jochen volz
The German curator Jochen Volz, director general of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo.

General director of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo since last May, the German Jochen Volz talks about his plans for the museum, his experience at the head of other important cultural institutions in Brazil and abroad, and also opines on the systematic conservative attack against art exhibitions in the country.

What are your plans for the Pinacoteca?

Jochen Volz — An institution is much more than a program of exhibitions. It has collection policies, management of works, human resources, it involves many teams, it is a great trainer of professionals, it has an educational program, a cultural program. They are different profiles. I think the first moment of an arrival as a manager is that moment of listening. It was a desire of mine to think, in these first months, of the various actions taking place in two buildings. We still have the Resistance Memorial, which is a state facility managed by the same OS (Social Organization), a neighboring partner institution, inside the same building.

Put everyone on the same foot?

Yup. Or at least everyone is aware that the Pinacoteca is just one of those many actions. It is not just an educational action, just collection management, just an exhibition program, or cultural programming. The Pinacoteca is the sum of all this. It was a collective exercise, an attempt to understand which are the perennial, special programs, which are linked to an exhibition and which have an independent life. Trying to organize this in a way that everyone understands that the sum of all this is the life of the institution. I thought it was very important to talk about all areas in a single document that would reach our audience.

In the Pinacoteca there is an ambiguity, perhaps even a contradiction, because while it is historical, it has this great collection, it is increasingly becoming contemporary. How do you deal with these two sides?

I find it very interesting to think that she has a very clear profile. But thinking a little about the history of the Pinacoteca, it is possible to notice that even when it was created it was already used to teach young artists. It was teaching equipment. So, in fact, she was always very connected to the contemporary art of her time. It also has this function of telling a history of Brazilian art, but it has never understood itself only as a museum of Brazilian art. It wants to be a museum of international dialogues.

Much was said when you were invited that the great interest was precisely to open this channel with international art. Do you think Brazilian art is more integrated?

The collaboration that I have been able to give in recent years has been to create dialogues between Brazilian artists and others from outside the country, in both directions. This has been happening naturally, but historically something has changed. This Brazilian art box thing is much less striking. Since the 1990s, more naturally, Brazilian artists have circulated in dialogue with artists from all over the world. The evolution of the Bienal de São Paulo itself contributes to this. Since 2006, no one comes with the label of being an English, Dutch, or South African artist, but because they are in tune with a question posed. For me, the interest is to think a little about how to create more strategic dialogues. Purely and simply bringing a famous name in international art to Brazil seems insufficient. It is interesting to think about what dialogues can be created that really show what we do here differently, that modify our thinking, or our look, our understanding, our vision of the whole. I think this is a desire to operate very strategically.

I've read that at the beginning of your work at Portikus in Frankfurt, you saw yourself more as an exhibition maker than a curator.

Organization of exhibitions: this is what I answer when people ask me what I do. I never felt like the author of a project. Even at the Bienal de São Paulo, for example, which is obviously a more authorial project, for me it was very important that this was a collective project, both with other curators and in dialogue with all the artists, many of whom did not even participate in the show. and who may not even know how important they were in the formation of the project. And not just artists, but academics, leaders, several other figures. I understand that we are formed by all the encounters we have.

You have already directed, in Brazil, institutions of great importance. Inhotim, Bienal and Pinacoteca make up a good trio. Each of these institutions has its specificities. You seem to pay attention to what each of them can yield.

In each one I was in a very specific moment. When I was called to collaborate with Inhotim, the institution was thinking about the possibility of creating its own profile, based on the context in which it operates, in Brumadinho, without other museums around. It was a learning process together. But that too was 13 years ago, it was at a different time. I had relationships with artists, but little experience with managing institutions and we learned together. The Bienal de São Paulo is totally another five hundred. It was an extremely privileged situation, to which I was invited not as a manager, but as a curator. It is a consolidated institution, with a consolidated and very well managed team, which reacts to a curatorial proposal and helps it become a reality. It was a huge privilege to do so. Now for me the Pinacoteca is another moment. It is one of the art institutions with one of the longest histories in the country. It has a lot of tradition, a lot of experience and an incredible technical staff. It is an invitation to help from my experience of working with institutions abroad and in Brazil. Help to think about how an institution of this weight can continue to grow. Because a museum is only active while it collects.

