To visit the Centro de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim(CACI) in Brumadinho in the hills of the Brazilian hinterland is an act of committed art pilgrimage. Located about 40 miles from Brazil’s third largest city, Belo Horizonte, this utopian private gallery and museum for Brazilian and international artists is composed of open-air artwork, rare fauna, and a tropical savanna botanical garden containing 3,500 species, all set in a 178-acre landscape of forest, lakes, and hills developed from proposals by landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx. But more than that, Inhotim is also a twenty-first-century Versailles for contemporary art, with more than 500 artworks by 100 artists of over 30 different nationalities presented in an outdoor art park with sculpture in the landscape and architectural pavilions.
Inaugurated in September 2004 and opened to the general public in 2006, Inhotim was created through the philanthropy of Brazilian businessman Bernardo Paz, who funded the art collection with his mining fortune. Paz started buying art in the 1980s, but the gestation of Inhotim stems from the purchase of his first contemporary piece: True Rouge (1997), an installation by Tunga, is a series of red elements—suspended glass bottles, netting, and liquids. This purchase led to Paz’s focus on large-scale installations that necessitated the construction of purpose-built galleries to exhibit the collection. The galleries developed into an institution that now employs more than 500 staff members, including the curatorial board of Allan Schwartzman, Jochen Volz, and Rodrigo Moura, who constantly monitor art fairs, galleries, and exhibitions to maintain the international context of the Inhotim collection.
The ambition and scale of the operation at Inhotim is impressive. The center’s unique capability has been to create a series of architectural pavilions to display its collection through long-term shows in museum exhibition format. Currently on extended exhibition in the Galeria Praça is Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet (2001), a sound installation of a recording of a choir performing Thomas Tallis’ Spem in Alium of 1573. Another work exhibited in a pavilion is Hélio Oiticica and Neville d’Almeida’s Cosmococa (1973), described by the artists as series of living “sensorial environments” that recreate the experience of 1960s happenings. Here visitors can relax on hammocks to watch films and listen to music.
Chris Burden’s Beam Drop Inhotim (2008)—one of Inhotim’s commissioned sculptures—uses 71 steel beams, sourced from scrap yards and showing the color, rust, and marks of previous usage. These beams were dropped in place over a period of 12 hours from a 45-meter-high crane in a haphazard vertical arrangement into a cement bed. Piscina (2009) by the Argentine artist Jorge Macchi is a magical-realist joke—a functioning swimming pool resembling an address book, complete with A–Z alphabetical tabs as steps into the water. Jarbas Lopes’s Troca-Troca (2002)—translated as “tit-for-tat” or “swapping parts”—consists of three Volkswagen Beetles whose monochromatic panels were reconfigured in a harlequin patchwork of red, yellow, and blue, and which move to different locations around the site.
The commissioned pavilions include an exceptional work by Doug Aitken. Sonic Pavilion (2009) might in another context be a modernist astronomical observatory. Inside the circular chamber the glass wall becomes mysteriously opaque close-up and a central glass-capped borehole disappears 200 meters into the earth. At the bottom are microphones recording, relaying, and amplifying the ethereal seismological soundings: humming, moaning, creaking, groaning, and occasionally silence from the geological underground realm. Matthew Barney’s De Lama Lâmina (2004–2008) is set in a eucalyptus forest and presents two linked steel and mirrored-glass geodesic domes containing a sculptural tableau of a tractor caked in red soil holding a white resin tree in its metal jaws.
Bernardo Paz is married to the Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão and the pavilion dedicated to her work, opened in 2008, is a hard-edged concrete box with pools, bridges, ramps, stairs, vertical voids, and roof terrace designed by Rodrigo Cerviño Lopez intended to link architecture to the body. The interior features the existing sculpture Linda do Rosário (2004), a partially destroyed white tiled wall with disturbing organic human interior, and an installation of five azulejos, traditional blue and white Portuguese ceramic tiles evoking the visceral and corporeal, pleasure and sensuality. Celacanto Provoca Maremoto (2004–2008) is a mural covering all four walls of the first story, suggesting a distorted Hokusai wave; a panel, Panacea Phantastica (2003–2007), presents 50 drawings of hallucinogenic plants; Passarinhos—from Inhotim to Demini is a series of tiled benches on the roof terrace made with domestic-size tiles that contain images of birds. Other works at Inhotim have been commissioned and purchased from artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Doris Salcedo, Cildo Meireles, Vik Muniz, Ernesto Neto, and John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres, who created two figurative sculptural reliefs depicting people from the surrounding community.
Celebrating Brazilian Culture
Inhotim, which attracts 160,000 visitors a year, has established a credo of education and social development with the Department of Inclusion and Citizenship and the Labatório Inhotim, which works with the adjacent town of Brumadinho. It has also created a program involving music as well as art for teenagers, designed to raise awareness of their cultural heritage. The ever-present culture of Brazil is music and dance, but as the country’s contemporary art scene is being discovered through events such as the Bienal de São Paulo, Semana de Arte do Rio in 2011, and ArtRio in 2012, Inhotim is an impressive and specifically Brazilian philanthropic model for the pedagogical and theatrical presentation of artists’ works in an enchanted art wonderland.