I wept from joy 3 times during my 2 1/2 days at Inhotim. The first was in the gallery that houses Canadian artist Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet (2001). The piece consists of 40 speakers on stands that encircle an otherwise empty, large, white-walled space. A single horizontal window cut into one wall affords views of the abundant foliage outside. From each speaker comes the voice of one of 40 singers performing the sixteenth-century choral piece Spem in alium by Thomas Tallis. Although I have experienced this work before and have always been deeply affected by the tapestry of voices raised in sacred song, the rays of light streaming through the window and the slice of Eden glimpsed just beyond made immersion in the piece even more majestic and moving.
The second time was in Folly (2005-2009) by the New York-based Brazilian artist Valeska Soares. Soares’ piece occupies a specially constructed, small octagonal pavilion with a wooden roof and mirrored sides that is perched upon a hill with a lake view. The dark, mirror-lined interior features a projection of dancers moving to the soundtrack of Burt Bacharach’s The Look of Love. My husband and I danced too. It was meltingly romantic and achingly beautiful.
The third was on our final day when we were walking down a garden path. I felt overwhelmed by all that I had seen and experienced, by the richness of a site where art and nature come together in wonder and harmony, and by the privilege of being there.
Inhotim (pronounced “in-yo-tcheen”) is an art world destination in the manner of Marfa in Texas and Naoshima in Japan, although it is many times larger and more elaborate than both of these combined. Opened as a public museum in 2006, it was born of the collection and on the property of local mining magnate Bernardo Paz, whose recent run-in with the law (money-laundering and tax evasion) is a different, as yet unresolved story. The New York-based art advisor Allan Schwartzman assisted Paz with his collecting and serves as Inhotim’s artistic director.
Inochim is situated in southeastern Brazil, an hour and a half’s drive from Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city, in the small town of Brumadinho. It comprises 5,000 acres of lush botanical gardens whose design was initiated by the late great Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Every path and vista is planned and variable, the visitor moving from manicured lakeside paths to open (but curated) fields to dense forests to thematic gardens (i.e., one is dedicated to orchids and another to desert plants). More than 1,500 species of trees and 4,500 different flowers and plants are seen. I took as many photographs of the foliage and vistas as I did of the art.
Set into this landscape are 23 freestanding pavilions and galleries, most of them devoted to the work of a single contemporary artist. The project is continually expanding and there are currently also 23 large-scale sculptures and installation pieces in the park. What is remarkable–and it is ALL remarkable–is that I would happily travel great distances to visit the equivalent of just one of the pavilions or outdoor sculptures–and here are dozens on one spectacular site! A map detailing their locations is provided to visitors, who are free to roam and engage in their own voyages of exploration and discovery. Multi-person golf carts aid in traversing the extended acreage. Placards and wall labels printed in English and Portuguese offer concise, helpful information on the art and artist at each destination, so that one never feels “lost” or uninformed.
One of the largest pavilions and a small lakeside gallery are dedicated to the work of the recently deceased Brazilian artist Tunga, whose art is rich in allegory and materiality. Tunga is often credited with having influenced Paz in his decision to collect contemporary art. Cildo Meireles and the late Helio Oiticica, who are also Brazilian, are represented both by sizable pavilions and large-scale outdoor sculptures. As is the norm rather than the exception at Inhotim, their pavilions offer environmental installations (Oiticica’s Cosmococa Gallery, in fact, presents five unique multi-sensory spaces).
Inhotim’s concentration on work by Brazilian or Brazil-based artists is further seen in pavilions devoted to the work of Adriana Varejao, Claudia Andujar, Lygia Pape, Rivane Neuenschwander, Luis Zerbini, Miguel Rio Branco, and Valeska Soares. A few Brazilian artists previously unknown to me had wonderful pieces situated elsewhere on the property: Elisa Bracher, Sara Rama, Jarbas Lopes, Jose Damasceno, and the collective Chelpa Ferro (a kinetic work involving a multitude of wildly rotating plastic bags).
