Like few art galleries, A Gentil Carioca transforms its special openings into a huge street party. Last Saturday, it was no different: the exhibition Forrobodó filled the neighborhood with performances, music and lots of dancing to celebrate 20 years of the iconic space in Rio, driven by madness and art. Occupying the mansions of the 1920s, Gentil once again makes history by presenting a group show comprehensive with works by 60 artists, curated by Ulisses Carrillon. “The idea was also to celebrate the aesthetic, erotic and political potential of the streets.” The gallery does not consider itself a closed space, it operates in an expanded manner throughout the surrounding area and incorporates the anonymous population that circulates around the center of Rio looking for cheap trinkets in the Sahara area, the largest street commerce center in the State of Rio. The notable interaction is not sought by Márcio Botner, Laura Lima and Ernesto Neto, a trio of artists and owners. It happens spontaneously, and the diversity of interests can turn into a carnival enhanced by miscegenation.
The integration of poetics and situations generated by the collective is a kind of liturgy as a synthesis of the arts. Carrillon also defends the exhibition as an “act of experimenting with other intellectualities, other knowledge of the body, with the intention of summoning a dramaturgy of objects, from the seas to the markets, from heaven to hell.” Defending his choices, he quotes Adriana Varejão, who redid the Broadway Boogie-Woogie, by Mondrian, especially for that date, a work developed with basic geometric shapes, such as straight lines, squares and rectangles, and primary colors. Outside the gallery rooms, the artist from Rio de Janeiro, Cabelo, went beyond his devilish performances and, as always, magnetized the public. Inside the building, other works worked in the stillness of the environment, such as Maria Laet's pieces, which play with various implications of time, illusion, and quiet work in a hurry.
There are experiences that work in the perception of new spaces. Installed in the middle of the street, the Flag, by Antonio Dias, became a landmark of the event. The revolutionary red cloth swung free from the top of one of the buildings, floating over a lively crowd. There is no shortage of stories in this set of works. Gentil had been operating for very little time when Antonio Dias enters the gallery to see the work of a young man from Paraíba, just like him. “It was Fabiano Gonper whose works enchanted Antonio, we told him a little about the gallery project and it was to him that I sold the first work of art in my life, there is a photo of him from that day”, recalls Botner.
Another highlight is the backlight by Carlos Vergara with images of groups of black people having fun in the streets dressed as indigenous chiefs. Bela Geiger appears with a new work, under the title Unknown, which she will present next month in Spain. O flying saucer, by Laura Lima, was also changed, but a concept remains alive, the balance of sculpture that is established in fantasy, in the game of the multiplicity of its desires. Arjan Martins expands his passion for the sea, not the Atlantic of slave routes, but a universal sea, of beauty and powerful, colorful waters, capable of creating foam shapes. This work has already been purchased by a foreign collector and, once the exhibition ends, it will go to Europe. This large collective, as important as it is noisy, brings together several generations until it reaches the artists that Gentil represents and others that gallery owners believe will still come.
Marcio Botner was never a child prodigy, but destiny naturally pushed him towards culture. “Art is an old thing in my life. At 13, he thought he was going to be an actor. I studied theater, I went there to study Stanislavski until I debuted in Brecht's play The king and the beggar, performed by just two actors.” Botner was the beggar who would become king, if he didn't ruin everything as soon as he opened his mouth. “In my first speech I got confused and said the last sentence of the play, when I would become king. I was paralyzed and we didn't continue with the show, people were perplexed, although the majority were colleagues who also studied theater as well as relatives, some even cursed. The curtains were drawn and I, astonished, gave up on my dream.”
A few years later Botner decided to take visual arts courses and delve deeper. One day, excited, he spoke to himself. “This is what I want to do with my life.” Excitedly, he went to study at Parque Lage, where he stayed for many years and met several artists. “Arjan was there, he was older than me and there were other cool artists, Laura Lima is from that period, Ernesto Neto was no longer there, he was from a later generation.” During his stay at the Park, Botner was developing the idea of creating an art space. “The desire was materialized in the meeting with Laura Lima and Ernesto Neto. “Gentil started where my studio was, in the center of Rio de Janeiro, close to the Sahara, later we occupied the bottom floor and other buildings. Elsa joins us a while later. At that time I had no idea what it was like to be a gallerist, I never worked in a gallery as an assistant, nor in museums.” So, many projects were born from the meeting of the three colleagues, who were betting on an almost youthful desire. Márcio doesn't know exactly, but he imagines that each of them must have invested something around R$500. “At first I worked alone, I did everything and when lunch time came, I simply put a sign on the table: I went for lunch, I'll be right back. We started dealing with a thousand improvisations, always resolved between the three of us.”
Many people don't know that Botner is an artist, and it is precisely this side, according to him, that helps him lead the gallery, his way of thinking, not only in art but in life as a whole. “I love being a gallerist, an activist like you said, which is more than simply launching the artist, it's actually working to think about the social, political and artistic side of so many projects. I think this side of being an artist is fundamental.” Botner talks about so many triggers that they have to activate by maneuvering art. “When we debuted Abre Alas, 19 years ago, we thought it would just be an event, I didn’t even think there would be continuity, I don’t think Laura nor Neto did.” When Gentil reached its third year, some artists were already announcing: “I'm preparing work for Abre Alas”. It was the artists who decided to continue the project, it was almost an imposition, they realized that people believed that the project was here to stay, just like the gallery. “One day Neto and I went to the opening of an exhibition at the Centro Hélio Oiticica, which is close to Gentil, suddenly an angry artist came to us and complained that he was not invited to exhibit at the next exhibition that was going to be opened. “The atmosphere became unpleasant and Neto, brilliant, had a way out, I told him that if he wanted to exhibit there was an external wall of the gallery, which we call a pool. Go there, take the work and put it on the wall yourself and if anyone else wants to participate, that’s fine.” When Botner went to see it, there were more than 30 works by various artists. “That's it, we have to listen to the artist and use this in the best way so that the concepts gain more strength.”
Among the projects he highlights is the Camisa Educação Project. In short: each artist who exhibits at Gentil creates a shirt with the word education on it, for the opening day and with that, a large collection has already been created. Among other projects, there is what can be called the “hard core” of the gallery’s concept, Alalaô, defined as public art that enhances the streets, and which takes place on Arpoador beach in Rio.
I ask where all this production goes. Without modesty, Botner says that since the beginning of Gentil they have been invited to major international fairs. "AFairs represent a lot for Gentil, meeting curators, artists, museum directors. In these 20 years there have been times when I was very tired.” Of these major events he also mentions the São Paulo Biennial, which in his opinion represents a lot for all artists who always learn something and for Brazilians too, throughout the history of the institution which is the second oldest in the world (1951) , second only to Venice (1895).
“We cannot forget that Picasso’s Guernica was already exhibited here”, in its second edition (1953/1954)”. Gentil Carioca has played an empirical role since its The day when Botner, Neto and Laura Lima, sitting in a bar, eating fried sardines and drinking beer, decided to invent a different gallery and came up with this model that is the face of Rio, “and the world”, concludes Botner.
Gentil's irreverence has no limits. Botner is announcing that he is going to hold a big event inside the Consolação cemetery, next to A Gentil Carioca in São Paulo. “We will pay homage to the modernists who are buried there: Mário de Andrade, Tarsila do Amaral, Oswald de Andrade, among others”. Who lives will see!