mainly young) artists, such as Rumos Artes Visuais Itaú, CNI SESI Marcoantonio Vilaça Prize, the Museu de Arte Pampulha Grant, the Salão de Artes de Pernambuco Grant, and the Iberê Camargo Bursary, for example. These incentive laws are not without criticism, however, for offering companies free advertising and allowing them to determine the cultural agenda, and are currently being revised to give government more influence over distribution of Lei Rouanet funds.
The art ‘salon' is still a living entity in Brazil, having faded from view in many other parts of the world. Salons in Brazil have traditionally awarded purchase prizes or foreign travel grants to artists, and in recent years have tended to be geared towards younger, emerging artists. Many regional salons attract local artists, while major events can award up to 10,000 US dollars in prizes and attract applications from throughout Brazil.
Cristiana Tejo, the Brazilian curator, states in a recent Flash Art essay that much of the growth and fostering of art in recent years has been focused on young artists and that many artists in mid career can find themselves somewhat neglected and in a ‘kind of limbo', with the main beneficiaries of the recent revitalisation and professionalization of the art system being the new generation.