Matarazzo City
Model of Matarazzo City. Image: Disclosure.

*By Pollyanna Quintella

According to economic theory, neoliberalism proposes that human well-being can best be achieved by lifting restrictions on individual entrepreneurial freedoms and capabilities within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. Neoliberalism privatizes public assets, frees up natural resources, deregulates industry, facilitates foreign investments, impacts our work relationships and our professional environment. But, in order to fully assert itself, it also constitutes a cultural paradigm, and is reflected in interpersonal, sexual, affective, symbolic, subjective and family relationships, as David Harvey had already noted. The neoliberal model is everywhere, with the contradictions and complexities that this entails.

In the specific case of art, it is not so difficult to measure its effects. There is less and less state support and public funding for artistic production and more and more market. There is more precariousness and less guarantees. More well-meaning speech and less social commitment. More competition and less collective articulation. More spectacle and less democracy.

The partnership between contemporary art and neoliberal logic ranges from the small scale – such as the promise of individual freedom, for example, which approaches the cliché image of the artist – to the larger scales, with the presence of art in projects of “revitalization” of cities, as well as its camouflage role reflected in operations that involve pollution, gentrification, money laundering etc and such. In addition to the economic discussion, we can interpret the new ways of doing politics according to some artistic methodologies, see how authoritarian populist leaders have explored a certain elastic and spectacular performativity, which knows how to dispute (and win) the attention of large audiences. In general, we can recognize the stamp of “contemporary art” directly involved in the transformation of global patterns of power, especially in what we now call post-democracy, something that demands more attention, and perhaps another text.

Perhaps the recent episode surrounding the Pacaembu stadium in São Paulo is fresh in the reader's mind. Bruno Covas' management and the Allegra Pacaembu consortium signed a 35-year concession contract for the stadium. Before the renovations began last December, “Paca” held a large exhibition called field art, with the participation of 25 galleries and 54 artists [1].

According to the official statement, the exhibition would have the role of affirming something that the consortium intends to do throughout its management: diversify the use of the stadium beyond football games, investing in cultural and leisure activities. One of the goals of the renovation, however, is to demolish the toboggan – an area recognized for democratizing the stadium and housing low-income fans – and, in its place, building a large shopping mall-style building, which already seems to indicate that the consortium's “culture” perspective is that of private experience. Furthermore, the problem of security of the place will be solved with the incarceration of the activities, as opposed to investing in the relationship between the stadium and its surroundings.

When I read a little about this public-private partnership, I asked myself what was the role of the collective exhibition there, in addition to making up, sophistication and providing a facade cool that justifies interests that are far from favoring the city. But despite the Pacaembu case providing us with enough material for discussion, I would like to focus this text around another recent project, still under construction: Cidade Matarazzo – the first six-star hotel in Brazil.

In 2011, the French group Allard bought the old and listed Hospital Umberto I, the “Hospital Matarazzo”, built in 1904 and located in a disputed real estate region near Avenida Paulista, in the city of São Paulo. The entrepreneur in charge of the enterprise, Alexandre Allard, is known for having created the company consort, which was once a market leader in consumer data, and for renovating the luxurious Royal Monceau hotel in Paris, a meeting place for artists and celebrities. In 2008, before renovating the hotel, Allard threw a “farewell party”, presenting his distinguished guests with hammers and helmets to have fun demolishing the old walls, which won him the award. Strategies of the best event of the year.

Matarazzo City
Broken vases compose “O Abuso da História”, by Héctor Zamora, in “Made By… Feito por Brasileiros”. Photo: Reproduction Pipa Prize.

In Brazil, there was no demolition show, but in 2014 the group organized the exhibition Made By… Made by Brazilians [2], to symbolize the beginning of the project and demarcate its gesture of creativity. With the participation of more than 100 artists and curated by the French Marc Pottier and Pascal Pique and the Canadian Simon Watson, the show raised BRL 3,2 million via the Rouanet Law. Although mostly endorsed by the cultural milieu at that time, the case generated some controversies, such as Cildo Meireles' refusal to participate even after being previously announced. The artist claimed to the press that “if he had known it was going to be a real estate project, he would have asked more questions” [3].

It was just a foreshadowing of the magnitude of the project, which also includes a luxury commercial area and the largest private park in São Paulo. No wonder the title of the project is “City Matarazzo”. The promise is that there it will be possible to experience a kind of private city equipped with the best services and free from the ruin of the world. In February of this year, the project announced a partnership with Banco Bradesco to inaugurate the “Casa Bradesco de Criatividade”, including a sumptuous exhibition space. Curated by Marcello Dantas, the program aims to bring the disputed international names in large-scale commissioned projects, starting with Anish Kapoor [4]. In addition, emerging and established artists are being invited to produce permanent projects for the complex, in order to make the City a constant experience of beauty, inspiration and transcendence.

