It’s no secret that the Latin American art scene has exploded over the past couple of years. Auction houses, galleries, and even museums have tagged along this trend and have finally begun giving these artists the recognition they deserve. However, for those not deeply invested in the ebb and flow of the art world, the current 2016 summer Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro are a perfect time to familiarize oneself with some of the top contemporary artists of Brazil, a country rich in cultural and visual history. Here are a few of my favorites.
Beatriz Milhazes (b. 1960) finds her inspiration in nature and its many, ever-changing forms. Her work is characterized by a vibrant palette, floral motifs, and organic patterns that resemble mandalas. Her recurring arabesques also hold a foundation in Brazilian culture—carnival decorations, Baroque colonial architecture, and popular music. The process of creation is rather laborious and structured —she paints her motifs first on a sheet of clear plastic, which she then applies to canvas to dry. The result is a rhythmic flattened surface, with shadows of color and forms where the color was not completely transferred. Her work has been used worldwide in outdoor spaces, for interior decoration, in stained glass, and for dance productions.
Rodrigo Mogiz (b. 1978) creates dream-like compositions where figures outlined in colorful strings float in an empty, white space. He appropriates images from magazines to explore themes of sexuality, gender, and expression, and to highlight the base superficiality of social media outlets and how audiences merely absorb aesthetics. These fantastical works fall somewhere between painting and embroidery (also using application beads, lace, and pins), poetically fusing the two mediums while simultaneously manifesting each of their unique characteristics. Mogiz has been exhibiting since 2000 and is based in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Vik Muniz (b. 1961), an international sensation, is best known for producing imagery within the nexus of mixed media. Using a diverse range of everyday materials (from trash to diamonds to sugar to dirt) paired with elements from popular culture, Muniz excels in a layered appropriation of canonical artworks. His practice involves arranging his materials into a dense collage and then photographing it. He has recreated works by Leonardo, Dürer, Courbet, Rodin, Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Malevich, Hiroshige, Warhol, Weegee —to name a few. What appears as a familiar image from afar, turns into a wondrous exploration of a myriad of minute details up-close.
Ernesto Neto (b. 1964) is a highly influential figure in the contemporary Brazilian art scene. His work falls within the categories of sculpture and installation, but is not limited to their parameters. Sensuous environments made of organically abstract forms are his trademark. His materials include soft, stretchy fabrics in different colors that he fills with items like coffee beans, spices, or Styrofoam. Interested in sensuality, corporality, and reflection, Neto strives to present conditions where the human body becomes aware of itself in relation to the space around it. Visitors enter his playful worlds and physically react to the immersive habitats. They may feel, smell, look, and share their experiences with those around them.
OSGEMEOS (b. 1974), Portuguese for “the twins,” is the name of the street art duo created by brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo. Working together since they were children, the two share a magically impenetrable bond that has helped them shape a unique visual language that has transcended from the streets and into galleries, auction houses, and even museums. Their work is easily recognizable by its whimsical yellow figures with tubular torsos, gangly limbs, small spaced-out almond eyes, and thin-lipped mouths. These playful characters are inspired by graffiti, hip-hop, and break-dancing culture, and often incorporate social or political referents relevant to each particular geographic location. The brothers have projects all over the world—so keep your eyes peeled, you never know when you’ll round the corner and find yourself face to face with OSGEMEOS.
Alice Quaresma (b. 1985) is a native of Rio de Janeiro and currently lives in New York City. Her practice involves photography and mixed media and explores issues of identity, displacement, and memory. Referring to her works as “photo-objects,” Quaresma superimposes drawings and geometric shapes over flat photo paper to push the boundaries of the photographic medium by incorporating elements of texture and volume. Her faded, dreamlike compositions evoke the subtleties and inexplicable phenomena of the emotional and psychological connection we feel to the places we experience.
“I find inspiration every time I feel physically disconnected from the place where I am.”
—Alice Quaresma, March 2016 interview with Artspace.
Adriana Varejão (b. 1964) primarily focuses her practice on ceramics tiles, either appropriating their history and function to reveal a darker, underlying meaning, or using their formal qualities to produce new visual effects. Throughout her career she has explored themes such as colonialism, racism, subjugation, and cultural formation through violence. Her work has often oscillated between the grotesque and the delicately beautiful. Varejão was chosen to decorate the Olympic Aquatics Center in the 2016 Rio games. Her 2004-08 work, Celacanto Provoca Maremoto (“the Coelacanth Causes a Seaquake”), made of blue-and-white tiles, was restructured, blown-up, and printed on canvas to adorn the exterior of the stadium. The work’s obvious aquatic aesthetics seem to be a perfect fit for the center’s function. However, references to Portugal’s colonization of Brazil through azulejo-inspired tiles and Baroque imagery subtly keep the country’s dark history afloat.