Brazilian Art’s New Home in Porto Alegre

A building designed by an award-winning architect in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil, keeps a vast collection by a master of modern art in the country. Fundação Iberê Camargo, whose headquarters were completed three years ago (May 30th), is fast becoming a significant cultural spot in Brazil: after hosting a Regina Silveira exhibition, important artists such as Joaquín Torres García and Giorgio de Chirico will have their works shown there during this year. This is a special place that students earning an MFA degree in art will want to visit.

Since the construction of Iberê Camargo Foundation three years ago, Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul state, is the only place in the country where there is located a building created by the Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza, winner of the Golden Lion at the 2002 Venice Architecture Biennale.

“Just a few artists in the world have had the privilege of having a specially designed building as this one for Iberê”, the foundation’s cultural superintendent Fábio Coutinho remarks.

At the entrance, the visitor is suggested to go straight to the 4th floor by lift. From the top, you can visit each level going down by the ramps that connect them – along the way, windows built into the white concrete walls make it possible to see the view outside, at the city centre and the River Guaíba (in fact, a lake).

“It’s sophisticated, [Álvaro] Siza dominates the museum and exhibition’s space issues. He intelligently plays with spaces and openings, modulating the way we look at it as well. It’s perfectly suited to show contemporary art”, comments journalist and arts critic Eduardo Veras, who curates the current exhibition A Linha Incontornável: Desenhos de Iberê Camargo.

That’s the set for discovering Iberê, whose works include paintings, drawings, gouaches (see his “Sem Título, 1991″ below) and prints. The vigorous brush-strokes and dark shades reveals a little about his process of creation. The artist was born in November 1914 in Restinga Seca, in the interior of Rio Grande do Sul, and spent a great part of his life in Rio de Janeiro. Although he started at university, Iberê had experiences outside the academic world, and studied with the Brazilian painter Alberto da Veiga Guignard. In Europe, he had such masters as Giorgio de Chirico, Carlos Alberto Petrucci, Antônio Achille and André Lothe.

Known for his pictures of spools (a childhood memory, he played with them as toys), cyclists and idiots, Iberê never connected himself with groups or movements. Despite this, for Paulo Sérgio Duarte, arts critic and professor of history of arts at Universidade Cândido Mendes, in Rio de Janeiro, he is one of the most important artists of the second half of the 20th century in Brazil.

“Iberê’s work is more isolated, of the expressionist style, which has never formed a body of artists as strong as the constructivists in Brazil. This has meant that expressionism in the country has never had it’s own language, a collective force, in the way that constructivism has”, Duarte observes.

When the artist died, in August 1994 in Porto Alegre, aged 79, he left more than 7,000 works, including a large piece for his wife, Maria Coussirat Camargo. These pieces are now part of the Iberê Camargo Foundation collection.

Founded in 1995 with the aim of conserving and divulging the work of the artist, the institution co-ordinates the project of cataloguing Iberê’s work, as well as exhibiting work from other artists – like One Thousand and One Days and Other Enigmas (Mil e Um Dias e Outros Enigmas), by his former student Regina Silveira, which closed on May 29th . For Fábio Coutinho, it’s been well integrated in the arts scene in Brazil, even before the opening of its headquarters, thanks to the annual Iberê Camargo Grant (which had reached its 10th edition in 2010, having already offered 14 Brazilian artists a foreign residency at important visual arts institutions) and the Print Studio Invited Artist Programme, which has hosted over 50 artists since the start of the project in 1999 where Iberê used to work.

Iberê Camargo Foundation has gained status as being among the top Brazilian museums and galleries, being able to host exhibitions such as Tangled Alphabets: León Ferrari and Mira Schendel (organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in collaboration with the foundation and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid), in 2009 and 2010, and, upcoming this year, events with works by the Uruguayan Joaquín Torres García (from September 10th to November 20th) and the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico (from December 9th, 2011 to March 4th, 2012). Journalist and curator Eduardo Veras believes that Porto Alegre now has a place for attracting this kind of important exhibition.

“It reflects well on local artists, designers and architects, as it brings more exposure to them than the previous generation had. Also, the building itself is an architectural reference. Porto Alegre could become a city similar to Bilbao, in Spain, has been since its Guggenheim”, he believes.

After projects with museums such as MOMA and Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, Iberê Camargo Foundation could arrive in the UK in the future, Coutinho comments. Considering the foundation’s goals have been reached and to keep working on its current success, the next steps are towards the preparation of Iberê Camargo’s 100th birthday, to be celebrated in 2014, hopefully with many more partnerships in Brazil and abroad.

by Melissa Becker


  1. Great article. I really hope to visit Fundacao Ibere Camargo someday.

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