UA more horizontal Bienal, which privileges dialogue and not a single thought and which emphasizes fruition rather than speech: this is the ambition of the 33rd Bienal de São Paulo, which opens its doors to the public on September 7th. To this end, some strategies were put into practice. Differently from what happens traditionally with assistant curators, in which the work is carried out jointly and under the guidance of the general curator, seven curator artists were invited who had ample freedom to create their centers, without interference from the group. The general curator, Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, was responsible for – in addition to choosing these seven partners, the selection of 12 other artists that punctuate the exhibition and the general coordination of the works. To arrive at the final names, the criteria were quite subjective. Pérez-Barreiro knew only two of them, Waltercio Caldas and Alejandro Cesarco. The other five (Antonio Ballester Moreno; Claudia Fontes; Mamma Anderson and Sofia Borges) were added to the group for their varied qualities, such as the consistency of the work and the ability to bring together thoughts and works by other artists. The surprise effect is one of the great differentials of this edition of the show. Firstly, because the artist-curators practically did not interact and, for the most part, are unaware of what their colleagues conceived. Second, because the decision was made to divulge very little about the exhibition. In an unprecedented way, the complete list of artists was not released this year, journalists did not have access to the Pavilion being set up and the summaries presented both in the press and in the official means of communication are excessively generic. In the interview below, Pérez-Barreiro talks about his choices and strategies.
ARTE!Brasileiros — Is there a big difference between the planned and the real?
PEREZ-BARREIRO — Look, we followed the path I was looking for, of embracing this open, different process, of inviting curators and giving them freedom to design an exhibition. Surprises are welcome. They are part of the process. Even because there are a lot of artists that I didn't know. I find it very positive to be in front of a biennial that, in principle, is not limited to my knowledge, which is always partial. I'm working with the unknown and trusting the healers. I think they all did a good job.
Unlike other assistant curators dynamics, or partner curators, they also don't know what the other is bringing...
I searched for this a bit. When you're watching what your neighbor is doing, it affects you. It's normal. And I wanted them to work kind of without limits and without being intimidated or thinking that they have to give an answer to what's happening next door. We would have risked turning into a conversation, which was not the plan.
That is, do you want the personality of each of the blocks reinforced and not diluted?
Very reinforced. And as I chose artists who were very different from each other, I didn't want them to even try to read each other. Their job is to build an exhibition. It's building the world. I want everyone to do what they need to do, without interference, either from the general curator or the other curators. And indeed that was so and it was intentional. We are not building a single exhibition.
Do you think the fact that you arrive nakedDoes an exposure without knowing anything or little about it allow you greater access to the work, or the opposite?
It's both. The Bienal has these two audiences. It has a much smaller audience, numerically, which is very specialized. In the first week, the great curators of the world come here, we talk in a very codified way. And then you have these other 900 people who don't necessarily have any information. For me, that audience is a priority. Personally, I think that art is interesting when it escapes, it opens up other possibilities. The reading that people will have will not necessarily be mine and I like that. I don't think my vision is so bright that everyone has to feel exactly what I feel. The challenge of our time is diversity. We still have a lot of difficulty understanding this, the diversity in subjectivity.
How to account for this diversity? In the education sector?
Also. And in curation. And in architecture. I think they have to walk together. Álvaro Razuk's architectural project tries not to drive people crazy. He was chosen because he does not put himself as an author. Each core has a language different architectural. I think that in a tiring building, of these dimensions, it is important to create variation in the physical experience, leaving a place to sit and talk. We'll open a cafe on the second floor, halfway through to take a break. The Bienal is creating a space to think. And I think architecture has to take care of that. It is a little difficult to arrive at a synthesis, but the feeling is that it is a slightly more delicate, lowered biennial. Is there no mention of any spectacular work? In the project there are areas that are super intense, with an almost unbearable density, then rest. What it doesn't have is the gesture for spectacle. There's no one in the gap, for example. This is because there would be no way to guarantee the autonomy of the projects with something that crosses three floors – in a somewhat phallic gesture. Everyone would have to work with it. Regarding this global reading of the Bienal, I cannot imagine. I'm very contaminated by what I know, but I'm very interested in this kind of conclusion from the public. I'm very curious about how others look.
You chose 12 artists. It is a set with a great diversity. I assume this was on purpose?
He was. Because at the beginning, when you keep putting Post-it notes on the wall, I used to say that if it was too similar, it would go a little against the spirit of the thing. And I really wanted, throughout the Bienal, to also challenge myself. I mean, don't bring in much that I already knew. There were few people I worked with in this group. Most are made up of people I had admired for a long time without ever meeting, like Vânia Mignone, for example.
Did you worry about the Brazilian presence in any way? In this group, the Brazilian presence is a little bigger.
Yes. I put myself quotas on my curator choices. Half woman, half man, different ages, a third Brazilian, a third Latin American, a third the rest of the world. I mean, I did this exercise, but they were completely free, so at a certain point I was even worried that there would be fewer Brazilians, so in my choices I prioritized that a little. This job sucks, but I know where I'm standing. There's an expectation about that and I don't want to force Brazilians to make a Brazilian representation. We have already passed that historic moment. So in the end, I think it's going to be pretty close to my original intention.
Does each of the curators choose a question that is in some ways very burning in contemporary production and that echoes with their own questions? Was this discussed?
It was and it wasn't. Each of them followed a different methodology. Another secondary intention was for the Bienal to be like a curatorship class. Whoever looks at it with that look will see that there are seven different curatorial methodologies. I find this interesting because we think a lot of curatorship as one thing. Let's try to put two different examples: Waltercio chose the work, Wura chose the artist.
And the fact that the curators are also artists? Did the dialogue take place differently?
I think so. To be honest, I feel that each of them inspired me. That's an exhibition I could never do. I think they excel in the ability to articulate a vision. I am very excited about the result and I think that we, professional curators, are used to dealing with a lot of strategic issues, thinking about which audience you will serve by doing this or that. The Bienal gives me the luxury of being surprised. This freedom to articulate interests was a nice surprise.