From Renaissance to Video Games to Pop Culture to Music and Film, Expanding the Exhibition’s Field
One of my earliest art memories is related to a particular body feeling. When I was a kid, around three years old, I really hated going to the beach. I hated the feeling and messy aspect of my feet being covered in ocean water and sand. There are even some videos that my family did, of me crying at the beach in Rio de Janeiro. I also remember the first time I felt the salty taste of the ocean in my mouth—I am still not a fan of it. Besides that, I have many memories of specific art situations at school when I was between four and six years old, related to learning and memories with others.
I come from an art history background. I studied art history from my Bachelor to my PhD studies. I am interested in history in general, and how a place interprets its own. Whenever I am invited to do something somewhere I try to research about the history of the place where the project is about to happen.
Historical visual research and a meeting with pop culture can be fascinating. For one of my current project “Throat”—upon an invitation by Marta Mestre, the artistic director of the CIAJG in Guimarães, Portugal—one of the departure points were the gargoyles of the Church of Nossa Senhora de Oliveira. There have been a lot of speculation about the meaning behind those, which are sculpted in auto-fellatio poses, and their association with this important pilgrimage site right in the historic centre of Guimarães. In the exhibition, we also show an album cover by musician Tom Ze “All the Eyes”. It was released in the ‘70s and back then it was very polemical in Brazil, because the cover features a glass ball on top of something that may or may not be an anus. There have been lots of anecdotes about it. Using history and researching visual culture helps build bridges between times and geographies and create relevant parallels that wouldn’t be there if not for an exhibition.
I started interviewing Brazilian curators during the pandemic lockdowns, it’s on Youtube, called “1 curadorx 1 hora” (“1 curator, 1 hour”). They come from different generations, backgrounds, and states. The idea was to introduce to the public a more diverse picture of the Brazilian art scene and learn about their studies and family backgrounds. So far, I have interviewed 116 curators and I hope to get to 200. In Brazil, curatorial practices are a bit different from other places in Latin America. Most curators don’t actually make a living from curating, and do it on the side while having other jobs; 90% of them are focused on contemporary art, and a huge majority of them only works with Brazilian artists. It’s crazy how our art scene can be self-entered.
Increasingly, my work is to assume relations between visual arts and pop culture. I don’t want to make exhibitions only for the artistic community. It’s important for me to acknowledge a wider audience. I come from a suburban background, were there was little access to art, so building bridges is very important to me. And I would say that I’m deeply interested in this invisible boundary between visual arts and mass culture.
I am also pretty interested in creating connections between artists from what we call the Global South. Not only working with artists from Brazil and Latin America, but to be able to connect artists and other narratives in the Global South. At the same time, I don’t feel obliged to only work with artists form the region, that would be falling into an identity trap, and I don’t want that.
Since January 2021 I have been working at the Denver Art Museum, as Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Latin American Art, a new role they created last year. It’s a very encyclopedic museum, with one of the most comprehensive collections of Latin American art in the U.S. and I am looking forward creating conversations between modern and contemporary narratives from the region. I am currently working with the teams towards opening a show with 90% of new commissions, with artists from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Mexico. They are all millennials, like me. It’s called “who tells a tale adds a tail,” which comes from a Brazilian proverb that encourages to pursue conversations to push a momentum forward. In this show, I am also interested in surrealism and how a group of young—but not so young—artists are able to create works that are not that interested in documentation or reality but instead turn to fantasy and fiction.
We are opening the art festival Videobrasil—with Kenyan co-curator Renée Akitelek Mboya—in the second semester of next year. We are still figuring out the curatorial statement, but it’s important, its 40-year anniversary. Videobrasil, which was founded Solange Farkas, grew from a Brazilian video festival to a moving image festival dedicated to the Global South to an all media festival. We are accepting applications in video, cinema, performance, sound, painting, any possible media. All the artists who participate were born or live in the Global South. We will also invite some specific artists who were very important in the previous editions.
I am a big video games fan, it’s something that really relaxes me. I can work for several hours, stop suddenly, play for hours, and then return to work. Video gaming became even something therapeutical to me, a way to disconnect from an overly productive life. All types of games are welcome, but I prefer the adventure ones and some related to sports. I am also totally addicted to tennis. I can stop anything to catch a tennis game on TV, and I am aspiring to a more balanced life where I would be able to play tennis every single day. I think that playing tennis is something that really helps me concentrate, and relax. And it’s a practice that is completely based in the idea of balance. It’s a pity that it’s such an elitist sport. In Brazil, for example, it is super expensive to take classes, and we barely have public tennis courts. Of course, being such an individual sport, it certainly doesn’t help in a very populated country like Brazil where most of the successful sport practices—like soccer and volleyball—deal with collective energy. Being a Capricorn, I must admit that tennis and its solitary aspect is really my thing.
