Written by Luiz Camillo Osorio for his monthly column at the PIPA Prize website, the critical text “The artist and the university” opened up a discussion on the teaching of art at university-level courses nowadays. We present below an unfolding of the debate, a talk between Camillo, PIPA Institute curator, and the Rio de Janeiro-based researcher Guilherme Marcondes. Marcondes recently conducted a study about the insertion of young artists in the Brazilian artistic circuit for his PhD in Sociology at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).
Luiz Camillo Osorio in conversation with Guilherme Marcondes
Guilherme, you’ve recently finished your PhD program in Sociology at UFRJ as a member of Professor Glaucia Villas Bôas’ team, having her as your Adviser and writing your thesis on the possible paths and obstacles facing a young artist when entering the art circuit and hoping to reach some degree of canonization. It was a 367-page thesis, based on careful and difficult research. To start our conversation, let’s talk about your background – the path you’ve followed, from the moment you started college to the moment you finished your PhD program, including the choice of theme for your thesis. How was it, and what was the main obstacle for a Black university student in 21st century Brazil?
In a society pervaded by racism, machismo, and homophobia like ours, being part of some of the groups that suffer from oppression and prejudice is no walk in the park, much less if we think regarding intersectionality, combining social identities and systems of oppression, discrimination, and domination. I could report here numerous situations in which I have experienced prejudice, but that would result in a document longer than my doctoral thesis, so it is worth noting just that the situations marked by prejudice that I have experienced unfortunately are part of my being in the world. This is because it is socially demanded that the blacks, the poor and LGBTQ (as we could as well add women to this group of social minorities) must act daily not only as they wish, but taking into account the different symbolic and physical places in which they circulate, being extra careful as to their own actions, or any action that is not “standard” (sexist, homophobic, etc.) can generate violent reactions from those who play the roles of oppressors. As an example of this type of experience, I could mention the day I heard the news of my approval for the master’s degree in Sociology and Anthropology at UFRJ, in 2011. As soon as I heard the good news, I decided to celebrate with friends. Walking downtown in Rio (in Lapa, more specifically) to meet my friends, I am used to hearing all the usual cursing, this time because of my homosexuality; when responding to the offences, I took a kick in the face. That’s is just an example I mention to illustrate the type of violence I experienced/experience because, as part of any minority in Brazil today, just as before, we’re never safe.
However, despite all the prejudice and violence I’ve experienced, I began my studies in the culture area focusing on Cultural Production at ETE Adolpho Bloch, part of the FAETEC network; after I graduated, I was approved for a course of Restoration of Mural Painting offered at FIOCRUZ, in 2007. The experience provided an interesting approximation with the art circuit, although not with the circuit of contemporary art, which would be approached in my dissertation and my thesis. Anyway, it was through this course that I had the chance to have my first internship as a researcher, in a research coordinated by Renato da Gama-Rosa, from the Casa de Oswaldo Cruz, on hospital architecture. I’ve also had a period of internship in the restoration of a church, Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Montserrat, at the Mosteiro de São Bento, Rio de Janeiro. In that same year (2007) I was approved both at UFRJ, a federal university, to study Social Sciences, and at the Universidade Gama Filho, a private institution, to study History, with a full scholarship; after attending both universities for a while, I decided to pursue a degree in Social Sciences. Some months later, I was selected to join NUSC/UFRJ (Nucleus of Research in the Sociology of Culture) coordinated by Professor Glaucia Villas Bôas. At the time, she had recently changed her research area; after years of research in Brazilian social thinking and the issues relating to the development of national identity and social transformation, she decided to embark on the sociology of art, seeking to understand the differences between what she considered a first Modernism and the second modernism in Brazilian art. In Brazil, systematic research in the sociology of art is rather recent; thus, by changing her area of focus from a more established line of study to an area still under development, she contributed to form new generations of researchers in the sociology of art to the relevance of Brazilian sociology. In 2008, the year I joined NUSC, we conducted research that resulted in the documentary film Formas do Afeto – Um Filme sobre Mário Pedrosa (Forms of Affection – a Film about Mário Pedrosa). From the universe of issues involving Pedrosa (concretism, neo-concretism, the Museo de la Solidariedad, in Chile, his political militancy and the Nise da Silveira’s atelier, located in Engenho de Dentro, Rio de Janeiro), each of the students chose a specific theme to work on. Among the many possibilities presented by Pedrosa, I was fascinated by the circulations and articulations performed by him, his role in the Fourth International, his exiles, and relationships with artists who are now canonical in the history of Brazilian art, I decided that my research project would focus on understanding how Mário Pedrosa became a neuralgic authority for the circuit and the history of Brazilian art.
