Brazil is known for its music and distinctive dances, not necessarily for its paintings or photography. But that is changing. Not only are Brazilian artists now getting big play in major museums around the world, but something new is happening inside Brazil: There's a burgeoning appetite for art.
"It's booming. Brazilian art is booming," says Brazilian photographer Claudio Edinger, whose work was being exhibited at a recent photography art fair in Sao Paulo. A Rio de Janeiro native, Edinger lived for decades in the United States, but moved back to Brazil because his work sold more in his native country.
Edinger's pictures capture a country in flux: the bright lights of Rio at night; the soft folds of hammocks on a barge in the Amazon. He says the country is undergoing a transformation.
"Our references are all new, we are creating our references right now, so there are a world of things to do here that you don't find anywhere else," he says.
And, he adds with a wink: "Money makes art grow."
And there is money. Lots of money.
In the past decade, Brazil's economy has boomed, many of the poor moved into the middle class, and the rich got richer. People started to travel more, including to museums and galleries in New York, London and Paris.
People here have become less parochial, analysts say, and their appetites more sophisticated. And the younger set seems to be leading the way.
"There's definitely more happening, galleries opening, people talking about art," says Marianna Suchodolski, a 22-year-old Brazilian who studied art in the U.S., as she browses photographs for sale at the art fair with her mother. "People who really looked down on art — you know, I had friends who called it finger painting — and nowadays there's a lot more interest in it, and taking it seriously."
Fernanda Feitosa, founder and director of SP-Arte, the biggest annual art fair in Brazil, says there is a whole new class of people buying art.
"The fair has helped to promote the awareness in the young wealthy community of younger professionals who became more successful in their works," she says. "Art has become a preoccupation, a point of interest, and for some of them, an investment."
Numbers are difficult to track because the market here is so new, and many people don't disclose what they buy, says Feitosa. But from what's been registered at her art fair, she can see the appetite for art is growing, with sales doubling year to year.
And as demand rises, so do prices.
Collector Silvio Frota owns more than 2,000 photographs, and calls Brazilian art a great investment. In the past five years prices have gone up, and they will continue to rise, he says. That gives galleries more incentive to show the work Brazilians are creating, and artists more motivation to produce, he says.
But it's not just about buying.
For the past few years, according to an international survey of attendance at art exhibitions, Brazil has topped the charts with record-busting turnout for big museum shows. Many of them are free, attracting people from all social groups.
And the world has taken notice of Brazilian art. This year there will be a massive pavilion in the Art Basel show in Miami Beach, Fla., dedicated to Brazilian art.
There are shows of Brazilian artists slated as well in major museums.
This month, painter Mira Schendel is having an exhibition at London's Tate Modern. A top tier gallery, White Cube, has also opened the first foreign gallery in the country.
Back at the art fair, photographer Edinger says Brazil has always been fetishized — the beaches, the music, the women. But the culture here goes much deeper, he says, and it needs art to thrive.
"In many ways, we have a lack of education, a cultural void that needs to be filled if we are to become a nation," he says. "There is no nation in the world without strong cultural identity, and we are building that. It's fantastic."
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