In an interview with Forbes, the French millionaire spoke about art: “There is nothing more poetic than the creative process. I love it when I see someone in a music studio working on how to put the notes together, I love fashion, I've created some fabulous brands, I love it when I see someone preparing a show. I am a lover of the creative process because I believe it will save the world.” [5]

It is certainly not for me here to doubt his touching sensitivity, but there is something more to his speech. I believe that for Allard, the creative process will not save the world, it will save capitalism. Precisely because there is nothing more neoliberal than the premise of “creativity”. In the case of Cidade Matarazzo, one of the roles of art is to produce a sense of inclusion and representation that is far from reflecting the structural logic of the enterprise. Once again, the equation is simple: the presence of artistic practice is an advertising resource to value and justify the business, perhaps “immunize” it.

I used to think that there was an abyss between believing that art can complicate our ways of being in the world and simply reducing it to a problem of taste, but these discourses are found more than one might imagine. It was Pierre Bourdieu who identified that, from the perspective of the ruling classes, the “legitimate” way of understanding a work is to understand it as an end in itself. It must not serve political and economic ends, but only the problem of language itself. However, such a “legitimate” way, as the sociologist detailed, has as (class) presuppositions the formation of repertoire, family heritage and socio-economic position, although the initiates strive to make it sound like a natural gift and innate sensitivity. That's why Allard “loves” the creative process, because he seems to access something magical and divine when he sees someone working on “how to add notes”. And that's why his ventures are also permeated with art – it's the aura that makes them legitimate and admirable. It so happens that, here, art is at the service of political and economic ends, but sounds like you're not. “The spectacular is a good enough substitute for the democratic,” Hal Foster would say in his Art-Architecture Complex (2013)

The beginning of this marriage is distant, but I would like to draw attention to the fact that the so-called “autonomy” of art, which made us believe that artistic practice is detached from moral, scientific and functional functions, is now activated with other intentions. After all, the work “has autonomy” in relation to the project, it is up to the artist to make his art, to the curator to make his exhibition, and nothing else. Such an autonomous perspective placed cultural work in the key of transcendence, whose premise is that creation takes place beyond social and political conditions, so all that is left for the agents involved is to wash their hands very well and move on to the next adventure. Responsibility is a hot potato.

But the notions of autonomy and utility are mutually interchangeable and not stable. In the characterization above, it would be possible to invert them, depending on what is being emphasized. A work that is supposedly committed to certain themes and issues may be appropriated in a disinterested way. In the opposite way, a supposedly disinterested work can be quite useful in the construction of a certain social narrative, it can be instrumentalized as a symbolic force. The meanings are constructed above all in the way in which the work circulates, in the way it moves and inhabits the world. There is no disembodied work. A clear example of this is the relationship between the market and independent “non-profit” initiatives, which end up adding value to the artist or initiative because they are recognized for their critical and challenging purpose to the system (in the case of Pacaembu, the presence of works who were indirectly criticizing the project is evidence of this). In the intertwining between artistic production and neoliberal infrastructure, it is necessary to recognize more and more curators, institutions and enterprises as fundamental pieces in the construction of meanings that a work institutes.

Matarazzo City. Jean Nouvel's project for the "Torre Mata Atlântica", at the Rosewood Hotel São Paulo. Photo: Disclosure.
Jean Nouvel's project for the “Torre Mata Atlântica”, at the Rosewood Hotel São Paulo. Photo: Disclosure.

Let's go back to Matarazzo City: the business is foreign, but the “values” are Brazilian. The hotel, designed by Jean Nouvel (his first work in Latin America), is composed of an “Atlantic Forest Tower” whose structure is formed by a series of leafy green plans and terraces with local trees that must simulate an invasion of the forest over architecture, a kind of triumph of nature [6]. The project also commits to using only national materials and suppliers and not  save on planting trees common to the threatened Atlantic Forest in the area. Furthermore, as is characteristic of the architect, solutions high tech will be combined with effects of light, transparency and lightness, making the solid structure something translucent and evanescent. A conciliation between spectacle and engineering; image and structure. But what remains here, without a doubt, is the famous vision of the tropical paradise, the desire for monumentality so accustomed to contemporary logic and the desire to produce an instant icon, a temple of itself. There is nothing very different from the foreign look at the qualities of an abundant and exotic Brazil.

When asked how he would define Cidade Matarazzo, Allard said: “It’s a giant machine to celebrate Brazilian diversity.” [7] However, if we submit his conception of diversity under an X-ray, we will see a set of commonplaces that reflect a neo-primitivism often masked as a “deconstruction of hegemonic values”. The global tourist of Cidade Matarazzo wants to see palm trees and exotic species in the heart of São Paulo. Don't be alarmed if, on the enterprise's instagram, you find photos of indigenous people with the hashtag #tribe, #DiscoverMatarazzo, #Diversity, among others. Allard's Forest is more of a fetishistic monoculture [8].