Taking Pedrosa’s trajectory as a parameter, I wondered how the careers of art critics in Brazil developed and was then admitted to the master’s program and having Professor Glaucia Villas Bôas as advisor and Sabrina Parracho San’Anna, also a Professor at UFRJ, as co-advisor. At the time, if, on the one hand, I often found a reference to Pedrosa as an exemplary art critic, on the other hand, there was a debate preaching the death of the art critic’s career and considered the curatorship of exhibitions as the career to be followed. To understand this phenomenon, in my dissertation, entitled Arte, Crítica e Curadoria: Diálogos sobre Autoridade e Legitimidade [Art, Critique and Curation: Dialogues on Authority and Legitimacy], I analyzed the paths followed by five curators and critics from different generations to understand the differences in their background and career development (including Aracy Amaral, Paulo, Filho, Felipe Scovino, Marcelo Campos and Raphael Fonseca).
During my master’s program, even while on a scholarship, I decided I needed not only to interview critics and curators but also to have the first-hand experience on how they lived. I then decided to act as an exhibition mediator, as an assistant to an artist, and as a replacement for a Production Assistant in an art gallery in her days off. This process improved my way of looking upon the object under analysis, the critics, and the curators; it also contributed to the development of important personal relationships with artists, curators, etc. It allowed me, as well, to follow the saga of several friends who sought insertion, legitimacy, and canonization in the universe of art. Then, after starting the doctorate program, I came to understand that some issues addressed in my master’s dissertation could be broadened and deepened if I focused my research interests on a project that was related to the artists, the producers par excellence of the world art, especially young artists, since their daily struggle aims at inserting themselves into a universe that I was interested in understanding. So, young artists became the focus of my attention over the last four years, being the object of my thesis: Arte e Consagração: Os Jovens Artistas da Arte Contemporânea [Art and Canonization: The Young Artists of Contemporary Art]. This was no simple path — as a black person attending to a Brazilian university, I was often asked if I should not pursue in my studies, for instance, the system of inequalities involving black people in our country. Please don’t take me wrong; I consider the issue to be highly relevant, it was just not part of my specific research focus.
In your research, you focus on the stages of insertion of young artists and their many anxieties and hesitations. How did you define the young artist and why did you choose the canonization theme? As I said before, during your thesis defence, I have an issue with the idea of canonization, because it is much more restrictive than the idea of insertion.
I have been interested in studies about legitimation, development of authority and canonization since I was an undergraduate student; more specifically, about how they relate to the issues of power and domination. Therefore, to understand how individuals, especially the contemporary art circuit, relate, build knowledge, national symbologies and maintain the social relevance of art to society, my research has always focused on the makeup of power and the relationship of the social players analyzed according to dominant rules. How can a group of individuals act together and build narratives about themselves and society, making their creations social goods of relevance not only to themselves and/or the group of producers of such goods and symbologies? That’s basically the underlying question that has pervaded my research over the last ten years. As such, I approach the notion of canonization as being a goal of young artists.
Despite still being in a process of building their careers and working on their insertion in the art circuit, as you so well noted during my thesis defence, it was interesting to realize that there is a search for recognition, legitimacy and, finally, canonization. Although canonization is a responsibility of History of Art and the artistic circuit of the future, it is, indeed, one of the goals, conscious or unconscious, of the artists under analysis. If it weren’t for that, they could act as “amateur artists” and choose not to show their work. Moreover, the word “canonization” has an almost sacred content, common to the universe of art in the definition of artists, works of art and other professionals that cooperate for the composition of the art circuit.
Now, regarding the young artist category, at first sight, in order to define how I would address the topic I had chosen, I came across multiple public calls of collective exhibitions, artist residencies and a prize (in this case, the PIPA Prize), all of which were focused on young artists, emerging artists and early-career artists. However, the criteria for defining who those artists differed from one public call to another. It was then necessary to develop the Young Artist category (which, in the thesis, is considered synonymous with the other categories) by examining public calls (and their rules), as well as catalogues from the exhibitions. Therefore, in my thesis, young artists are defined as those individuals who pursue the development of successful artistic careers. However, due to the differences in the rules and definitions of whom would the young artists be according to the public calls, it was necessary to build a profile of the artists who were selected and nominated by such events. From the catalogues, or rather, from the mini-bios included in the catalogues, it was possible to profile the young artists who were being selected for exhibitions and residencies and being nominated to the prize between 2014 and 2017, because I was interested in understanding who are currently those artists and what are the rules of art they must deal with currently.
