New permanent work by Robert Irwin. Photo: Leo Lara/Disclosure

Last November 9, on a sunny Saturday marked by the opening of works and a new garden, the reopening of pavilions that were undergoing maintenance and an outdoor show, the atmosphere at Instituto Inhotim was one of celebration. A huge number of visitors walked along the various paths of the 140 hectares of the Minas Gerais “museum park”, located in the city of Brumadinho, and formed queues to enter the contemporary art galleries, restaurants and cafes and to get a seat in the carts that take to the works. further away from the park.

Not that 2019 was an easy period for the institution, created by businessman Bernardo Paz and which has been open to the public for 13 years. On the contrary, if Inhotim had already gone through several political and financial crises in recent years – from the conviction of Paz in justice in 2017 to the outbreak of yellow fever in the region in 2018, which resulted in a huge drop in visitation – nothing would be comparable to the rupture of the dam of mining company Vale on January 25 this year, which flooded large areas of Brumadinho and left 251 dead in the region.

If the mud did not reach the institute’s territory directly, it affected the lives of a large part of its employees – among Inhotim’s 600 direct employees, 80% are from the city – and caused another drastic drop in the number of visitors, with the near stoppage of the local tourism. For those who started the year in this painting, arriving in November inaugurating the greatest work ever built by the American Robert Irwin, an installation at the Claudia Andujar gallery, a large group exhibition of sculptures and reopening for visitors famous works by Matthew Barney, Tunga and Yayoi Kusama seems indeed be cause for celebration. Even more considering the rapid recovery in visitation numbers and the increase in sponsorship and financial donations.

Installation by Claudia Andujar, Leandro Lima and Gisela Motta. Photo: Leo Lara/Disclosure

To achieve these results, Inhotim first focused on awareness campaigns – “we needed to show that we were open and in full working order”, says the institute's CEO, Antonio Grassi. In addition, it promoted an institutional renovation, with the arrival of the new executive director, Renata Bittencourt, and a strengthening of ties with the city of Brumadinho. The Nosso Inhotim program, created this year to allow city residents free and regular visits to the park, has already registered 5500 people. Grassi points out that the institute also had “awareness of sponsors and donors”, even though it still depends on a contribution from Bernardo Paz to close the annual budget of around R$ 34 million.

“The idea of ​​regeneration is very dear to Brumadinho today, both in terms of the environment, physical, as well as emotional, in a city that was hit by this tragedy”, says Bittencourt. “And in addition to our commitment to contemporary art, there is this Inhotim that is a symbol of regeneration of the environment, especially remembering that this entire area that is now a botanical garden was deforested, pasture or used to transport minerals”. In this way, says Bittencourt, in addition to being a cultural space, Inhotim is also increasingly consolidated as a “place of meeting, peace and healing”.


The biggest highlight among the novelties, the permanent work of Robert Irwin, now 91 years old, continues the work of one of the pioneering artists in the creation of immersive environments that provide multisensory experiences. At the highest point of the park, the octagonal sculpture of concrete, steel and glass – 6,3 meters high by 14,6 meters in diameter – creates, from the sunlight that passes through the greenish glass, a kind of painting that moves across the floor and walls. Next to the grandiose Bean Drop, by Chris Burden, is yet another work that reveals an Inhotim of ambitious achievements. “It is a very sensitive work that also speaks of this institute that makes possible, that materializes projects that are audacious, sometimes dreamed of for decades by artists and that find conditions here to be carried out”, says Bittencourt.

The new temporary exhibition, at Galeria Mata, started from the occasion of the inauguration of Irwin's work to debate questions about contemporary sculpture, such as abstraction and three-dimensionality, the use of raw materials and the resignification of everyday objects. The exhibition includes Brazilian artists Alexandre da Cunha, Iran do Espírito Santo, José Damasceno, Laura Vinci, Marcius Galan and Sara Ramo.

Work by Alexandre da Cunha in the exhibition “Visão Geral”. Photo: Leo Lara/ Publicity

In the pavilion dedicated to the work of Claudia Andujar, with her remarkable series of photographs taken among the Yanomami peoples in the Amazon, a new video installation by Gisela Motta and Leandro Lima inserts Andujar's work into a field not yet explored by the artist. In a darkened room, a 1976 photo of a longhouse on fire seems to come to life as it is projected through a red filter and a layer of moving water. With the flame in permanent movement, the work, entitled Yano-a, conveys an idea of ​​suspension in time, of something that burns eternally, and ignites the ever-present debate on the indigenous cause.

The new garden, in turn, entitled Sombra e Água Fresca and covering more than 3 hectares, is the largest of the park's gardens and is landscaped by Pedro Nehring. With around 700 species of native and exotic plants – including 100 species of fruit trees – and a stretch of dense forest next to a stream, the space also speaks to the idea of ​​healing, according to Bittencourt.

Thus, a work of financial restructuring and strengthening of ties with the local community, associated with the ideas of regeneration and healing, guide Inhotim's work in a difficult year not only due to the disaster in Brumadinho, but also due to the constant attacks on culture by the federal government – ​​including cases of censorship that come back to haunt the country. As Grassi emphasizes, “our institution values ​​and focuses its work on defending freedom of expression. This is a good that cannot be given up. And of course, as an OSCIP (public interest civil society organization), we have an obligation to be open and willing to dialogue”.

Finally, after optimistically listing a series of concerts and new projects planned for the year 2020 (including the opening of a gallery dedicated to the work of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama), Grassi concludes by stressing his concern with the scenario: “We follow the panorama very carefully, and with a certain tension, and he hopes that things can develop fulfilling the constitutional rites, freedom of expression, the appreciation of art. It is clear that this whole picture is very worrying, and that it is not just a Brazilian thing. Therefore, affirming the fundamental role of culture and art, at a time of much misunderstanding, is a mission for us”.

*The journalist traveled at the invitation of the Inhotim Institute

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