You have an experience, a life, a family, a Brazilian experience. Not exactly a foreign curator. What is it like to have this dual nationality?

My professional career happened much more in Brazil than abroad. I owe Brazilian art much more, in a way, than to German or European culture. On the other hand, during these years at Inhotim, I realized that I was increasingly assuming the role of that curator who knows Brazil, but has an outside look. Which can be an interesting perspective, but it's also very delicate at times. In 2012, when I accepted the invitation to work at Serpentine in London, it was a bit of a reaction to that. This profile of a foreigner who works in Brazil mainly with Brazilian artists or art, or works abroad with Brazilian artists, didn't seem enough to me. I followed a lot of exhibitions during those three and a half years I stayed there. Increasing vocabulary was very important. In addition, today there are more people with similar research, other curators, other exhibition organizers who now live and work in Brazil and who are also foreigners. The situation from 2004 until now has changed a lot.

You talk a lot about the importance of exchanging with artists. In addition to marriage and proximity to the work of Rivane Neuenschwander, contact with the work of Cildo Meireles was fundamental in your trajectory, right?

The first exhibition with a Brazilian artist that I organized was with Rivane. When we invited her to do a project in Frankfurt in 2001, she said: “Curious, they are inviting me and not inviting Cildo. This look is missing for a generation that taught us a lot.” From there, I started to research more about Cildo's work and get closer to him. I invited him to a project in Frankfurt in 2002, which took place in 2004. In the second half of 2004 we worked together in Inhotim and since then several projects have been carried out. In this sense, he was very important as one of the figures with whom I have had the most dialogue, an ongoing dialogue.

And is there perhaps in his work this relationship between concept and care with form, a delicacy, an affection, with the very doing, which you seem to seek in Brazilian art?

Yeah, I already said that. I see a lot between these two poles, two historical artists with whom I worked intensely, who were Tunga and Cildo. A feature that fascinates me in Brazilian art, which sets it apart from others, is this convergence between formal discussion and conceptual discussion. Poetics and politics are always integrated. Don't separate. It is different from an English art, which perhaps has a reflection on ways of doing, something harder. Or from a more German school where either the conceptual or the formal dominates; they are diametrically opposite points but they can be together. It is something that researchers in general are very interested in, Brazilian art teaches.

Perhaps we are even seeing an ebb of that? As a result of this reactionary setback, of a more intense clash around important issues. Do things seem to be getting tougher?

I strongly believe in the power of art, I am convinced that art always survives. Obviously in favorable moments it assumes other forms, but it is also born from resistance. Not the culture. Culture is a bit of that vocabulary that we collectively create to be able to talk about it, to understand our being in the world, in a more complex way.

I like to use this more obvious parallel, between culture and agriculture. When we throw poison on land, nothing grows and we lose this wealth and the awareness of this wealth. I'm more concerned with the so-called culture, from which we are able to establish, defend and resist these super radical and ultra conservative invasions. I am much more concerned with losing these memories – losing, for example, this notion that we were talking about of integration between a poetics, a politics, a concept and a formalization, something that is so different and so unique in Brazilian art. This is very sad.

How to face this?

I think we have to make a lot of effort to defend our institutions as a plural space. Diversity is the only way. We can learn, for example, from indigenous cultures that clearly cultivate the land in multiple ways, always aiming at diversity. If something is being threatened, there are other ways that hold the culture together. We are living in a historical situation in which diversity is being attacked, multiplicity is being reduced so that there is only one predominant narrative, and this is very dangerous. The main role of cultural institutions is to promote diversity, plurality. Create forms, inclusive programs for everyone, understand that there are many languages, that there are many discourses. It's our role.

Could you take stock of 32a Biennial? It was a biennial that broke several paradigms and the notion of uncertainty, which guided the exhibition, seems to be increasingly present today.

