Entrepreneur and art collector João Carlos de Figueiredo Ferraz, 66, is a determined advocate of bringing museums and private collections together. On the one hand, considering that private collections should be seen by as many people as possible – “art is something that has to be shared”, he says. On the other hand, because this approach allows museums to reduce their focus on the formation of collections and increase investments in their spaces and technical structures – something essential in many Brazilian institutions today.
In this sense, the collector says he is very happy with the invitation made by the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture (MuBE) to hold an exhibition with works from its collection, as part of a series of exhibitions that the museum intends to present in partnership with private collections. Entitled Constructions and Geometries, the exhibition, curated by Cauê Alves, features a selection of almost 60 works from the collection by Dulce and João Carlos de Figueiredo Ferraz, placed in dialogue with the architecture of the building designed by Paulo Mendes da Rocha.
Among the artists on display are names from different generations, such as Adriana Varejão, Amilcar de Castro, Carlos Garaicoa, Carmela Gross, Cildo Meireles, Edgard de Souza, Ernesto Neto, Nelson Leirner, Laura Vinci, Nuno Ramos and Waltércio Caldas, who represent just one small portion of the Figueiredo Ferraz collection – today with around 1000 works by 382 artists (308 Brazilian) and which continues to expand. “Currently there are a lot of new artists and new galleries, and it's practically impossible to keep up with everything, but I try to keep my eyes open for new things and to keep up with artists I've known for a long time”, he says.
The collector's relationship with the visual arts, which began in the first half of the 1980s, resulted, among other things, in the creation of the Figueiredo Ferraz Institute, in 2011, in the city of Ribeirão Preto; in the invitation to assume the presidency of the Bienal de São Paulo, with management in the 2017-2018 biennium; and, in June of this year, when he received the MuBE Collection and Art Support Award.
In interview with ARTE!Brasileiros, the collector spoke about his trajectory and about the political and cultural situation in Brazil today, which he saw with some concern. In addition to the unnecessary and excessive noise made by the federal government around the changes in the Rouanet Law, Figueiredo Ferraz says that the situation of Brazilian cultural heritage is worrying. In reference to the fire at the National Museum, he states: “As it is, other museums will burn too. Our collections are being lost amid dampness, termites and falling showrooms. Recovering this is the government's obligation.” Read the full interview below.
ARTE!Brasileiros – Could you tell us a little about how your interest in the visual arts came about and how your career as a collector began in the 1980s?
Joao Carlos de Figueiredo Ferraz – The taste for the visual arts comes from a very early age, since I was a child. Now, the collecting thing started when I moved from São Paulo to Ribeirão Preto, in the mid-1980s. The house was big and I wanted to buy a painting to put on the wall, to decorate the house. And a friend of mine, cousin of gallery owner Luisa Strina, took me there, where I bought my first painting. So it started. And I got involved, getting to know the gallery owners, the artists, the critics. And when I realized there were no more walls, no more space, and I was putting a picture under the bed.
How and when did you realize that you had in your hands more than a set of works (a private collection), but a collection with a public vocation?
Attending galleries and studios, I bought more works over time. And, without space to house everything, a lot of things were being kept. And in 1999, Maria Stella Teixeira de Barros, visiting my house, invited me to do an exhibition at MAM in São Paulo (The Spirit of Our Time, 2001). And I thought it was great, because I myself was curious to take things out of the boxes and also to see how my gaze was behaving, which is something that over time we improve, acquiring other tastes. And I wanted to see if those things together had a logic, a common thread.
And did you realize you had?
Yes, when the exhibition was set up I was super happy, and impressed, because over time I kept this coherence of the look. It made me excited, and from that moment on I got it into my head that one day I would still have a place where I could exhibit these works.
And what would you say this coherence is?
This is curious, because in fact the art of this period is immensely diverse. You have all kinds of productions, from concrete to abstract, photos, installations… And I bought everything. And despite this immense variety, these works spoke to each other, there was a dialogue. And I saw that there was formed a nucleus that was representative of the time.
From then until the opening of the institute, how was the process?
It took another ten years. The exhibition at MAM was in 2001, and from then on I started looking for other institutions that were eventually interested in going to Ribeirão Preto or some space, some place where I could set up the institute. And it was very difficult. Until, at a certain point, the opportunity arose to buy a plot of land, in a very privileged place, and then we decided to build the institute.
How do you evaluate this almost eight-year trajectory of the Figueiredo Ferraz Institute and what impact do you perceive the institute's performance in the city of Ribeirão Preto?
I think these things go together. The institute evolved as it impacted the city. In the second year, we started a very intense educational program, we made an agreement with the Education Departments of Ribeirão Preto and the State of São Paulo and started to receive all municipal schools in the city and region. And I think that made a big difference, and it continues to do so, because they are children who have often never had the opportunity to see a work of art, and there they have an accompaniment, they develop a poetic reasoning. I think that makes a big difference and creates a legacy that the institute will leave.
