Troubled Brazil has a new ‘auroras’, and it’s located in a beautiful 1950s Modernist house…

Maria do Carmo de Pontes

Ricardo Ortiz Kugelmas is an art-advisor and collector who has recently returned to his home town Sao Paulo after years living in New York, where he ran Francesco Clemente’s studio and collaborated in projects with other artists. He just opened ‘auroras’, a cross-disciplinary project space sited in a beautiful 1950s Modernist house in Sao Paulo, where he also lives. In this interview he tell us about art, his goals with the space and the challenges Brazil is facing at the moment.

What motivated you to return to Brazil after several years abroad and start an exhibition space?

I spent almost a decade in New York running Francesco Clemente’s studio, but on the past four years Tunga, a close artist friend, was constantly pushing me to return ‘home’ and start an art space with a new format. He believed I had an interesting network with artists and that I should share it with my fellow Brazilians. Sadly, Tunga died the very same day I finally moved back to Brazil, and the name ‘auroras’ is an homage to him. 

I am interested in new ideas, new models. A city like Sao Paulo, with 21 million people, needs to have dozens of independent art spaces. I want auroras to be an example that art exhibitions can happen outside museums and galleries.

Is the crisis that the country has been going through something that encouraged you, or even something that you aim to approach through your programme?

As I mentioned, the idea to move back started with Tunga a few years back, but it was only in late 2015 I felt the NY cycle was over and it was time to return to Sao Paulo. Unfortunately Brazil is going through a political and economical crisis, but I truly believe in the power of art, and I think art is the most poetic form of resistance during difficult times.

Thus far you made diverse exhibitions – two paintings’ group shows, then a solo of an overlooked conceptual artist and now a duo exhibition with two maverick painters. How are you shaping your programme?

The intention for the inaugural show was a welcoming one, so I asked Bruno Dunley, a great young painter, to co-organise a large group show of small paintings. We visited dozens of studios during several months, and ended up with 26 artists and about 75 works, all of them carefully selected.

The following project, Lydia Okumura, organised in collaboration with Sao Paulo based Galeria Jaqueline Martins, aimed to give visibility to a conceptual female artist almost unknown in Brazil, since she left the country in 1974 to live in NY, and had not shown her work in Brazil for many years. Her minimal installations would fit well in the space – a Modernist house built in 1957 -, I thought, so I brought her to see the space and she decided to install three site-specific installations she had conceived in 1976 but had never actually executed. All the artists involved in these shows were very pleased, also because several works exhibited were sold to public institutions in the US and Europe.

Now I just opened Alex Katz | David Salle, two artists I much admire, that became good friends during the years I lived in NY, and it felt natural to show them in Sao Paulo, sharing part of my experience. I considered solo shows, but discussing with my board – composed mainly by artists – we decided that showing both artists together would accentuate the differences between their works in an interesting way.

A few people tell me auroras should have a very coherent programme, but I like the idea of keeping it rather open. If I ever get the chance, why not pair William Blake etchings with watercolours by an unknown contemporary artist, or Dan Flavin light sculptures with a young dance company?

But broadly speaking, I’d like to host at least four exhibitions a year, including a solo and a group show and two exhibitions featuring a dialogue between two artists. Additionally, site-specific projects will be presented in the library and pool, which has been empty since the ‘happening’ Dead Volume by Lenora de Barros (2015).

Is auroras – or is it within your agenda to make it into – a commercial space?

I am not interested in following the conventional path: I don’t want to become a commercial gallery and I don’t want to ask for public money. I am hoping auroras will remain self-sustainable through a few sales, and that will keep the operation running, including an educational programme to receive kids from public schools and university students. Keeping a very low overhead is vital for a space like this, otherwise you loose your freedom and flexibility. 

You’re building an impressive art library, which is something much needed in a city like Sao Paulo. Who’s the target of this enterprise?

The library, once occupied by a very important Brasilian collection of books, is starting to take shape as an art library. Cosac Naïfy, the biggest publisher of art books in this country for the past 30 years – and which recently closed its doors –, donated hundreds of books, and I am hoping other publishers, museums, galleries and artists will donate as well. As of the exhibition space, auroras’ library is accessible to everyone, thus a great spot for art students to research.

What are you planning next?

The next project will be an artists-led charity auction to raise funds for Boi – née José Carlos Cezar Ferreira -, an artist who urgently needs money for a treatment. After that, we’ll install a sculptures group show.

May 1, 2017