Ana Carolina Ralston Curates Both For A Gallery And An Institution, And That’s All About Bringing Art To The People
FAMA (Fábrica de Arte Marcos Amaro / Marcos Amaro Art Factory) is a non-profit institution that opened in 2018 in Itu, a city a couple of hours drive away from São Paulo. It is a former century-old industrial complex of 25,000 square meters that used to be a textile mill. Marcos Amaro, who is an art patron and artist himself, has more than 2,000 works of art by renowned names collected in the last twelve years, and wished to share them with the public. The walls are home to icons of contemporary art, pieces that are incompatible with conventional exhibitions, mainly due to their dimensions: huge sculptures and installations by Brazilian artists such as Nuno Ramos, Beto Shwafaty, Erika Verzutti, and Leda Catunda. We have an amazing piece by Leda, which is a waterfall sculpture that was part of the São Paulo Art Biennial in 1983. There are also paintings, photographs, drawings, and engravings that address Brazil’s cultural heritage. Last year, we inaugurated another exhibition site, in Mairinque, which is a half an hour drive from Itu. It is a land art project called FAMA Campo (“Fama” means fame in Portuguese, and “Campo” is countryside), where we will support the creation of an artwork every year. We invited the Brazilian artist Marcia Pastore to put up he first project titled “Transposição” (Transposition). Some compare FAMA to DIA: Beacon, the museum for the Dia Art Foundation’s collection situated on the banks of the Hudson River in Beacon, New York, or to Naoshima, Japan’s art island. Of course they are very different, but I understand the similarity, all of them are places near big cities that explore large spaces and bring art, jobs and life to small cities or remote places.
I transitioned from journalism to curatorship very naturally. I worked in cultural journalism since the very beginning of my carrier. I worked as the Senior Culture Editor at Vogue Brazil and as the Editor-in-Chief at Harper’s Bazaar Art. I still write critical art pieces for some titles and I work as deputy editor at a Sunday publication on culture and fashion from O Estado de São Paulo newspaper, one of the major newspapers in Brazil. However, it is very different to write articles compared to curatorial texts. The main difference is how far you can go in your opinions, associations, and connections with other artists and experiences. In journalism, you must stay near the news and be as clear and direct as you can. As a curator, you can go deeper in your associations and explanations, putting the artwork into a historical context.
In 2007, I went with a group of artists friends to paint the facade of the Kelburn Castle, in Scotland. I was there with the twin brothers OSGEMEOS, and Nina Pandolfo, all of them urban artists and close friends of mine. I was part of the entire creative process from the draft of the drawings on paper, to the parties we organized to bring people to the castle to see the artwork. Every inch of the castle and its walls were covered. It was an incredible experience that inspired me to write many articles. From that moment on I knew I belonged to the art world.
I quit Vogue in 2018 because I was getting invitations from a handful of galleries in São Paulo to make curatorial projects, guided tours and write texts. Also, many of my readers started asking for art consulting, they wanted me to help them start an art collection. I was thrilled to make this new move, to dedicate myself more and more to art. Marcos Amaro, the owner of Kogan Amaro Gallery and FAMA Museum, saw a couple of the exhibitions I curated and invited me to join his team at the gallery. He wanted a fresh eye to think about new artists and projects. Then he also asked me to be part of the team at FAMA, and of course, I accepted the invitation. I’ve been working there as a co-curator over the last year, along with Ricardo Resende, a great curator I’m always happy to be with.
I love the way art can penetrate our lives. One thing I love about journalism is how it can bring culture, art, and poetry into people’s day-to-day. Art must be reachable, and by that, I don’t mean affordable, I mean accessible in its content. Curatorship and journalism have to bring the artwork closer to the audience by translating it. I love when art touches the heart and soul of the person who’s looking at it. So my mission is to help people understand the meaning and the context in which artworks were made. Therefore, I use every possible platform to make it happen, by writing, making videos, guided tours, consulting. I don’t want people to think they can’t understand art or feel uncomfortable visiting a museum or a gallery. Art is culture and culture is the most precious thing we’ve got, it’s our history, what makes us what we are.
One of my earliest art memories happened when I was about five years old. I visited Firenze with my parents for the first time. My dad was an airplane pilot and since I was little, they could travel with me around the world. We spent a few days in the city and visited the Galleria degli Uffizi (The Uffizi Gallery). I remember looking for the first time at the painting “Primavera”, by Botticelli, and being in shock with its beauty. I was mesmerized by the god of wind touching the nymph Chloris and the dancing Three Graces with their transparent dresses.
