Last year, the Brazilian government ruffled a few feathers when it decided that television didn’t count as culture, which meant workers couldn’t buy cable subscriptions using the Vale Cultura voucher. But a new miniseries by set designer, director, and writer Alberto Renault throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the government’s claim.
Arte Brasileira, which premiered March 23 on GNT, is introducing many Brazilians to eight of the country’s preeminent contemporary artists: Beatriz Milhazes, Tunga, Luiz Zerbini, Renata Lucas, Adriana Varejão, Jonathas de Andrade, Ernesto Neto, and Vik Muniz.
“If I can raise the public’s curiosity, to make them interested in the artists and get up and Google them to find out a bit more, I’ll be happy to have launched that spark,” Renault told the Brazilian newspaper Globo.
The first episode profiles Beatriz Milhazes, whose paintings put a baroque spin on the colorful discs of Robert and Sonia Delaunay. Renault accompanies her to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, filled with the decorative art and design that has influenced Milhazes’s work. In the second episode, he strolls through Paris chatting with Tunga, an artist whose immersive installations, sculptures, video and performances follow in the conceptualist tradition of Lygia Clark.
There’s a lot more walking and talking. Like a Brazilian Robert Hughes, the filmmaker meanders through Venice with Zerbini — his work characterized by modernist grids that overlay cityscapes and lush beach scenes. Renault follows Lucas, an artist who stages temporary interventions in built environments, to Berlin, where she explores the artistic possibilities of the city’s urban design. He also strolls with Varejão through Brixton in London, a racially diverse area that partly inspired her fascinating “Polvo” project, which deals with miscegenation (i.e. race mixing).
Brazilians artists are certainly globetrotters. The series visits Andrade in Jordan, where the young artist is completing a three-month residency in Amman, then follows him to his exhibition at the Astrup Fearnley in Norway. It finds the textile sculptor Neto and a team team of seamstresses installing his work, The Body That Carries Me, at the Bilbao Guggenheim in Spain. Finally, it drops in on the photographer and found-object collage artist Vik Muniz as he installs a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lima, Peru. The documentary captures the museum staff’s delight as they unpack boxes containing various materials from coins to chocolate bars that Muniz uses in his work.
Renault told Globo that he hopes the miniseries will help popularize these remarkable artists by taking them out of the gallery circuit and into the homes of ordinary Brazilians for a few nights. Considering how uninformed Americans can be about art south of the equator, here’s hoping the show will find its way to the U.S. as well.