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A Keeper of a Vast Garden of Art in the Hills of Brazil

Por Simon Romero para o The New York Times em 9/03/2012.
A Keeper of a Vast Garden of Art in the Hills of Brazil

A view through “Viewing Machine,” by the Danish artist Olafur Eliasson, at Inhotim, Bernardo Paz's contemporary art complex, which scatters more than 500 works across a botanical garden.Credit...Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times


NO wonder they call Bernardo Paz the “Emperor of Inhotim.”

About 1,000 employees, including curators, botanists and concrete pourers, swarm around Inhotim, his contemporary-art complex in the hills of southeast Brazil. Globetrotting art pilgrims absorb stunning works like Doug Aitken’s “Sonic Pavilion,” which uses high-sensitivity microphones placed in a 633-foot hole to deliver the bass murmur of Earth’s inner depths.

A whiff of megalomania seems to emanate from Inhotim’s eucalyptus forests, where Mr. Paz has perched more than 500 works by foreign and Brazilian artists. His botanical garden contains more than 1,400 species of palm trees. He glows when speaking of Inhotim’s rare and otherworldly plants, like the titun arum from Sumatra, called the “corpse flower” because of its hideous stench.

Mr. Paz, a lanky, chain-smoking, 61-year-old mining magnate, speaks in barely audible whispers. He married his sixth wife in October. He has white hair down to his shoulders and pale blue eyes, giving him an appearance reminiscent of the gaunt, debauched Brazilian rancher played by Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s 1987 film, “Cobra Verde.”

“This is a project to last 1,000 years,” Mr. Paz said of Inhotim during a rare interview, a Dunhill cigarette dangling from his lips.

It is hard to say what people might make of Inhotim (pronounced in-yo-TCHEEM) centuries from now. Some masterpieces from Brazil’s booms still survive as testament to past extravagance, like the celebrated opera house built at the height of the rubber boom at the end of the 19th century in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon.

Elsewhere in Latin America, majestic private contemporary-art collections have also been made accessible to the public, like Eugenio López’s Colección Jumex in Mexico City. And much farther afield, in an archipelago in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, the Benesse Art Site similarly blends cutting-edge architecture with contemporary art.

But none of these places have the hot-climate exuberance of Inhotim, situated in mining-scarred hills far from Brazil’s collecting scenes in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Art historians and curators often come away marveling at the sheer scale and chaotic vision that Mr. Paz has created at Inhotim.

“The amount of space given to single artist projects is unparalleled, as is the way visitors travel from building to building, refreshing their senses, being in nature,” said Beverly Adams, an authority on Latin American art who curates the private Diane and Bruce Halle Collection in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Overwhelming the cognoscenti still seems to thrill Mr. Paz, a high school dropout whose first work experience involved pumping gas at filling stations owned by his father. He went on to work at Belo Horizonte’s stock exchange, which he said he loathed, before going into mining for iron ore and cobbling together a privately held business empire that finances Inhotim’s operations.

Some works in Inhotim seem to question, if not actually insult, the concept of profiting from mining the Earth’s treasures.

For instance, an installation by the American artist Matthew Barney within geodesic domes includes a scene of unmistakable environmental violation: a huge mud-caked tractor clutching a tree and its roots. To arrive at this creation, visitors trek through mineral-bearing hills, largely cleared, of Mata Atlântica, the forest that once covered the region.

Inhotim received nearly 250,000 visitors in 2011, and it expects well more this year. But Mr. Paz, who says his companies provide Inhotim with about $60 million to $70 million for operations each year, sees no need to stop there.

In order to make Inhotim self-sustaining, he said he was planning to build no fewer than 10 new hotels here for visitors, an amphitheater for 15,000 people, even a complex of “lofts” for those who want to live amid the collection. He said Inhotim, which sprawls over nearly 5,000 acres, has room for at least 2,000 more works of art.

Inhotim’s growth over the past decade has provided a jolt to the surrounding economy, with many of the adult residents of villages nearby employed as laborers by Inhotim, making them dependent on Mr. Paz’s vision of assembling a “Disneyland” for contemporary art in the state of Minas Gerais.

“Before Inhotim, our men worked in the mines or moved to São Paulo to make money,” said Profira de Souza, 74, a resident of the village of Marinhos whose son and grandson work at Inhotim. “God lowered Bernardo Paz down to us, and I pray he doesn’t take him back too soon.”

Still, Mr. Paz insisted he was no emperor. He called himself an “isolated person” who lacks real friends, opting to live amid hundreds of artworks, including a pavilion he built for one of his ex-wives, the Brazilian artist Adriana Varejão.

Seated in one of Inhotim’s restaurants one sweltering day in February, he proceeded to quickly consume three vodka cocktails, murmuring about the machinations of bankers and the global financial crisis as he puffed on his Dunhills.

“Don’t turn that on,” he said, pointing at a digital recorder on the table.

A day later, in an air-conditioned building that incorporated “Narcissus Garden,” a work by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, into its design, he seemed to revel in disparaging some other titans of business in Brazil, calling them “imbeciles” and contending that poor visitors to Inhotim were often better able to absorb the complex’s importance. He also reserved some special disdain for Brazil’s richest man, Eike Batista.

“Suddenly, he appears with billions and billions, saying he’s going to be the world’s richest man,” he said of Mr. Batista, a mining entrepreneur who gets largely glowing treatment in the news media here as an idol for Brazil’s growing number of millionaires. “He broke every company he had until he was 50 years old.”

Mr. Paz also waved off claims in Brazilian newspapers that Inhotim’s expansion was partly due to money laundering, calling such accusations a “mountain of nonsense and lies.”

“Clearly, no one is totally transparent,” he acknowledged. Still, he asserted, “The newspapers never proved anything.”

For now, he seems more concerned with luring the masses to Inhotim to see works like “Restore Now,” a mammoth send-up of academic norms by the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn, in which texts by French philosophers like Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze (yes, the ones many people pretended to read in college) are interspersed with images of mutilated bodies.

Asked about specific works, Mr. Paz deftly shifts the conversation to other topics. He smiled when speaking of his new wife, Arystela Rosa, 31, pregnant with his seventh child. Other things at Inhotim draw his interest, like the towering tamboril trees or the traíra, a carnivorous fish in the ponds here that can draw blood from visitors foolish enough to dip their fingers in the water.

“There are works of art here which I haven’t entered yet, which everyone told me were spectacular, but why should I go in there?” Mr. Paz said. “I don’t consider myself passionate for art. But gardens, that’s what I like.”

Fonte: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/10/world/americas/bernardo-pazs-inhotim-is-vast-garden-of-art.html