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A conversation with Raphael Fonseca
The curator speaks about his work on the solo exhibition of Federico Herrero at Museum of Contemporary Art Niterói in Brazil
Raphael Fonseca lives and works in Rio de Janeiro as a curator at Museum of Contemporary Art Niterói. He co-curated Tempo Aberto, the first solo exhibition for visual artist Federico Herrero in Brazil. We spoke with Fonseca about this exhibition, the unique challenges of installing shows in Oscar Niemeyer’s landmark museum building and about future projects. Visit the digital arts platform EXPOBLVD to experience Herrero’s show and Niemeyer’s building in an immersive 360 degree virtual map.
Photo: Federico Herrero
How did you first become aware of Federico Herrero’s work and what drew you to his practice?
First of all, it's important to remember that I don't work at MAC Niterói as a curator alone; I work with Pablo León de La Barra, chief curator of the institution. He had already worked a few times with Herrero and I was also a big admirer of his work. I saw his work for the first time (and met him personally) when I travelled to Costa Rica for a curatorial research trip in 2015. I think he's a very interesting painter and I'm always impressed with the way he's able to deal not only with the canvas but also with architecture and other kinds of usable objects — like, for example, the object that's similar to a tennis table that was in our show.
What were your concerns and strategies when curating this show?
We are always concerned with the history of the museum and also with the public. In the almost 24 years of MAC Niterói, there were not too many solo shows by artists based in Latin American countries outside of Brazil. So, since Pablo is also Mexican, we have been thinking all these years about inviting more and more of our neighbours. We had not only Federico but, at the same time, a solo show by Eduardo Navarro (from Argentina) and before him Engel Leonardo (from the Dominican Republic). We also thought that, just like most of our shows at the museum, this one was created for the space; it's very difficult to curate exhibitions at MAC Niterói that aren't thought specifically for the building. Since Herrero has great experience with site specific projects, we thought this was a perfect opportunity to introduce the public to his work, with all of the colours and with an intervention that dialogues precisely with the human body in so many ways — scale, colour temperature and more. After having an important retrospective show before — a survey on the paintings of Abdias do Nascimento, one of the most important Afro-Brazilian painters in the history of art in Brazil — we thought that keeping with painting but in a commissioned work would be interesting and would bring a diversity of proposals to the public and to the building itself.
What are the challenges of installing exhibitions in such a unique architectural space?
All the possible challenges! After three years working at MAC Niterói, it is quite clear to us that all exhibitions need to dialogue directly with the space; I mean, this is not a white cube with previsible options. This is a very peculiar building, a circular temple to contemporary art that became one of the biggest postcards of Brazilian architecture internationally. And, of course, let's not forget the futuristic UFO aspect of the building! So every artist needs to study the building, project their intentions and find a way to do something that literally won't disappear in the middle of the space. During these three years we had retrospectives, exhibitions with our different collections and commissioned works. So it has been a really great opportunity to learn how the same space can share so many narratives with the public and how, in a certain way, Oscar Niemeyer created such a beautiful but challenging space to receive contemporary art.
Portrait of Raphael Fonseca by Alan Cavalete
Tell us about your forthcoming projects both at MAC Niterói and also independent of the museum.
At the moment the museum is closed because of all the public health concerns due to the pandemic. We are still studying the right moment to return. We have two shows already in an advanced stage that were about to open before this international crisis. I prefer to leave the reader curious about them rather than saying anything more. About my personal plans, well, at the moment I am trying to live one day after the other and be more concerned with my personal life, with my family and friends. Anyway, at the moment there's one show I curated at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, in Belo Horizonte, that was open for just a week and then closed. We are waiting for the moment to reopen. It's named Vaivém (To-and-fro), and it came from my PhD thesis about hammocks, art and visual culture in Brazil. In the next year there's a show I'm curating with Anna Schneider that will open at Haus der Kunst in Munich, titled Liberté, Egalité, Beyoncé. This show was supposed to open this year but it was transferred to 2021. There's also the next edition of the 22nd Contemporary Art Biennial_Sesc_Videobrasil that I'm curating with Renée Akitelek Mboya, directed by Solange Farkas, founder of Associação Cultural Videobrasil, that was supposed to open next year but was postponed. As you see, at the moment we really need to sit, wait and see what happens.