The Wex goes Via Brasil
Director Sherri Geldin offers an inside look at bringing North America's largest exhibition of contemporary Brazilian art and culture to the Wex.
It all started with a phone call from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Their invitation: conceive an ambitious project to advance the Wexner Center’s curatorial and educational expertise while also contributing important new intelligence to the field. And, of course, a project true to our institutional mission—to be cross-disciplinary, grounded in fresh curatorial research and discovery, populated with both emerging and established artists, in some instances showcasing newly commissioned work, and international in sweep.
Our conversations coalesced around Brazil, inspired in part by our experience with those visual artists, performers and filmmakers who had visited the center over the years. It was also clear to us that, while select Brazilian artists of the 1950s and '60s had received widespread attention by the global art community, artists coming of age in Brazil’s post-dictatorship era (after 1985) had received little attention on the world stage, despite the vibrancy of Brazilian culture over the last three decades. Our decision to focus on Brazil was further inflected by awareness of Ohio State’s plans to establish a Global Gateway in São Paulo.
Nearly four years—plus multiple curatorial visits to Brazil and untold hours of rigorous cultural exploration—have passed since that initial phone call, and we are thrilled to witness our Via Brasil initiative come to fruition across the Wex. Its components are many. Anchoring the initiative is Cruzamentos: Contemporary Art in Brazil, an exhibition featuring an array of work by 35 Brazilian artists and collectives, much of which has never been on view in the U.S. The show, which runs through April 20, offers audiences a glimpse at the stunning diversity of artistic practices propelling Brazil’s contemporary cultural explosion. The show reflects the expertise, determination and passion of its three co-curators: the Wexner Center’s Jennifer Lange and Bill Horrigan, and their Brazilian partner Paulo Venancio Filho. Together, they brought to life a complex, multidimensional and powerful exhibition of contemporary Brazilian art that is the largest ever presented in North America.
Complementing the show is Cruzamentos: Contemporary Brazilian Documentary, organized by the center’s Associate Curator of Film/Video Chris Stults (who also was a considerable influence on the exhibition). This series, which runs through early April, is the most comprehensive collection of Brazilian documentaries ever to screen in the U.S., and is a rigorous and exhaustive examination of a vital filmmaking tradition that delves into the culture and politics of Brazil. We’re delighted that his series will travel to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the National Gallery, UC Berkeley’s Pac Film Archive, UCLA and beyond. Activities around Via Brasil also include a much-anticipated publication that for the first time ever sees the work of pre-eminent Brazilian film critic Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes translated into English for the first time; educational and public programs, performances and an expansive website, as well as artists’ residencies and a history of art graduate seminar taught at Ohio State by our Mellon fellow, Denise Carvalho.
A project of this scope does not happen in the solitary confines of one’s office, but is the result of collaboration from the halls of academia to the streets of Brazil. Living up to the word “cruzamentos”—the Portuguese word for “intersections”—the project itself is the result of a remarkable collaboration among the Wexner Center; Ohio State faculty and administrators; and educators, museum professionals and artists in Brazil. We owe a special debt of gratitude to our colleagues and advisors across Ohio State, including the departments of Spanish and Portuguese, History of Art and Comparative Studies; the Film Studies program; and the Center for Latin American Studies, which, in its partnership, helped the project quickly assume the spirit of intersection and hybridity essential to the name Cruzamentos.
If the recent opening celebration of our Cruzamentos exhibition is an indication—more than 1,500 people filling the galleries; a visit from the Honorable Mauro Vieira, Brazil’s ambassador to the U.S.; a brief appearance by incoming President Michael Drake; and hundreds of students and community members—it seems the appetite for a project of such global sweep is strong, underscoring Ohio States commitment to be truly international in scope. It is gratifying to share this adventure with the campus community and the broader public. And, if I may add, it’s especially meaningful in this instance to note the leading role arts and culture play in the embrace of fundamental human values: diversity, equality, inclusion and respect for difference. In doing so, institutions like the Wex can both feed the culture and lead the culture—a role that all of us here relish and thrive upon. Muito obrigada to all who have joined and supported us in this journey.