With regard to the galleries or pavilions, it might here be noted that each is not only architecturally distinctive, but specially designed to harmonize with and enhance the work it presents. A concrete rectangular prism that hovers over a reflecting pool and is faced with a grid pattern echoes the painted tile work referenced in the art of Adriana Varejao, Bernardo Paz’s fifth wife (Paz has been married 6 times and has 7 children). A rough-textured edifice that connotes pre-Columbian architecture presents some 500 large-scale works by the Swiss-born, Sao Paolo-based photographer Claudia Andujar, whose photographs of the Yanomami people of the Brazilian Amazon represented some of their first contacts with the outside world. A building whose solid concrete interior and exterior walls are set at extreme angles both complements and serves as the perfect counterpoint to the immateriality of Ttelia 1C (2002), Lygia Pape’s installation consisting of “light beams” formed by metalized thread stretched from floor to ceiling in a darkened space.
Among other artists with pavilions at Inhotim are the Columbian Doris Salcedo, the Cuban Carlos Garaicoa, the Spaniard Christina Iglesias, the South African William Kentridge, the Czech Dominik Lang, and the Americans Doug Aitken, Matthew Barney, and Carroll Dunham. The outdoor sculptures and installations are by an even broader international array, with pieces by Dan Graham, Paul McCarthy, John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres, and Chris Burden from the U.S., Simon Starling from the U.K., Olafur Eliasson from Iceland, Yayoi Kusama from Japan, Giuseppe Penone from Italy, Rirkit Tiravanija from Thailand, Zhang Huan from China, and Jorge Macchi from Argentina, among others.
It is hardly accidental that of the works by the artists just mentioned, most offer the viewer an immersive experience, either literally, as in the case of Jorge Macchi’s swimming pool (Pool, 2009), or in terms of incorporating the viewer’s reflection. This is found in Yayoi Kusama’s aptly named Narcissus Garden (2009), a rooftop installation consisting of 500 polished, stainless steel globes, Olafur Eliasson’s kaleidoscopic Viewing Machine (2001-2008), and Dan Graham’s mirrored glass structure, Bisected Triangle, Interior Curve (2002). In fact, as with Janet Cardiff’s Forty Part Motet and Valeska Soares’ Folly pavilion, which is mirrored inside and out and filled with sound, the works encountered at Inhotim, like the botanical park itself, tend to envelop or otherwise engage the viewer physically, mentally, and sensorially. The whole is immensely moving, an experience never to be forgotten. I cannot wait to return!
Some practical information:
We flew into Belo Horizonte, which is equidistant from Rio and Sao Paolo (a short flight or a 5-6 hour drive from each). While a hotel is being built on the Inhotim property, it will not be finished for some time. My husband and I stayed at the Real Palace Hotel, which was not a palace, but was clean and basic, had lovely, helpful staff, and provided an adequate breakfast. It was a five-minute drive from the park. Taxis are available. On our first outing, we met a driver, who chauffeured us throughout our stay.
We bought our entry tickets to Inhotim and our golf cart passes online in advance, although visiting just before Christmas was a perfect time, as we had the park to ourselves–no lines, no crowds. The heat was entirely manageable (a plethora of shaded pathways) and, while we wore bug spray, we encountered no mosquitoes (Zika!) or bugs.
There are several restaurants at Inhotim–Tamboril, Oiticica, and Hamburgueria–that are perfect for lunch. For dinner, the best was Restaurante Ponto Ge–terrific food and charming hosts.
If passing through Belo Horizonte, try to stop at Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer’s Church of Saint Francis of Assisi (1943). Although it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the undulating concrete structure is in a somewhat derelict public park and is in desperate need of repair. It strikes me as bitterly unfair that this architectural gem of a religious structure has been left to fall to ruin, while the artists’ pavilions at Inhotim occupy a paradise.