Fernanda Brenner: Can you tell me briefly about the history of the collection, how it started, especially how you defined the thematic areas and how you orient your choices?
Pedro Barbosa: We purchased our first piece in 1999, a kinetic artwork by Jesús Rafael Soto. We were very much taken with an exhibition of kinetic art at MoMA at that time. My cousin Raquel Arnaud represented Soto in Brazil, and facilitated our access to this world. At the start, the collection developed very much around Raquel’s programme, and so one of Brazilian and Latin-American art. With the crisis in 2008, the opportunity came to start looking at international works… but at that time, I wouldn’t have said I had a ‘collection’.
FB: And when did this change?
PB: When I began to purchase works by contemporary Brazilians with more emphasis, around 2010. I remember buying up virtually all the pieces from an exhibition by Jonathas de Andrade. It was then that the collection started to take shape. Since I was already looking more to international artists, I thought it would be interesting to have a help to construct this ensemble of works, and so I began to collaborate with the Italian curator Jacopo Crivelli Visconti, at that time one of the few professionals in Brazil who had a specific knowledge of and access to the international scene, in particular with regard to conceptual works. We began to collaborate in 2012, and we came up with a ten-year plan to structure the collection, focusing essentially on conceptual art with a political theme to it.
FB: Can you give me any examples?
PB: Some artists that we followed and purchased quite a lot at the start were Iman Issa, Haris Epaminonda and Meriç Algün. Then we shifted towards the historicised American artists, especially the whole group of Seth Siegelaub, Robert Barry, Lawrence Weiner, Smithson…
FB: How did you come to the idea of collecting ephemera and archive material, which is somewhat unusual in Brazil? Would you say that a sort of ‘de-objectification’ of the collection took place?
PB: Starting from my interest in American conceptual works, I realised that an interesting part of this production consisted of magazines, posters and advertisements. Like the Inert Gas Series by Robert Barry and the magazine Aspen, for example.
FB: Did you start off by purchasing iconic works and then go back to fill the gaps with research material?
PB: Exactly. The first books we bought were those by Stanley Brouwn. In actual fact, it’s a funny story: I started to carry out research in a more in-depth manner into this material after my daughter’s rabbit chewed up one of Brouwn’s books! I got really angry and went online to look for another one, and it was then that I understood just how much material was available. I got in touch with the channels of research and online exchanges. At that same time, we also started to buy a lot of videos. And so yes, I would say that was a kind of transition; today we hardly buy any objects.
FB: What’s the research process like, and the selection criteria for archive material? Do you do it yourself?
PB: Yes, I do it myself! Sometimes I might spend two years looking for a document or a magazine, as was the case with an issue of Manchete, in which there was a reportage documenting an action in which the artists of the Poema Processo movement tore up books in Rio de Janeiro in 1968. I first discovered that it existed, and then I looked for it in bookshops and on forums until I finally came across a copy. I go online every day to look for material. Today I’m looking for four or five publications of which I’m trying to buy all of the editions. Everybody knows me in this field and it’s in this process that I learn, I read a lot, it’s an adventure…
FB: And have you already thought of a destination for this part of the collection? Or of making it public?
PB: Yes, my aim is to donate everything. I would like to donate it to a university in Brazil. Perhaps in about twenty years’ time. I think I will have multiplied the size of the archive tenfold by then. We constantly receive researchers and people who want to see this material. I would say that the archive is well organised… I sorted it all out myself. I created specific sections for each artist. As well as shelves for discs, artists’ books, complete collections of publications, biennial catalogues, we have a number of fantastic things, such as Brazilian fanzines from the ’80s, things that were thrown away and even K7 audio of sound poetry… My attention is focused on what disappears quickly, which is undervalued. I have dealt with records of performances and dance, and lately I’ve been paying more attention to music…
FB: Another interesting aspect of the collection is that it has an institutional dimension. You favour exchanges between artists; you maintain an apartment to receive foreigners, just as you fund several exhibitions drawing on the collection through institutional partnerships or by inviting young curators. Could you tell me a little about how you think up these proposals and what guides your choices?
PB: The residency project started with the idea of bringing foreigners to Brazil and sending Brazilians abroad. We have two grant programmes outside Brazil, one with the Delfina Foundation in London and another with Jimmie Durham and Maria Thereza Alves. We had another project with Castello di Rivoli. What I’m interested in is spreading the quality of what there is here, creating opportunities for interlocution, opening doors. I constantly invite people to come to Brazil, and when I can, I contribute to ensure that there are more exhibitions featuring Brazilian artists in international institutions. I always mention local artists that I believe in at the meetings of the councils that I’m a member of and in the institutions that I support. As far as exhibitions are concerned, I would cite the one we staged in collaboration with the Biblioteca Mario de Andrade in which Robert Barry’s work was displayed for the first time in Brazil. On that occasion, we wanted to talk a bit about the notion of the conflict of interest: as much our own – in making that exhibition possible and setting it up – as that of the system in general. It was an interesting opportunity to show a part of the collection.
FB: Taking advantage of this link to the exhibition, I would like to talk about your critical position with regard to the artistic ‘eco-system’ in Brazil, and how information and objects are allowed to circulate in this sector. Shall we talk a little about the structure of the system and how this inevitably impacts on your collection?
PB: It’s a matter of maintaining an ethical and transparent posture in relation to one’s own choices: this is the most important thing. I consider the Brazilian market to be very complicated. There’s a provincial mentality, a closed one in general. I think there should be more interaction with the international market, and more permeability in the institutions and between galleries. There are many interesting things that might easily be brought to Brazil.
FB: You travel a lot, and you follow everything first hand. How do you choose where to go and when? Will you go to Artissima?
PB: I go off in search of interesting conversations, ones on art and not on the circulation of products or the market. For this reason, I tend to avoid the fairs though I particularly like Artissima and the Italian galleries; I have a very close relationship with Italian gallerists. I might cite Massimo Minini who is a key point of reference for conceptual art, and for this I admire him a lot. I think Artissima is a calm, concentrated fair in which it is possible to open up a real dialogue on art. I don’t feel the angst of the market and of the system in that environment.
Manchete was a Brazilian magazine published weekly from 1952 to 2000 by Bloch Editores.
Poema Processo was an avant-garde artistic movement that developed in Brazil between 1967 and 1972, at the height of the Military Dictatorship.