Thus, 469 mini-bios were screened in search of data on age, geographical location, educational level and gender of the artists who were selected by the public calls processes over the 2014-2017 period. Race was also an important element to make up the profile of the young artists, but information on racial autoclassification was not included in the analyzed material. The analysis of the mini-bios allowed us to reach the following conclusions: The young artists who were selected in the public calls were predominantly part of the 25-35 years old age group (some were less than 20 or more than 60 years old, but these comprised a minority, almost an exception); most of them live in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo; their educational level is high (most graduated from the university); and most of them are male (it was interesting to notice that there was little difference in the number of men and women selected, with the exception of the PIPA Prize, in which the number of men among the artists nominated for the prize is nearly twice that of women).
This profiling was a way to understand who are the young artists of contemporary Brazilian art who are being awarded, selected to participate in exhibitions and having their work published in catalogues, and/or selected to improve their training in art residency programs. As a result, they are the ones who have more access to networks of exhibition curators, art critics, gallery owners and museum directors, among others, through whom they would have a greater chance of leveraging their careers.
How many interviews with young artists have your research involved? What were the criteria used? What specific focus in the art circuit you sought to analyze to address the process of canonization of the young artist?
In my personal experience, I have often come across periods in which people close to me, young artists, as defined through my thesis, were focused on applying for contests that could contribute to the development of their careers. Considering that, I´ve mapped calls both from public and private institutions that focused on young artists (emerging artists, or early-career artists, or artists beginning their careers, as defined by such calls) and found numerous calls for collective exhibitions, artistic residencies, and the PIPA Prize. At first, because I had to have access to the memory of such contests, I chose to analyze it through the catalogues that contained their memories. This criterion ended up reducing the scope of the research, once I could not obtain the catalogues of other artistic events and artistic training processes that were focused on young artists (either because they did not occur over the period covered or because they did not have catalogues or because the lack of response from their organizers to the emails I had sent). Therefore, I’ve analyzed three collective exhibitions, “Abre Alas”, held at Gentil Carioca (a gallery located in Rio de Janeiro); “Novíssimos”, held at at the gallery of the IBEU/Instituto Brazil-United States (located in Rio de Janeiro); and the Salão Anapolino de Arte, organized by the Department of Culture of the city of Anápolis (Goiás,Brazil); three artistic residencies (Programa Bolsa Pampulha, organized by the Museu de Arte da Pampulha, in Belo Horizonte, the Casa B – Residência Artística, offered by the Museu Bispo do Rosário Arte Contemporânea, located in Rio de Janeiro, and the Residência Artística Red Bull, located in São Paulo) as well, as mentioned before, the PIPA Prize, in editions that occurred over the 2014-2017 period.
At the same time I was building a profile of the young artists who were selected for participation in the above-mentioned event, I started searching the web for the contacts of artists who appeared in the catalogues, asking friends who had been selected or colleagues who could have their e-mails and, as a result, obtained the contact details of 112 of the artists. From this total, 37 returned my contact, which included a questionnaire about their line of work and their profiles. Their answers were crucial for my thesis because they allowed me to fine-tune to refine the analysis of the young artists through their own narratives about themselves, their works, the art circuit, their difficulties, desires, and career strategies
You were careful to approach the issue not only in the big cities of Southeast Brazil. In this richer area of the country, of course, the chances for the artist to enter the circuit are greater. Do you believe there could be other circuits besides Rio and São Paulo? In your opinion, how could the odds of a young artist increase outside this hegemonic axis of cultural production be increased?
The scope of my research was eventually restricted to exhibitions, residencies and to the PIPA Prize, all of which concentrate on the Southeast region of Brazil. However, in my opinion, this does not invalidate the research data, because all the public calls analyzed were open to artists from all over the country and, in some cases, to foreign artists as well. Moreover, a piece of data that appeared in my research was the high concentration of artists from the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, especially from the latter. However, even though the calls that I’ve analyzed concentrated in the Southeast of Brazil, only one occurred in São Paulo. Therefore, although public calls under analysis were open to artists from all over Brazil, the presence of the artists from São Paulo is unquestioned. In my opinion, this is a result of the fact that the hegemonic artistic circuit is more consolidated in the State of São Paulo, especially in its capital, the City of São Paulo.
Anyway, it was interesting to find initiatives such as the Salão Anapolitano de Arte, which sets aside a given number of places for artists from the Midwest region of Brazil, thus guaranteeing a larger number of artists from the region. It is worth mentioning that, of the sampling obtained in the analysis of the catalogues (including 469 mini-bios) only one artist lived in the State of Espírito Santo, and her participation was precisely in the initiative mentioned above. Another surprise resulting from the analysis of the Salão Anapolitano de Arte was precisely the local incentive to the exhibition, including visitation of school groups and workshops offered by the awarded artists, fostering regional artists and encouraging local visitation to the exhibition. This particular case highlights the importance of such initiatives for places where the artistic circuit does not resemble the size of the Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo circuits. I would then like to propose a reflection on the distribution of power related to the national (and international) visibility of the different circuits: In hegemonic places, access to social circulation occurs in a denser network of possibilities; we do know that face-to-face contact, not only with artistic works but also among art professionals, are crucial to the universe of art, therefore, being in places that had a larger network of social players greatly “facilitates” the movement of artists and their works.
