Ambitious Wex exhibit is the result of four years of
literal and creative exploration of South American nation
By Marisa Proulx
While Brazil is often mentioned in the context of sports — the 2016 Olympics, the World Cup — or more harshly characterized by crime, the Wexner Center’s “Via Brasil” shows the nation through a more holistic lens.
The program reveals a nation rich in vibrant contemporary artistry and rising influence, expressed through dance, music, photography, paintings, sculpture, installations and a documentary film series.
An ambitious undertaking, to be sure, Via Brasil is the culmination of a $782,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and four years of literal and creative exploration. The grant prompted discussion around a project that would need to be large, international in scope and firsthand research-based.
“We looked around us, and we took a cue from what the university was doing,” said Jennifer Lange, a curator in the film/video studio program. “At the time, Ohio State had just announced the first gateway office opening in China, and they were thinking the next one would be São Paulo. We decided that these international exchanges that the university was fostering were focused on business and academics and technology, and being the art center on campus, we decided we could provide a cultural component.”
She added that it’s the first time in the history of the Wexner Center that all the programs have aligned, focusing on one subject.
About 70 Brazilian artists will contribute to Via Brasil, many of whom have never shown their work in the United States. Lange and curator Chris Stults mined these artists after extensive travel to Brazilian cities and side trips across the countryside, where they met with curators, gallerists, filmmakers and artists.
According to Erik Pepple, media and public relations manager for the Wexner Center, their pursuit unveils a relatively new era of cultural expression.
“Many of the artists came of age after the collapse of the Brazilian dictatorship (in 1985),” he said, “when there was more freedom to focus on a lot of social and economic concerns.”
Lange further explained that much of the art is actually of the dictatorship. Since it fell, it’s become much more viable commercially to be an artist in Brazil, and artists are now engaged in searching for context with one another.
Adding structure to the subject matter is Cruzamentos, or “crossings,” which exists under the overarching Via Brasil name. It encompasses a contemporary Brazilian art and contemporary Brazilian documentary series that will open Feb. 1.
“It’s hard to represent a nation,” Lange said, “so this idea of crossings was interesting to us. We were going there, we were bringing artists here, so Cruzamentos is a very active word. It’s a country in flux, and it’s a project in flux. We have artists transforming materials, re-contextualizing materials, and it all fits into this idea of things mixing, colliding and crossing.”
Marcelo Cicade, an artist capturing the Cruzamentos notion, is bringing elements of São Paulo’s urban landscape into the galleries with what Lange calls “really beautiful and very aggressive” work.
“In São Paulo, everywhere you go, people are crazy with security,” she said. “Apartments, houses and shops have these very high walls, and at the top is barbed wire, spikes or glass embedded in concrete — it’s a palpable sensation of security, and Marcelo’s installation reflects that look and feel. It’s not meant to be aesthetically beautiful; it’s about bringing the streets in.”
On the documentary side, 24 feature films and 15 short films dating from 1974 to the present will be shown, with several of the filmmakers attending the screenings.
One such artist, Cao Guimarães, challenges the notion of documentaries by creating rules within the film or by inserting himself into it.
And true to the idea of Cruzamentos, Guimarães crosses into photography as well, with “Gambiarra,” a mosaic documenting everyday moments.
“Gambiarra,” which essentially means “to make due,” is a photographic representation of repurposing: a cigarette butt snuffed out in a squeezed lime; a paperclip holding together a broken bra; a barbecue made out of old metal chairs and a wheelbarrow.
“He’s capturing everyday life and reality,” Lange said, “but in poetic ways that make you question that reality and your relationship to it. It’s the idea of looking around the world and seeing what’s available to you in a way that’s uniquely Brazilian.”
One of the most anticipated artists is Criolo, Brazil’s preeminent hip-hop musician, whose work reveals roots in soul, samba, reggae, funk and Afrobeat. Known worldwide for his politically poetic lyrics, Criolo will perform on April 5 in the Wexner Center’s Black Box as part of his first U.S. tour.
All told, the montage of mediums and cultural exchange will roll out throughout 2014 with the goal of being “interesting, engaging and provocative,” Lange said.
“That’s the beauty of a multidisciplinary art center. We’re not just showing art on the walls; we’re getting a more complete picture of Brazil with the documentaries and films and artists actively working in the gallery. People will get a totally different perspective of a beautiful country.”