I love the idea of having the opportunity to lunch with anyone I want, dead or alive! I would have lunch with all the dead artists I included in my projects. This can look ridiculous, but it is really true. My master’s degree, for example, was around a Portuguese visual artist and writer named Francisco de Holanda, born in 1517, and who died in 1584. I would love to have met him, and tried to understand more about his desires, writing, and creative process. When you work with Renaissance artists—I did, and still want to work with them—it is difficult to imagine how their lives were, and how it was for them to make art. Besides Francisco, I would love to have some drinks too with the amazing Pacita Abad, Pierre Verger, Marcel Gautherot, Bridget Bate Tichenor, Miguel Guilherme, Wanda Pimentel, Ivens Machado, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and so many more. The list is infinite.
Instead of a book I will switch to a TV show, to be honest, I have been finding it difficult to read in the past months. My attention span is a bit everywhere. But I have been increasingly catching up with TV shows and paying attention to how they are directed. The dialogues and the writing can be precious, well-thought-out, and precise. A TV project that still haunts me, then, is “I may destroy you,” directed, produced, written, and starred by Michaela Coel, this amazing British playwright. It is so well crafted! Even being a cultural landscape so different to mine, it was impressive to watch during the pandemics and see on it so many situations that brought me existential reflections. It is impressive how Coel can mix very melancholic moments, with lots of absurd humor. All those characters there seem very flesh and bones to me, and their actions are still material for lots of discussions with my friends. It is really a moving image project to be watched, analyzed, and watched again.
Engaging with songwriting and Clubbing. I am really into pop culture and music. I am the kind of person who will drop everything to listen to all the tracks the newest album by an artist I admire. It could be Björk, Beyoncé, James Blake, Fiona Apple, Tulipa Ruiz, or Kendrick Lamar. Listening to music, reading the lyrics, and engaging with this pleasure is something quintessential to me. Songwriting is poetry, so to pay attention to it is important to me. If you look at some of my recent curatorial projects, they are titled after songs’ quotes. I am trying to combine these layers of interests more and more. Besides that, after years of nearly working nonstop, I have been slowly returning to more consistent clubbing. I am a big fan of dancing to electronic music all night long, until the suns comes up.
What would I do if I wasn’t curating is a bit difficult for me to answer. But I think that it would somehow still be connected to education. I could have studied anthropology or psychology. I find fascinating how people can be so different from each other, despite being born in the same family, city, or country; and how we can create so different existential goals for our lives. Perhaps that’s why I also like to work as a curator: to hang with very peculiar people who don’t share the same perspective on their world’s experience. This diversity makes me happy. Or perhaps I would still be working on film festivals (I used to do that before working as a curator), or perhaps I would be working in the audiovisual field—directing or editing, something like that. Do you know what? I think I would love to be a tennis player or a tennis umpire. Yes, that would be the coolest thing to do, for sure.
Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Latin American art at the Denver Art Museum
Denver, USA, and Lisbon, Portugal
Raphael Fonseca has a PhD in Art History and Criticism (State University of Rio de Janeiro). He worked as a curator at MAC Niterói (Contemporary Art Museum of Niterói, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2017-2020), and as a professor at Colégio Pedro II (Rio de Janeiro, 2010-2021). He received the Centro Cultural São Paulo curatorial award (2017) and the Marcantonio Vilaça curatorial award (2015). He was also one of the invited authors for the catalogue of the 32nd São Paulo Biennial (curated by Jochen Volz in 2016). Among his curated shows, we can highlight “Who tells a tale adds a tail” (Denver Art Museum, 2022); “Raio-que-o-parta: fictions of the modern in Brazil” (SESC 24 de Maio, São Paulo, 2022); “The silence of tired tongues” (Framer Framed, Amsterdam, 2022); “Throat” (Centro Internacional de Artes José de Guimarães, Portugal, 2022); “Sweat” (Haus der Kunst, Munich co-curated by Anna Schneider, 2021); “To-and-fro” (Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, 2019-2020); “Lost and found” (ICA Singapore, 2019); “The sun teaches us that history is not everything” (Osage Art Foundation, Hong Kong, 2018); “Life is reborn, always – Sonia Gomes” (MAC Niterói, 2018, co-curated by Pablo León de La Barra), among others.