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SP-Arte: Offerings at South America’s Leading Art Fair Provide Context for the Venice Biennale

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South America’s leading modern and contemporary art fair celebrated its second decade this spring. Bringing together more than 32,000 visitors, this edition of SP-Arte served as a meeting point for gallerists, artists, collectors, curators, and art enthusiasts—as well as a prologue to the much-anticipated opening of the 60th Venice Biennale, which for the first time reflected the gaze of a curator from Latin America, the Brazilian Adriano Pedrosa. (Read BmoreArt’s review here.)

Over the five days of the fair, the famous, winding Biennale pavilion—designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer—hosted work by more than 1,500 artists, distributed among 190 exhibitors, including design studios, publishing houses, cultural institutions, and national and international art galleries.

Among representatives of modernism, established contemporary artists, and young emerging talents, one of the highlights of this 20th SP-Arte edition was the recurrence of works that seemed to defy the limits of the two-dimensional space assigned to them, creating a striking presence even when verticalized on the walls.

José Leonilson and Marta Minujín at Almeida and Dale Gallery (Brazil)
Jesús Rafael Soto at RGR Gallery (Mexico)
Hélio Oiticica and Adriana Varejão at Sur Gallery (Uruguay)
Lucas Simões at Casa Triângulo (Brazil)

Marta Minujín is known for her large-scale works, full of colors, shapes, and textures. She works with so many layers that you have to walk around, back and forth, to feel the work in its total extension. While her work necessitated a panoramic viewing experience, others invited a more intimate observation. Among these, Alex Červený (São Paulo, 1963) stands out.

It was no surprise to find myself immersed, for a long time, in a small canvas by Červený, who shares—through painting, engraving, drawing, and watercolor—a private world of information, distributed among words, characters, and dreamlike themes. I had already been amazed by his work shortly before, when I saw his solo exhibition at the Pinacoteca in São Paulo—a fantastic universe, in its most diverse interpretations of the word.

Lucas Arruda (São Paulo, 1983) also impressed me with his small-format landscapes. The soft use of colors and shadows draws the eye closer to the canvas; this is when the manual quality of his brushstrokes becomes even more evident and the formation of the image moves towards abstraction, inviting the viewer to become more in tune with the artist’s process.

Alex Červený at Rodrigo Ratton Gallery (Brazil)
Lucas Arruda at Mendes Wood DM (São Paulo/Brussels/Paris/New York)

Intimate, but in large formats, this is the second or third time I’ve seen Letícia Lopes (Campo Bom, 1988) exhibited at the fair. There’s also that sense of reality breaking down in her work, in which information sometimes overlaps, sometimes confuses. What remains is the constant idea that not everything seems to be true, just like a rabbit attached to a dog’s left thigh.

Moving on to the sculptures, Laura Lima (Governador Valadares, 1971)  stood out at the Galeria Luisa Strina stand. If it weren’t for the choice of metallic material, the blue itself would be enough to make you want to get closer. A suspended ingenuity, made up of everyday objects, occupied the space as if it were a real creature, strolling through the fair and sharing the same path as the visitors.

Letícia Lopes at Verve Gallery (Brazil)
Laura Lima at Luisa Strina Gallery (Brazil)

As highlight booths, Paulo Kuczynski Escritório de Arte presented a good selection of artworks by modern and contemporary Brazilian artists, such as Di Cavalcanti, Cícero Dias, Maria Leontina, Mira Schendel, Lygia Clark, and Ione Saldanha.

Saldana’s work from the same Bambus series was the centerpiece of the Abstractions gallery in the Central Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, tying together an exhibition of abstraction from the Global South. Kuczynski also showed touchstone international artists, such as Alex Calder, Cruz Diez, and Dan Flavin. The small blue environment formed by the fluorescent beams of Dan Flavin’s work, together with Luiz Sacilotto’s golden sculpture, caught the attention of the public, who constantly approached to take photographs.

Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel invested in a solo show with new works by Yuli Yamagata (São Paulo, 1989). It was impossible not to be attracted by the eccentric and multicolored forms she proposes in her sculptures and canvases (or “object paintings,” as the artist calls them). Mixing different fabrics, each work is easily recognizable as her own, even though they are all very unique. The sensation is of a journey from visual strangeness to admiration and tactile desire.

Paulo Kuczynski Art Office Gallery
Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel Gallery

Among the international galleries taking part, I would like to highlight Papai Contemporary. Although unknown to me until then, the visit was a pleasant surprise. Located in Oslo, Papai Contemporary highlights Latin American and African artists based in Europe in dialogue with Scandinavian artistic production. Among the artists on show, Brazilian Lila de Magalhães (1986, Rio de Janeiro) and Norwegian Aksel Ree (Hamar, 1993) surprised with their imaginative authenticity, using traditional materials such as marble and canvas as support, but forming very original and admirable visual compositions.

The days of the fair are hectic, but they offer a valuable opportunity to renew ideas and perspectives, which reverberate beyond the works and galleries. In one place, we have access to a comprehensive and up-to-date view of the trends, themes, and techniques that permeate the art world, not just in Brazil. Participating in SP-Arte is also an opportunity to understand the complexity of the market, glimpse opportunities and contribute to the appreciation of the art scene, transcending the geographical barriers that traditionally characterize the western center of artistic production in the world.

Papai Contemporary Gallery
Samuel de Sabóia and Rafaela Kennedy & Labô Young at Galeria HOA (Brazil)
Ione Saldanha and Carlos Cruz-Díez at Galeria de Arte Ipanema (Brazil)
Adriana Varejão at Galatea Gallery (Brazil)
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