It’s not uncommon nowadays to find many art collections that are predictable catwalks with a menu of flashy works with mega artists’ signatures. On the other hand, it’s so damn good to be pleasantly surprised in this chaotic world! The collective exhibition in São Paulo’s Arte132 Galeria, “Tridimensional: Entre o sagrado e o estético” (Between the Sacred and the Aesthetic), will give you that hard-to-achieve, longing pleasure. No commonplace trendy taste here. It assembles a cross-section of forty-six tridimensional pieces by thirty-five trailblazing Brazilian artists from the Vera and Miguel Chaia Collection, a well-thought-through accumulation of 900 artworks over fifty years, notable for its diversity, unorthodoxy and gravitas. As co-curator Laura Rago, a PUC-SP university post-graduate student of professor Miguel Chaia himself (who also co-curates the show), puts it, it’s “an amplified view of the sacred and the aesthetic in contemporary tridimensional art without putting aside its significant political aspect.”
On Artur Lescher’s “Escada,” 1998: “Lescher’s ladder is inspired by a passage in Genesis where Jacob dreams with a stairway to heaven.”
On Edgar de Souza’s “Untitled,” 1996: “The lacquered wood refers to a drop of sweat, semen or water: all symbols of life.”
Breaking prevailing aesthetic codes, the cutting-edge collection, weighty in names and ideas, is an expression of love for the visual arts by this dual-career academic couple, prominent in the country’s highest academic milieu. Through their combined love for art and professors’ salaries, the intellectually bold scholars—now in their seventies with the same enthusiasm—accomplished one of the most important and conceptually daring collections of Brazilian contemporary art. The Vera and Miguel Chaia Collection is not only a visionary aesthetic and political statement but a lesson in art collecting with passion, brains and persistence: proof you don’t need to be a mega rich Brazilian to buy quality tridimensional art, but can do it on a Brazilian middle-class budget and share it with your family and friends in a standard-sized home.
On Carmela Gross’, “Quadrantes,” 1990: “The vibrant red wall piece has many meanings. It refers to fire, blood; and the X shape represents the cross.”
On Deyson Gilbert’s “Copo com Água Benta ao Lado de Copo com Água Comum,” 2010: “Two identical glasses filled with water. One with plain tap water, the other, with holy water. Impossible to distinguish which is which. A play with the symbolical meaning of faith.“
This exhibition is a mosaic of emotions with a gripping, complex conceptual vocabulary by artists of several generations. Its wholesomeness clearly stands out as a charismatic survey that illustrates the history of Brazilian conceptual art from its onset in the 1970s to the present day. One of the rules the savvy collectors established from the beginning—to acquire works from promising, emerging names produced at the time they were otherwise unknown, struggling artists—means their audacious, prophetic, on-progress, quasi five decades’ collecting resulted in a compilation of artworks by professionals now hailed as groundbreakers and heavyweights of Latin American art (Tunga, José Resende, Amilcar de Castro, Waltércio Caldas, Karin Lambrecht, Carmela Gross, Leda Catunda, Nuno Ramos, Artur Lescher), blended with a 1980s-born generation the market bets on as future greats (Marcelo Cidade, André Vargas, Deyson Gilbert, Ícaro Lira, Pontogor) and the amazing Chaias still can’t get enough of art collecting.
On Helena Carvalhosa’s “Untitled,” 2000: “This sculptural piece makes one reflect on the fragility of mankind and our troubled human relations.”
On José Resende’s “Untitled,” 1974: “Made simply of wood and iron rebars, it’s about internalized pain. It reminds us of Christian martyr Saint Sebastian shot with arrows.”
This is what pioneer conceptual and multimedia artist Regina Silveira (the Chaias have an early work by the masterful Silveira not in the present selection) has to say of her friends’ accomplishment: “First and foremost, to have a public display of a private collection of this quality in the art gallery circuit is a beautiful and rare initiative. Above all it is an opportunity to see what this unique couple has passionately collected along decades. The exhibition shows an uncommon group of works connected to several poetic narratives. Some works raise irony, other are transgressive and formal works appear in fewer number. However, each one of them carries a transformative idea about things and objects. This shared meaning, at first glance, is the scale: all the works have dimensions suited to fit a standard home. But most of all one sees intelligence, repertoire and risk-taking. A wonderful surprise is to verify how the whole time the Chaias kept up-to-date, coexisting with artists of several generations. The exhibition is pure delight.”
On Karin Lambrecht‘s “Uma porta para o perdão,” 2010: “Lambrecht uses honey and beeswax, organic materials and her family’s heirloom fabrics to tackle the pardoning of sins.”
On Laura Vinci’s “Untitled,” “Brancusas” series, 2001: “This soft marble piece represents the marble sculptures, both religious and non-religious, in Art History.”
Following is an interview with Miguel Chaia.
All images are from the Vera and Miguel Chaia Collection and include fragments of commentaries from the couple, taken from the exhibition catalog.
Miguel, it is uncommon for a couple of your generation to have your sensibilities toward conceptual art way back in the 1970s when both of you began the collection. What contributed to your radical vision?