It is more common an artist from the Southeast to exhibit his/her works in the Southeast, even abroad, than in the North or Northeast regions of the country, while artists from these regions (and here I would like to include the Midwest and even the Southern regions of the country) have to “force” their participation in public calls from the Southeastern region, where you will find the densest, richest and most visible artistic circuit in the country. That´s because there are more public calls and the chance to get visibility from more privileged locations is greater. At last, if I may, I would like to suggest to the promoters of exhibitions, residencies, etc. that eliminate the need for artists to send a portfolio with printed images of their work by the postal service because this process eliminates beforehand those who might not have the money to do so. If, for artists, in general, the cost is high, for those who live geographically farther from the places where the events occur the cost is even higher. Besides, abolishing the use of printed material is a smart green choice.
How do you see the art prizes in this process of insertion and canonization?
The process of professional insertion is difficult in any area, but it’s particularly arduous in the universe of art. We are talking here of artists who often aim at making their living through their artistic practice and nothing else, as freelance professionals; thus, every form of obtaining visibility is key, whether through exhibitions, residencies or prizer. Art prizes, especially, are a sensitive issue; often, the nominated artists and the winners are those whom a larger group of people who are not part of the evaluation committees, believe should be the winners. For instance, in the case of PIPA, its role in the art circuit and its importance for the visibility of countless artists can’t be denied, but there are often criticisms about the criteria for nomination or even the choice of winners in its different categories. What happened in the 2017 edition of the PIPA Online, when the social media massively criticized the category winner, showed different negative reactions to the award, including from artists who ran in that year’s edition and previous editions. However, in the 2018 edition of the prize, artists who had previously criticized the very existence of the PIPA Prize are currently competing for it. I believe there is a rather sensitive balance to be reached — artists need visibility, and a prize focused specifically on young artists or early-career artists fulfils an essential role in encouraging recent aesthetic production; at the same time, the fact that organizers may be open to potential criticism is necessary to adapt the different prizes to the main objective, i.e., serve as an incentive to the artists. This, I believe, is what is happening in the PIPA Prize.
What affected you most after completing your analysis of this circuit of contemporary art? Did your research reveal unexpected results? What advice would you give to a young artist after such a close examination of the challenges they face — that is, if you think any advice is appropriate here.
Something that has always impressed me in the art universe is the “secrets” as defined by Daniela Stocco from the theoretical framework of Georg Simmel in her thesis about Brazilian galleries and art fairs. For example, discussions about financial desires with artistic production are a taboo, therefore art objects or artistic practices are more commonly dealt with in their “final destination”, the exhibitions, as if their creators had no bills to pay and had not invested an enormous amount of physical, emotional and financial energy to produce their work. Besides, it was interesting to understand how clearly young artists understood the rules of art. Although common sense states that in art “everything is possible”, there are rules (there are the chosen ones, and there are the excluded ones) that are not included in a manual, but there are regular modes of action that maintain the artistic practices, the professionals of visual arts and the very universe of art as being valid for society, and about them the young artists know a lot, because in their processes of insertion in search of legitimacy, visibility, and eventual canonization, they need to understand them.
Another interesting issue that arose while I was working on my thesis was the notion that, in art, there seems to be an “institutional desire for novelty.” I thus propose the realization that young artists wish to conquer legitimacy, visibility, recognition and canonization, while the artistic institutions and other art professionals have the prerogative to constantly reveal the newest talents, the latest news, which, in the case, are represented by the young artists, who, in this role, also contribute to the maintenance of the prerogatives of existing in the art world. Therefore, while they still have no legitimacy, the artists are essential to the existence of art.
It is therefore worth mentioning, especially to those artists who collaborated with my thesis, that I admire their perseverance in a practice that does not always have a quick return (except for those who can make their living exclusively with their art early in their careers without facing great obstacles). To the others who might be reading this interview, I don’t know if I should offer them any advice, but I would like to say that their practices are, par excellence, responsible for the existence of art system. It may seem obvious, but in the logic of maintaining the rules it is not uncommon to come across young artists in search of a curator “they can call their own.” Curators, however, can only do their job if the artists accept their invitations. Being aware of this fact, it may be possible for them to focus their energies on their productions without having to submit to desires other than their own, works related to their aesthetic pursuits, rather than trying to meet the desires of galleries and curators, among others.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.