Dana Andrew recently attended ICOM’s 23rd General Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which focussed on museums’ ability to work with the content of their collections or research in a creative way to make a positive influence on society. In this post, Dana recalls visiting some of Rio’s museum highlights, and looks back on the busy conference week.
The ICEE group organised two official museum visits during the conference, and I took the opportunity to visit several more of Rio’s 254 museums while I was there.
Museu de Arte do Rio. © Dana Andrew, 2013
Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM) (Museum of Modern Art)
We enjoyed an early morning private view at MAM, where, by happy coincidence, they were presenting four temporary exhibitions by female artists. The highlight for me was the Time to Breath installation by Brazilian artist, Maria Nepomuceno, whose colourful work incorporates traditional Latin American craft techniques. Nepomuceno’s detailed and colourful work spread through the exhibition space in contrast to the stark concrete building from the 1950s.
At MAM I noted that the exhibition credit panels were lengthy and included everyone who had contributed to the making of the exhibition, including all of the internal staff at MAM as well as external contractors. This is quite a contrast to V&A exhibition credit panels, where we don’t thank ourselves and mainly use the space to thank sponsors and those who have made a significant contribution to the exhibition, even though it is very much a team effort. I went on to note the lengthy exhibition credit panels at every one of the museums I visited in Rio.
Casa Daros, which opened in March 2013, is an institution of Daros Latinamerica, one of the most comprehensive collections of Latin American contemporary art, based in Zurich.
This private museum has art and education at the core of its ethos, which was visible throughout its work, from the t-shirts worn by the gallery attendants with art + education written on them and the education exhibition gallery, to the documentation space at the museum. The documentation space functions a bit like the Sackler Centre at the V&A, in that it hosts artists’ workshops for the public, events and workshops for school groups, and provides a space for visitors to watch interviews with the artists and learn more about their ideas and creative processes.
As a fan of Latinamerican contemporary art, I particularly enjoyed the exhibition Cantos Cuentos Colombianos, a hard-hitting show of mid-career Colombian artists that wasn’t afraid to tackle some sensitive and traumatic subjects.
Museu de Arte do Rio (MAR) (Museum of Art of Rio)
One of the newest museums in Rio (it opened in March 2013) this museum seamlessly blends the old and new, both in terms of its building and subject matter. Located in Praça Mauá, which is an old port area undergoing major development for 2015, MAR houses eight exhibition halls in its main building (an old colonial style building) connected to an art school next door (a modern building, which was a former bus station).
Port redevelopment next to MAR. © Dana Andrew, 2013
Their first major exhibition Rio de Imagens: uma paisagem em construção (Images of Rio: A landscape under construction) reviews the city over a period of four centuries up to the present day. As a new visitor to the city, and a museum professional, I loved the variety of objects included in the exhibition, from old maps and drawings, and ephemeral material, through to contemporary photography and film, which were used to explore the history of the city and the legacy of the ethnic groups that contributed to the social fabric of the population and landscape of Rio.
So, how to sum up a fascinating, busy and fun week at a museum conference in Rio? Well, for anyone interested in culture and museums, I would say Rio is a great destination. With 15 museums having opened across the state of Rio de Janeiro in recent years, and with new museums raising the bar in terms of visitor experience, I imagine that all of the museums and cultural institutions will be working harder to attract and keep new audiences. The level of growth, the breadth of collections and themes represented, and the focus on public education programmes, demonstrates the importance of these institutions on contemporary Brazilian society, and the role they play in promoting topical conversations and debates. With substantial public and private investment and support, I will certainly be keeping a keen eye on how the diverse cultural scene continues to develop in Brazil over the coming years.