Vera and I began to date during a Political Science course at PUC-SP (The Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo). She majored in journalism and still works in the field primarily focused on research for electoral campaigns and political communication. Her family was into the arts; her father was an amateur photographer and cinephile. Her brother, Cássio Michalany, an architecture student, was building a career as a constructive-minimalist painter. As for myself, I also took classes at the Escola Superior de Cinema at Faculdade São Luis college, the country’s first institution with a graduate course on film. One of my teachers was professor Anatol Rosenfeld, a well-known German philosopher who migrated to Brazil. He ministered the course on aesthetics and was responsible for opening my mind to the world of the arts. Other professors were poets Décio Pignatari and Mario Chamie, and movie directors Roberto Santos and Luis Sergio Person of the Cinema Novo (the New Cinema) movement. I cannot rule out that the regular after-class discussions at the Riviera Bar, near Paulista Avenue, with colleagues and our professors also refined my sensibilities. After we graduated, Vera and I founded in 1997 the Núcleo de Estudos em Arte, Mídia e Política (NEAMP) for the social science post-graduate program where we have in-depth discussions on Brazilian politics and its relation to art and media. In parallel, we developed activities in research and methodologies to expand the limits of politics in the arts and media.
On Leda Catunda‘s “Lua II,” 1994: “This wall piece represents a moon for contemplation, meditation, veneration. It is also about the silvery satellite in mythologies with its cycles and its femininity.”
On Tunga‘s “Untitled (vasos comunicantes),” 1998: “Tunga’s baroque piece with communicating vessels explores the Christian mythology of the Holy Grail.”
So how did you take your first steps in collecting art?
We began by buying prints in the early 1970s by artists such as Maria Bonomi, Marcelo Grassmann, Tomie Ohtake and Evandro Carlos Jardim. In 1975 we took a major step when we bought our first painting, a work by Tomie Ohtake. As soon as Tomie heard we were uni. professors, she authorized gallerist Dudu Santos of Galeria Grifo to spread out our installments, after that big push we went ahead collecting according to our professors’ salaries.
On Leonilson‘s “Untitled,” bronze, 1999: “Leonilson’s edition of this small bronze wall-sculpture represents both the sacred and the fire in our heart.”
On Nuno Ramos‘ “Books” series, 1991: “Ramos conceptualizes the baroque not through a sacred brochure or bible but rather a book depleted of any value or significance made of layers of waste material.”
Looking back what has changed in art collecting then and now in Brazil?
Since the 1970s the market expanded considerably with more people interested in acquiring objects of art for their homes. This meant more art galleries not only in the São-Paulo-Rio axis but also in state capitals such as Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Recife and Porto Alegre. Since the 1980s the economic growth in Brazil both in the financial and service sectors encouraged groups of enriched people to buy art. In the 1980s as globalization intensified, Brazil took its place on the world stage. The restricted seventies market benefited with the expansion of the opening of art fairs and the growth of art tourism to the international art biennials and related events.
On Marcelo Cidade’s “Da cinza ao pó, do pó às cinzas (ou o que sobrou de um desenho animado),” 2004: “These running shoes with ashes and dust refers to the danger and violence young Brazilians are subjected to daily and the thin line with death. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
On Nicolás Robbio’s “Cabeças Cortadas,” 2015: “Like a pile of severed heads, hundreds of red match heads ready to catch fire represent the possibility of imminent destruction of our minds and lives.”
You and Vera have accumulated 900 works of art. What have you planned for this important legacy of Brazilian art?
The first steps of our collection were the acquisition of paintings and prints, after that came tridimensional art, photography and video art. Our collection is distributed in these supports and we still continue to buy to this day. Since its onset, we focus on the production of young artists and pieces they produce at the time. We only buy when we’re both passionate about a piece. As for our legacy, there are possibilities to preserve the whole collection or divide it into parts in donations to museums and art institutions.
On Sérgio Romagnolo‘s “Menina com biquini azul,” 1999: “Produced in the artist’s characteristic molded plastic, this sculpture of a girl is in the same red used in the iconographies of the Catholic Church and the candomblé Afro religion, as well as in Pop Art.”
Finally, what is your advice for the new generation of art collectors?
Don’t be shy and explore art galleries and museums. Research in magazines, books, the internet. Associate with groups interested in art. Take courses given by art critics and scholars. To listen, talk and discuss about art is a highly stimulating practice. Another good way to get acquainted is to have a museum membership. Get acquainted with people from the art world and learn about the most relevant, trailblazing artworks. Visit artists’ studios. Go to art exhibitions on a regular basis. All this helps to forge a liking for and an understanding of the visual arts. However, what really brings forth the collector in you is the acquisition of your first object of desire.
André Komatsu / Amílcar de Castro / André Vargas / Artur Lescher / Bené Fonteles / Carmela Gross / Cássio Michalany / Carlos Fajardo / Deyson Gilbert / Edgard de Souza / Efrain Almeida / Felipe Cohen / Gustavo Speridião / Helena Carvalhosa / Ícaro Lira / José Resende / Karin Lambrecht / Kimi Nii / Laura Vinci / Leda Catunda / Leonilson / Leandro da Costa / Lia Chaia / Lucia Koch / Maria Montero / Maurício Bentes / Marcelo Cidade / Nicolás Robbio / Nino Cais / Pontogor / Nuno Ramos / Sérgio Romagnolo / Tunga / Valeska Soares / Waltércio Caldas
“Tridimensional: Entre o Sagrado e o Estético” (Three Dimensional: Between the Sacred and the Aesthetic)
Curated by Miguel Chaia, Laura Rago and Gustavo Herz
Arte132 Galeria, São Paulo
Through March 11, 2023
Rio-born Cynthia Garcia is a respected art historian, art critic and journalist fluent in five languages stationed in São Paulo. Cynthia is a recipient of the 2023 APCA (Paulista Association of Art Critics) award as a contributing editor of Newcity Brazil since its founding in 2015. Her daughter America Cavaliere works in the contemporary art market and her son Pedro Cavaliere, based in LA, is in the international DJ scene.
Contact: [email protected], www.cynthiagarcia.biz