“Where does art belong?” – Read the critical text by Luiz Camillo Osorio

In a time in which everything becomes merchandise and the artistic practice is more and more institutionalized – take, for example, the proliferation of art fairs across the world –, where does art belong? The question guides PIPA Institute curator Luiz Camillo Osorio in one more exclusive text for PIPA Prize. Establishing a link between the trajectories of Adelzon Alves, crucial in the development of samba in Rio de Janeiro, and Janet Kim, founder of the Tiny Creatures art space in Los Angeles, he points out how each of them has created, in their own, unique way, a “home” for art.

Where does art belong?

Luiz Camillo Osorio

This article’s title refers to the name of a book by writer and theorist Chris Kraus – Where art belongs. Posed as a question, it matches the spirit of the book and compels us to pay attention to the risk of conceptual determination. The goal is definitely not to establish art’s place, namely to define what is art and then exclude everything else that does not fit the concept. Formulating the question and looking for an answer is to try and find a kind of relationship, always contingent, between creation processes, forms of sentiment, and institutional territories. The channels through which art circulates are often unexpected, moving around institutional boundaries and putting in motion thought and imagination. The connection between surprise and intensity makes the place of art, where it bursts and presents itself, a place where we want to be, even though we know that it is ephemeral.

Life’s growing commercialization tends to reduce the expectations of poetic events, levelling everything by their monetary value and restricting the circulation of what does not fit in it. Art fairs are the perfect space for such levelling. Everything is excessive and predictable – which minimizes the surprise and intensity mentioned above. Well, I have nothing against art fairs, they have a role to play. The problem is when they start to become a paradigm, that is, when they want to go beyond commerce and become an art space. Excess and predictability end up spreading institutionally. The problem is not new. “Instituting” has always been synonymous with being predictable; excess, on the other hand, is typical of the neurotic spirit of our times. Therefore, we are forced to look outside artistic institutions when we wish to seek poetry (surprise) and the aesthetic strength (intensity) that tend to settle in. Of course, looking out and looking inside are not mutually exclusive; after all, we are all in, looking for a breathing space.

I received Chris Kraus’s book by mail and I met photographer and DJ Maurício Valladares on the same day. The coincidence is relevant to this article only. We sat down, had a beer. and he said: “Don’t miss my show on Rádio Globo tonight. I interviewed Adelzon Alves!” I must confess I didn’t know who Adelzon was. However, if Maurício interviewed him and was so enthusiastic about it, it should be good. For nearly 35 years now, since the Smiths, in 1982, in the memorable Rádio Fluminense, Maurício has only introduced me to what matters. Since the 1960s, this guy, Adelzon – so Maurício tells me – spends his nights playing music and presenting on the radio what’s new in samba and entertaining people who live in the outskirts of the city. Stories over stories were wittily told.

The guy who introduced Paulinho da Viola, Martinho da Vila, Clara Nunes, among many others, keeps on mining music, acting as a “late-night musical curator”, taking the bus to go to work at Rádio Nacional, and living peacefully in the outskirts of the city. His show, previously on Rádio Globo, was open to anyone; the musicians left the studio on Lapa and ended up playing somewhere at Rua do Russell. Each one of them had their 15 minutes of fame, but fame was not what they were interested in. Making music and performing it was, and still is, the reason for Adelzon’s show. Its existence is decisive for developing an audience, a space of exchange, of conversation, i.e., a home, among others, for popular music. Adelzon’s show and ear have a generosity that does not belong in the current world. He wants to get musicians together and turn the radio show into a place to be, in his time and in other times simultaneously, to hear what you don’t normally hear and to get us out of the logic of musical consumption.

Despite all the differences, something similar appears in the first chapter of Where art belongs. It is a presentation of an alternative art space called Tiny Creatures, in Los Angeles, which operated from 2006 to 2009. Conceived by the artist and musician Janet Kim, the idea was to have a place where people could hang out and show their work. After moving to a warehouse in the Echo Park area, in Los Angeles, she settled in the back of the place and left the rest of the space open for the events. At first, only friends from the local underground scene would attend. Mostly musicians and artists, all just coming out of the university, jumping from one job to another, trying to keep going.

What caught my eye in the description provided by Chris Kraus was attention to detail, to the spirit that mobilized the creation of Tiny Creatures and how (not) to deal with the eventual success. In the first presentations, just friends, lots of improvisation and passion – all of which showed in the desire to make something happen. “Tiny Creatures is a desire to find a way to live our own way, to have a sense of community, to see each other while on earth, to share our lives, our pains, our talents, our thoughts, to capture a moment in time that will be lost or forgotten, and to package it with beauty, love, pain, and all that we can feel as humans”, wrote Janet Kim in her 2007 Manifesto.

Disagreements and unprofessionalism characterized the place in those brief three years. So did success. Already at the end of the first year, there was a sort of frenzy, much like at Warhol’s Factory parties in the 60’s. Junkies, the jet set, curators and idlers crowded the place. Tiny got big. I mean, it was time to stop. In 2009, at the peak of success, a manifest for closure and a finissage were launched. The original idea was no longer there – the friends no longer met, music and exhibition became an obligation, and art, as an event that opens up a space for surprise and intensity, settled and became a marketable object.

Asked in an interview what would become of Tiny Creatures after the closure, Janet Kim was sharp: “Being a Tiny Creature as a tiny creature is. Ears and eyes. Surfing. Getting back into John Cage, Xenakis. Details. Concocting some sort of new drug. Embracing”. Embracing open forms of poetic production is increasingly necessary in a world where everything is preestablished and needs to follow rules. Such openness is uninterested in the genuine sense of a search for something we do not know and cannot determine beforehand, but that comes unexpectedly whenever there are attention and availability. Without it, there is a desire for art, but no art. Bottom line is: We don’t know exactly where art lives, but we do understand when it is no longer present. Let’s hope individuals like Adelzon Alves and Janet Kim, as diverse as they may be, keep on trying to shelter it: in the middle of the night, or in the details.


Luiz Camillo Osorio is the Curator of PIPA Institute, PIPA’s founder and Board Member. He is a Professor and current Director of the Philosophy Department at PUC-Rio. Camillo was the Curator of MAM-Rio between 2009 and 2015. To read more exclusive texts written by Camillo, click here.

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