For me this is very curious, it is a process that is still in progress. Instead of closing in December, it unfolded into a bunch of other dialogue. She went through twelve Brazilian cities, went to Bogotá, to Porto, in Portugal, she is very lively. The subjects that we developed as main axes – worldviews, education, the idea of ​​narratives, multiple identities and ecology – are exactly these subjects that are being threatened daily.

Exactly. Is it on these fronts that we identify the setback?

Everything we've been experiencing, the setback or control by capital, the desire for power for power's sake, it's all out there. Our Brazil resources are all at stake. Ecology, diversity, multiplicity, the indigenous issue… But the discussion is not over. And it's curious, because during the Bienal, in those three months in which it had 900 visitors, we didn't have any problems like that here in São Paulo. But I'm sure that if we opened the same Bienal today, that's what would happen. That's because it wasn't even a year ago.

Regarding the Pinacoteca's programming, it is possible to notice some lines of force and a weight of burning issues such as discussions of gender and race. 'Radical Women' presents itself as one of the great highlights?

I think it's important to understand that it's a historical exhibition, which is being organized by the Hammer Museum, in Los Angeles. There are two curators, Cecilia Fajardo-Hill and the Argentinian Andrea Giunta, who has been doing research for seven years, looking at the art developed by women artists from the 1960s to 1985. A clearly defined period in which women artists increasingly assumed another role in the reinvention of art. What is so beautiful about this exhibition is that it clearly shows that while many have been lonely activists, they have not been alone. They are part of a group of people, of a research, much bigger than an individual achievement of each one of them.

An art outside the paradigms?

I see that this exhibition has a role, that's why we're making this effort to bring it here, on its only tour to Latin America. We can highlight three very interesting aspects. One of them is the fact of looking at the art made by women artists in this period; another is the emphasis given to the media and forms of expression that were invented by these artists, which today we understand as part of our vocabulary, but which in fact we do not know the source. Finally, this is perhaps one of the greatest exhibitions ever held on Latin American art. She doesn't look at Colombian art, Brazilian art, Chilean art, anyway. It really tells a story of a generation, within a continent, a cultural set, in an extremely broad way, something you rarely see.

Would you highlight any more exhibits from the programming?

I think the other highlight will be the next major exhibition, which opens after Di Cavalcanti: a retrospective of Hilma af Klint, a Swede, who graduated in the XNUMXs, a time when many things that are not visible became visible, like x-ray, radio, etc. She started to communicate with energies, created automatic drawing techniques, to explore this unexplored field in a very innovative way. And at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, she began to develop an extremely revolutionary “abstract” art.

Early, no?

super precocious. Before everyone else. It was one of the pioneers. And most surprisingly, it worked on an enormous scale. There is, for example, a set of ten large canvases, paintings measuring 3,50 by 2,40 meters in dimension. In the history of art, it took a long time to reach this scale. And she developed an extremely interesting practice based on serial exploration. It's very impressive.  When she died in 1944, she asked in her will not to show this work to anyone for another twenty years. It was locked up until the 1960s. The family wanted to donate all this work to Pontus Hultén, who was the director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. He didn't understand the story of a woman who made an abstract figure before Kandinsky and let it go. The material remained somewhat unknown until the 1980s. From then on, some works began to circulate, but it was not until 2013 that the first more systematic retrospective of his work took place, which was done by the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. There are some axes in her research, the idea of ​​seriality, colors, geometry, the idea of ​​understanding the world in a more plural and cosmological way, which allows for an extremely interesting dialogue with Brazilian art. Anyway, she was an artist I was always curious about and now the possibility of bringing her has opened up, with a new exhibition, curated by us.

Was it designed for the Pinacoteca?

IT IS. Curated by me together with the director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and in collaboration with the Hilma af Klint Foundation. We created a new curatorship for here that seeks this dialogue with the history of Brazilian art. On the one hand, it presents Hilma's research to a Brazilian and Latin American audience for the first time, but it is also an attempt to bring another look at her work, where perhaps the dialogue with Brazilian art can add something beyond her reading. own.

Does one thing feed the other?

The history of art is not just linear. And Brazilian art can open up ways to understand the work of a Hilma, although she has no biographical dialogue with Latin America or Brazil.

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