Folly in the for­est

An un­likely col­lec­tion of art in the back­wa­ters of Brazil is start­ing to draw crowds

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

THE idea that a Brazil­ian min­ing bil­lion­aire has set up a vast gar­den of art in a re­mote for­est in South Amer­ica sounds like the premise of a sur­re­al­ist novel.

So it should come as no sur­prise that a jour­ney to In­ho­tim In­sti­tute, two hours south­west of the city of Belo Hor­i­zonte, is not your typ­i­cal cul­tural pil­grim­age. In fact, it some­times has the air of a wilder­ness sur­vival course.

On my re­cent visit, a trop­i­cal down­pour has en­veloped the lush At­lantic for­est, turn­ing the dirt roads into rivers of mud. Trucks weighed down with iron ore skid around tight cor­ners, threat­en­ing to over­turn. The sense of be­ing in an out-take of Juras­sic Park only gets stronger in the area’s only town­ship, Broumad­inho, a lonely out­post where the bars cater­ing to min­ers are en­crusted in fer­rous grime.

But as I fi­nally ap­proach the gates to In­ho­tim (pro­nounced in-yo-cheem), the rus­tic back­wa­ter is in­stantly trans­formed into an en­clave of im­pec­ca­ble taste. This 2000ha cul­tural Eden, cre­ated over the past decade by 62-year-old iron ore mag­nate Bernardo Paz, has emerged as one of the world’s most ex­cit­ing and am­bi­tious adventures in con­tem­po­rary art. It’s been her­alded as Brazil’s fu­tur­is­tic an­swer to Storm King in New York and Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona, mix­ing art and na­ture in a provoca­tive new way.

Armed guards wave me down a smooth curv­ing drive­way to an el­e­gant, open-air en­trance vestibule where young Brazil­ian staff in colour-coded T-shirts bus­tle back PIC­TURES: ALAMY; ED­UARDO ECKENFELS; CAROL REIS

One artist, Doug Aitken, has sunk a hole 200m into the earth and placed mi­cro­phones at the base; the sound, con­veyed into a cir­cu­lar Sonic Pavil­ion of frosted glass, re­sem­bles groan­ing, as if the earth were alive. In another gallery, visi­tors must walk across a floor cov­ered with bro­ken glass. There are video in­stal­la­tions, mir­rors, strobe lights and acous­tic ef­fects.

The pavil­ion de­voted to Adri­ana Vare­jao, Paz’s fifth wife (he is now on his sixth), is a mono­lithic block of con­crete hov­er­ing over a re­flec­tive blue pool. A cat­walk takes you in­side, where sculpted bro­ken walls seem to ooze hu­man en­trails.

Some 110 grandiose works are on dis­play, by artists from 30 na­tions, in­clud­ing Chris Bur­den, Matthew Bar­ney, Steve McQueen, He­lio Oiti­cica and Anish Kapoor; about 500 more pieces are in the ever-ex­pand­ing per­ma­nent col­lec­tion.

One art­work is an out­door swim­ming pool, com­plete with change rooms and life­guards. (On my visit there are no Brazil­ian art lovers loung­ing in thong swimwear, but surely it’s only a mat­ter of time.)

Be­com­ing lost in the trop­i­cal fo­liage is a cen­tral part of the ex­pe­ri­ence. ‘‘Sen­hor Paz loves art, but he’s pas­sion­ate about the gar­den,’’ says In­ho­tim’s chief hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist, Ju­liano Borin.

There are 4500 plant species, in­clud­ing 1300 types of palms, ap­par­ently the world’s largest col­lec­tion. On the trails be­tween pavil­ions, visi­tors hear wildlife rustling in the bushes or ex­otic bird calls. Vividly coloured but­ter­flies flut­ter by. Then one might catch the dis­tant strains of a Re­nais­sance cho­rus or wist­ful bos­sanova.

‘‘The gar­den gives you time to re­flect and re­fresh be­fore the next in­stal­la­tion,’’ adds Borin.

Paz is wait­ing for me in what was his for­mer farm­house, now con­verted into an el­e­gant restau­rant. Tor­rents of rain­wa­ter pour down the branches and spray gen­tly off the gi­ant leaves. Thun­der rolls in the dis­tance. It reminds of how one Brazil­ian artist I’d met in Rio de Janeiro de­scribed Paz: ‘‘Think of Mar­lon Brando in Apoc­a­lypse Now.’’

Paz is in much bet­ter shape than the late Brando, at least. Tall and trim, with shoul­der-length sil­ver hair and a thick white beard, he seems to cul­ti­vate a mes­sianic ap­pear­ance. In fact, if Je­sus Christ had lived to late mid­dle age, he might have looked just like Paz.

‘‘I am build­ing In­ho­tim for peo­ple who have never had ac­cess to art and cul­ture. You have to open their minds. That’s the fu­ture,’’ he de­clares.

‘‘In­ho­tim is not go­ing to last just for my life­time,’’ Paz as­sures me. ‘‘It’s go­ing to last for­ever, for 1000 years.’’

For the next 90 min­utes, he makes orac­u­lar pro­nounce­ments about tech­nol­ogy in our new ‘ ‘ post­con­tem­po­rary so­ci­ety’’.

In­ho­tim re­ceived 293,000 visi­tors last year de­spite its iso­la­tion, he tells me. This year the num­ber will reach 400,000, and it will soon in­crease, he pre­dicts, to a mil­lion a year. ‘‘There will be a new the­atre at In­ho­tim. A con­ven­tion cen­tre. Tech­no­log­i­cal com­pa­nies. Re­search sta­tions. Green­houses. Sci­en­tists. Teach­ers. Ed­u­ca­tors. Our cu­ra­tors come from Brazil, Ger­many, South Korea, the US and Por­tu­gal. ‘‘We have the best team in the world.’’ It’s hard to tell whether Paz is a new Mae­ce­nas or a lat­ter-day Fitz­car­raldo.

‘‘I used to think he was crazy,’’ one of his em­ploy­ees later con­fesses. ‘‘But I look at what he’s achieved at In­ho­tim. And now I be­lieve what­ever he says.’’

in­ho­tim.org.br

Clock­wise from above, Ga­le­ria Adri­ana Vare­jao was named for Bernardo Paz’s fifth wife;

by He­lio Oiti­cica; and metal art­work by Chris Bur­den

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