Do you consider that Brazil still lacks more initiatives of this type? That is, more people who, regardless of governments or the State, perceive the need to create public and open cultural initiatives?
Yes, I think so. I think the first monumental step in this direction was Inhotim, that wonderful space. Now I think that other initiatives are also emerging, such as FAMA in Itu, but they are still few. I think there could be some kind of incentive that would make people open up their collections more. Because I think art is something that has to be shared, because it is a national heritage. It is important that people have access. But there needs to be a stimulus, a State culture policy. We have a series of decrees, rules and things that change with each government, and this ends up contaminating, because it creates insecurity. If I had clearer guarantees, everything would be easier.
And what do you think for the future of the institution?
In a way, I have again a problem equivalent to what I had at the beginning, when I wanted to take the works out of the boxes. Because the institute, despite being quite generous in size, was already small for the number of works. So what I do is, every year, I invite a curator to read the collection and cut it out, to set up an exhibition. And this is super interesting because I see the works approaching each other with a different look, provoking other dialogues, other tensions. And we also have a temporary exhibition room, where we have four or five exhibitions a year, with guest artists or other collections.
The current exhibition at MuBE features an excerpt from the collection made by curator Cauê Alves, with a strong focus on constructive and geometric art. How do you see this exhibition?
I was very happy to be able to bring this clipping to São Paulo. He made a selection based on a look at the architecture of Paulo Mendes da Rocha. A selection of more concrete and neo-concrete works, which are not too concerned with date. There are older or newer things. In addition, the museum is starting a project that I think is very important. Because we know that Brazilian institutions, both public and private, live with great difficulty, trying to raise funds, creating a club of patrons... And they have the function of creating their technical quality, working on the maintenance of spaces, equipping themselves with modern equipment, because art today demands this technology. And many times they are unable to do this because they are worried about building a collection. So I think there are institutions that could approach private collections, create partnerships with them, and get their funds to improve the technical quality of their spaces. And this MuBE initiative to bring this closer together is very important, and it is a way for the population to be able to see works that are often kept in storage.
Changing the subject a little, how do you evaluate your period as president of the Fundação Bienal, in the years 2017 and 2018?
These two years that I was in charge of the Bienal were certainly the most difficult years of my life and probably also the richest. The most difficult ones because in the third month after I took office I had to have a bone marrow transplant, because of cancer. So it was very difficult to follow everything, because the presidency of the Bienal demands a lot of presence, a lot of commitments, contacts. And I stayed, between entering and leaving the hospital, about six or seven months. Now, it was very rich because I was lucky enough to choose Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro as a curator, a professional of the highest quality, super prepared and intelligent, easy to work with. And we exchanged a lot, talked a lot about his project, which I thought was very beautiful. And that, in a way, also helped me get some of that tension out of my cancer treatment.
For some years now, Brazil has been going through a troubled political and economic moment, with a great polarization in speeches and with a crisis that still seems far from over. How do you perceive this moment, considering your experience in the cultural area?
I think that in our area, of the visual arts, of the plastic arts, this new government made a storm in a teacup. Too much political noise. For example, all this scandal that was made in relation to the Rouanet Law was not necessary. I could change a few things without all that fuss. And in the end, what was done was to change the funding limit, but create an exception rule that encompasses everyone. I mean, almost nothing has changed. And with regard to the accusation made of misuse of public money, of undue spending, that was the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture to supervise. All projects had to be accountable, but what happened was that Minc often did not analyze. So it was not a problem with the Rouanet Law, but a political problem within the ministry. That's why I say that the new government made all this noise, this storm, into something it didn't need.
To please a certain audience, an electorate…
Of course, to please voters. They chose the Rouanet Law as their target. Now, in addition to the visual arts, in relation to other areas such as cinema and theater, I think that some decisions that the Bolsonaro government has taken are very worrying. He banning state and mixed capital companies from providing resources for the Rouanet Law, through its results, is taking a very large volume of money from the market, which will be sorely missed. This is something that needs to be discussed more serenely, to make it clear that it is important to maintain these supports. And if by any chance they don't want to put these resources from these companies into Lei Rouanet, let them at least use it to recover Brazilian cultural heritage, so it doesn't happen like what happened at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro. Because the way it is, other museums are going to burn too. Our collections are being lost amid humidity, termites, falling exhibition halls. Recovering this is the government's obligation.
In this sense, many people who work in the cultural and educational areas – and it can be said that this is the case with the institute – have felt quite cornered by government policies. Do you feel it? Do you think that there is a certain misunderstanding of the current rulers of the role of culture and education in building a better society?
I think so. But also, to be fair, I don't think we have good benchmarks. Because the lack of a State cultural policy is a problem for all recent governments, not just this one. It lacks a state policy, not political parties. Now, this more aggressive speech that we have heard is really regrettable.
Service: Constructions and Geometries
MuBE – R. Germany, 221 – Jardim Europa, São Paulo
Until August 18