It so happens that when capital invests in “diversity”, it gives the impression that things are finally moving towards justice, but one should be suspicious. If we want to make a parallel with the economic discussion, we can recognize this phenomenon as an integral part of what we understand by progressive neoliberalism. What does it consist of? Basically, a regressive economic policy with an inclusive mask. It is the capital that supports representativeness, minority agendas and the claim for rights of social movements, while investing in operations that increasingly degrade the living conditions of workers, bypassing regulations and rights. It is the model that defends diversity, but delivers precariousness. Who advocates “empowerment” but uses it to devastate the industry. That dismantles social structures to suck money from all corners. That is, emancipation only exists until the second page, or perhaps even beyond the first paragraph. Nancy Fraser defined this phenomenon very well in her recent book The old is dying and the new cannot be born (2019), but what interests me here is to draw attention to the fact that, not coincidentally, contemporary art is often the veneer of this model. The varnish that makes dodgy operations sound cool and cool. As Hito Steyerl says, “Contemporary art is a brand name without a brand, ready to be slapped onto almost anything, a facelift express facial that promotes the new creative imperative in places that are in need of a extreme makeover”[9]

In addition to the make-up effect, it is necessary to talk about working conditions. The artistic-cultural milieu already operated according to the logic of flexibility, outsourcing and precariousness. An avalanche of MEIs and PJs, volunteer interns, shady contracts, abuse of power, low-paid work or, more than that, unpaid work “for something greater”… the mysterious visibility. Now, this package serves as an example for other sectors, and configures a new labor model.

Unlike scandalous, such flexibility has been positively qualified by the market, as it requires increasingly inventive and competitive solutions. You have to be creative to survive, they say. In addition, flexible work is the promise of such individual freedom, as it seduces with the idea that everyone can manage their own routine, make choices, have autonomy, organize their own time and “empower” themselves. There is no time for identification or accommodation. Reality, however, reflects a self-exploitation haunted by insecurity and instability, which makes us recognize that the cultural worker is the post-Fordist producer par excellence. Or, in other words, the art medium has become the successful model of precariousness because, on top of all this crap, we are the territory of the “sensitive”, of “critical thinking”, of the “creative force”, etc. Neoliberal bullshit.

All this, of course, puts us in a difficult position. Unless you are an heir or have been bestowed with an important surname, paying the bills makes you have to play with these schemes. That is why we often use the argument that we are going to “break the system from the inside” to accept invitations to initiatives that we do not fully agree with. Sometimes because we need the money, sometimes because we want some prestige and visibility, or simply because it is through them that we will be able to accomplish anything. In practice, the “collapse from within” has made these structures even stronger and more sophisticated with our politically engaged labels. And it's not uncommon to feel ridiculous.

Isabell Lorey (2015) has defined precariousness as a way of regulating our historical time. More than that: the production of a regime of precariousness is the way to govern people in the XNUMXst century. The instability produced by precarization even prevents us from protesting and demanding rights. We fear losing work ties when addressing criticism, we fear making complaints because they may close doors for us in the future. The expression “tail-locked” comes in very handy. Furthermore, precarious work isolates and individualizes the worker, in addition to hampering collective organization resources. Not only because it accentuates competition, but also because it radically fragments the work stages, suppresses coexistence and reduces meetings. For all these reasons, precariousness is a form of governance, and this is also a lesson in art.   

We, workers in the cultural milieu, are all complicit in this equation, to a greater or lesser degree, and I am not exempt from it. I wonder, though, if we are really aware of how this integrates into our daily work. There will be no life immune to the market and no redemption, but it is still worth investing in some survival that does not reduce To this.

First of all, we can be increasingly suspicious of discourses and purposes based on the transcendence of art, experience and value. Along with this, we can understand that taking a political stance is acting in the face of a concrete situation, which goes beyond discursive labels, and this means deliberately analyzing who we associate with and under what conditions. Furthermore, if we don't have healthier work alternatives, maybe we can better negotiate our acceptances, in a more active and purposeful way. In any case, celebrating “Brazilian diversity” is not enough, nor is complying with the norms of representativeness. We will need articulation and collective imagination and, it is worth remembering, we have already realized that this will not be solved in instagram feeds.

[2] The exhibition website can still be visited through:
[6] “We are not talking about small ferns in a vertical garden, but about huge trees, from 15 to 18 meters, that dialogue with the height of the tower. It is ascension through nature.” – These are the quotes by Jean Nouvel on the Cidade Matarazzo website.
[8] On the project's website, designer Philippe Starck explains his choices: “We use extraordinary Brazilian stones as well as beautiful Brazilian woods. All the hotel's rooms will be equipped with a mural kit that allows the guest to exhibit or not Brazilian works of art through a set of wooden wainscoting panels. There are some windows with figurines and others with feather art. It is the realization of what I associate with the image and the object.”

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