Interview to Art Media Agency

April 14th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

“The little secrets that make SP special”: interview with João Correia
São Paulo, 10 April 2014, Art Media Agency (AMA).

With over a decade of experience in the art markets of both London and Brazil, João Correia is one of the founding partners of Art Options SA, a São Paulo-based consultancy for collectors of Brazilian and international art. He spoke to Art Media Agency about the specificities of the Brazilian market, and his desire to build an international standard for Contemporary art.

You lived and worked in London for 12 years – what did you do in the city, and why did you decide to return to Brazil?
I see myself as an entrepreneur in the arts; always on the lookout for opportunities to innovate and take my professional development forward. When I first arrived in London, I wanted to figure out what aspects were lacking from the artistic scene which could profit from my experience. The answer at the time was a gallery of Latin American Art: I created one in Regent Street in 2003, with the support of Carlos Cruz-Diez. The instant media coverage and popularity of our programme showed that it was indeed the right idea at the time. The work I carried out there, running art debates and dealing on the secondary market of modern masters, was also a fantastic experience. My return to Brazil was for family reasons.

Is the gallery still in existence?
No, it was open throughout 2003 and 2004. Following this, my partner decided to sell the building. We did have the option to move to another building, but I started to reflect, and felt that I wanted to do something more contemporary. The original gallery focused on Modern art and I felt it would be intellectually more engaging to participate in art which represented my own era. If we insist on looking back at history, we won’t move forward, right?

Why did you decide to return to Brazil?
I came to Brazil to visit my family after my grandfather passed away. He was a painter and we had a beautiful sense of a shared mission in the SP art scene. I felt compelled to return to the country at this point. Whilst in the country I had the opportunity to talk to people, his collectors and others, and it came to my attention that there was an opportunity to set up an art advisory company prepared to offer advice with both art and finance, in addition to a bespoke educational programme for new collectors.

And was this because you were speaking to collectors in the area who needed advice on what or how to purchase?
Yes. The activities in the primary market seemed in the main to be shy of being truly global. On the secondary market dealings seemed too informal. Collectors were keen to learn how to do it differently and wanted guidance in how to be as diligent as possible, how to get involved in creative forms and how to begin to fund innovative projects. My ambition was to create a company that served as a reference of international standards but operated from a local foundation. We are in the process of building that company.

How has Brazil – and particularly its art market – changed during your time there?
Brazil now has a place in the global art scene. It became a fashionable destination to talent hunt. Our market (estimated to be worth $590 million) is still very small in comparison to what it could be, but is already big enough to sustain many fantastic galleries. We now have a dynamic art fair scene, and I particularly like to follow what artist collectives are doing. All this is either new or significantly stronger from what it was in 1998 when I moved to Paris.

Where does the Brazilian market fail?
I think one area in which it fails is diversity. Whether for historical or tax reasons Brazilians did not have many opportunities to encounter art. I believe art collections will always be a reflection of local production on a wider scale, but I think there is always room for diversification. I even posted on my blog when I came back from the Venice Biennale on what our own private collections would look like if we applied the same principles to them as we do to those represented at the Venice Biennale. Secondly, I think we have artists that deserve international recognition, that have a discourse with a potential to stand out globally, but are still very much unknown. Mira Schendel is to be exhibited at the Tate and Lygia Clark at MoMA, but we need more international exposure. It will happen.

And where is the Brazilian market at its strongest? Where does it excel, and is there anything about Brazil which is particularly propitious to being a gallerist or an artist?
I think Brazil will become one of those countries that exports artistic talent to the world and this will have a positive effect for gallerists and artists. Also, because our historical foundation in the arts is different, perhaps not as set-in-stone as in other countries, collectors and buyers have fewer pre-formed habits or expectations. This lack of preconceived ideas often works in a collector’s favour, as it promotes risk taking which can often be profitable. Our day-to-day dealings with clients continually opens up paths which we did not expect: for these reasons I am very happy to be in SP.

So that must facilitate your job as an art advisor?
Yes, it does in a way, but we have different challenges as well. SP is ranked the 10th richest city in the world and with so much wealth, combined with our educational programme, we’ve been able to establish a particularly innovative approach to art collecting right from the start of Art Options. This already represents a great achievement. The art advisor has the privileged position of offering a bird’s eye view of the scene which can be very empowering especially on a calendar of almost 200 fairs annually. New collectors need guidance. Expensive mistakes are being avoided. We have a role to play here for sure.

Do you actively seek to promote Brazilian artists?
Art Options stands out because we only work for buyers. This status prevents conflicts of interest. We don’t promote artists as galleries do; if we do it is only within the context of the collections we’re building, but that should always be backed by research. We believe that quality in art can be explained.

Do you find, then, that collectors themselves are interested in buying Brazilian art?
Absolutely. We still work predominantly with Brazilian art, but our team is international and prepared to handle international art when requested. SP Arte last week had over 50 galleries from abroad – that’s a number which is definitely on the increase. I am committed to caring for the culture which is the heart of our identity, but I am also dedicated to diversity and the promotion of artistic discourses.

What are the difficulties of running an arts-focused business in Brazil? Is tax, for example, something which makes your job particularly challenging?
Taxes and bureaucracy: Brazil is known for being particularly challenging in both aspects. The tax exemptions secured for the art fairs gives us hope that it will change for the better one day. I also want to see an increase in active criticism of critics themselves. This is an important role and something which I don’t see enough of. If a curator or art critic does a poor job, visitors to an exhibition have no way to know that it shouldn’t be that way. They often think they are ignorant when in fact the information provided is overly complicated: it is counter productive. We try to help and would like others to do the same. The scene will only improve for everybody’s gain.

You studied at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. Why did you elect to study in the UK?
It was always my intention to try and divide my time between São Paulo and London. Maybe because my dad was a fan of English rock and roll… In fact both countries have a trading tradition with auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s and the art market has always been my focus. I thought it made sense to go there and I liked Godfrey Barker who was my teacher. It was nicely ironic that, ten years later, I returned to Sotheby’s Institute as a speaker for a conference on the subject of Trust and Transparency in the Art Market (May/2013).

Is there anything particularly innovative, or interesting, about the Brazilian market?
We have a place called Casa Tomada which has a great programme teaching artists how to be better public intellectuals. They get together in groups and learn how conduct a successful public discourse. There is another venue, in Vila Madalena which runs charity auctions that sell works without labels. Works by well known artists can be bought for bargain prices. This auction is run by a drag queen and it is hilarious, priceless. I want to encourage people to discover all these little secrets that make SP so special.

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