I always say that I fell in love with Japanese-Brazilian artist Tomie Ohtake long before I fell in love with her grandson, the architect Rodrigo Ohtake (my husband). Of course part of this is a joke, but part of it is also true. I interviewed Tomie and spoke about her work many times before I met Rodrigo. I love everything Tomie had done, like the sculptures displayed on the ground floor of the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, that look like huge white drawings in space. You are allowed to touch them, and according to the way you do it, the pieces move. Tomie is one of my muses and it was a blessing to coexist with her and to be part of the same family. As for my husband, it’s wonderful to be with somebody that loves what you love. Before being my husband, Rodrigo was my best friend. He teaches me a lot about architecture. He owns the architectural office Rodrigo Ohtake Arquitetura e Design and has also curated architecture exhibitions. He was the assistant curator to curator André Corrêa do Lago for the pavilion of Brazil at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, in 2014. We have a beautiful exchange in life. Thank God Tomie and the love I have for art, led me to him.
The best way to get to know an artist is to really listen to them. In general people like those who are able to listen, it’s a rare quality these days. Don’t compete with artists. Curators can challenge them, give them food for thought, but not compete with them. It seems obvious but it is not. When you love something, read about it, and live it. As I love art, it is not that difficult to feel when a young artist has something special. Intuition comes with knowledge. One of my aims is to discover young artists and, therefore, I always visit university students, keep up with their work and take part in programs in which curators give group orientations. For instance, I brought Brazilian painter Samuel de Saboia (from Recife) and Dutch painter Daniel Mullen to the gallery. They are now recognized by the Brazilian art market. That really satisfies me.
Nowadays, I’m into upcycling fashion, because I think it’s a new way to look at the consumerist world we live in, and try to change our habits. An upcycling project I love is called Up, Majuisi, which is a partnership between Casa Juisi, owner of one of the biggest vintage collection of clothing in Brazil, and the fashion designer Marcelo Sommer. Fashion is a way of expressing yourself, so it is part of our culture. We can recognize a period of time by looking at the clothes people are wearing at that specific moment. That’s what interests me about fashion. The art world sometimes has its prejudices, I try not to be part of it. People are not only one thing, we can love both art and fashion. Personally, I love dresses.
When visiting an exhibition, the most important aspect I analyze is the relationship between the art pieces. I love to speculate about what made the curator choose one piece or another. Like the last exhibition I’ve been to before the quarantine was “Fecha os olhos e veja” (Close you eyes and see) at Galeria Almeida e Dale, in São Paulo. The exhibition was curated by Galciani Neves and displayed improbable and peculiar artworks by some of the most influential contemporary Brazilian artists, such as photographer and activist Claudia Andujar, but also conceptual artists such as Lygia Pape, Leonilson Mira Schendel, and Tunga (and also Tomie Ohtake of course). They are big references for all of us, but the curator managed to bring some novelty about their work. As soon as I got home it prompted me to research again.
I love literature. As a journalist, I also used to write about literature. I traveled to the big literature fairs and got to interview great writers such as Pulitzer Prize winner William Kennedy, Neo-Concrete Brazilian poet Ferreira Gullar, and magic realism Chilean writer Isabel Allende… I love to learn and I love to read. Most of all, I am interested in mankind, and reading is a way to know people’s dreams and thoughts. Literature is like visual art in some way. It takes us to another world, it triggers our imagination and makes us escape.
I’m an art and design lover so every time I can collect it, I bring it into my home and life. I would really love to have a work by James Turrell at home. I love how he works with light and makes it move.
For me, quarantine is a time of reflection. I don’t believe quarantine is a productive period in the sense of producing something. Many artists tell me that even before Covid-19 they worked alone, and now is not different. However, I believe that what happens to our planet interferes in our life and our production, this moment is important for us to change our values, our way of thinking, and also how we understand what it means to produce. And that is very difficult and painful. We have to be kind to ourselves and to the others. I like the fact that many Brazilian galleries are gathering to donate part of their sales to projects that fight Covid-19 directly or indirectly. That means working in tune to what is happening around us.
If I wasn’t curating, I could be a writer. Or a gardener, I love plants!
Ana Carolina Ralston
Art director and curator for Kogan Amaro gallery, São Paulo, Brazil and Zurich, Switzerland
Co-curator FAMA museum, Itu, Brazil
Ana Carolina Ralston is an art curator and journalist. Currently works as art director in Kogan Amaro gallery based in São Paulo, Brazil, and Zurich, Switzerland, and curator at FAMA museum, in Itu, Brazil. She is deputy editor at Moda Magazine, a monthly publication about fashion and culture by O Estado de São Paulo, leader newspaper in Brazil. She was cultural and lifestyle senior editor for Vogue Brazil for 6 years and editor in chief for Harper’s Bazaar Art in 2019. She has a master degree in cultural journalism at Columbia New York University in Spain.