Silvia Cintra + Box 4 is a commercial gallery located in Gávea, a rising cultural spot in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Managed by mother-and-daughter duo, Silvia and Juliana Cintra, for over twenty years the gallery has worked with a range of established and emerging artists, engaging with a diversity of practices. Represented artists currently include: Alexandre Canonico, Amilcar de Castro, Ana Maria Tavares, Carlito Carvalhosa, Chiara Banfi, Cinthia Marcelle, Cristina Canale, Daniel Senise, Henrique Oliveira, Iole de Freitas, Isidora Gajic, Laercio Redondo, Luiz Ernesto, Marcius Galan, Maria Klabin, Mariana Galender, Miguel Rio Branco, Nelson Leirner, Omar Salomão, Pedro Motta, Renata Har, Rodrigo Matheus, Sebastião Salgado.
Miriam La Rosa spoke with Juliana Cintra about the development and trajectory of their activity, discussing both challenges and opportunities encountered by commercial galleries in Brazil. These encompass economic factors such as the high taxes of import and export of artworks and the consequent impact on the Brazilian art market and artist mobility; political issues such as the worrying rise of the extreme right at the head of the country – and how this influences the relationship between government and culture – and structural points, as regards the interaction of the private sector with artists, collectors, and public organisations like museums. Juliana shared a very thorough and honest perspective, bringing light to the importance, for Brazilian commercial galleries, of being part of the international picture without losing touch with local reality, where openness and change are particularly needed.
Miriam La Rosa: The gallery is the fusion of Silvia Cintra Galeria de Arte, your mother’s original space, and Box 4, a project independently managed by you. Can you tell me a little bit about the background of this joint-forces endeavour? Why did you start your own space instead of working with your mother since the beginning?
Juliana Cintra: The first gallery was a small place in Ipanema, which my mother opened in the 1990s. In 1999, I began working with her, only to realise I needed more autonomy to develop things that were closer to me. She agreed and gave me the summer to do whatever I wanted at the gallery. I started with a show called The Summer Show, which still happens every January; now, it has been going on for 14 years. The first one was in 2003. It was a huge success. At that time, Brazil did not have galleries working with young artists. Places like Galeria Vermelho in São Paulo and A Gentil Carioca in Rio de Janeiro opened only in 2004. It was a moment when everyone was looking for emerging talent. I noticed this trend and decided to bring young artists to my mother’s gallery. It was hard, because I did not have much freedom, she already had a solid and consistent programme. I thought it was better to open another space without stopping working with her. In 2006, Box 4 was located next to Silvia Cintra Galeria de Arte. We used to hold openings at the same time; it was like a complementary project. After a few years of independent yet interlinked practice, we began looking for a new location together and in 2010 we found the current one: an old house, which we re-built from scratch. Now it is a unified project; for this reason, we thought it was also time to change name. Galeria Silvia Cintra + Box 4 highlights this process and the fact that both galleries have a legacy, which we kept alive after the merge. Whereas Box 4 began with 8 artists, we progressively reached a more equal number between established and younger practitioners.
MLR: How did your mother start?
JC: She started at the beginning of the 1980s. At that time, in Brazil, there were no galleries representing artists, it was a more informal arrangement. She used to work as an advisor for big companies like City Bank and IBM. These companies were buying art to build collections. She had an office and was working with artists to find them exhibitions in Museums, but did not have a place to do her own shows. Hence, in the 1990s she opened the gallery. The end of the 90s was when the Brazilian market changed, before then, it was very common for artists to sell works in their studios. By the close of the century, galleries became stronger and the whole field more professionalised.
MLR: Do you feel that this happened simultaneously with Europe and the United States?
JC: I think that in Brazil the process of professionalisation occurred later. Nowadays, galleries have huge costs, for instance, with the participation in international art fairs. Brazil has high taxes and it is so complicated to do shows abroad. It is almost impossible to both import and export artists and artworks. Especially now, we are rethinking everything both politically and economically: it is a big mess. We have so much to do. I am part of the committee of an association of commercial galleries in Rio de Janeiro. We try to do a lot to improve this situation in order to bring curators and collectors to Brazil, for this reason we work together with the government.
MLR: So is there an active dialogue and cooperation with the government? I seemed to understand that cultural projects in Brazil, in general, and in the region of Rio de Janeiro, in particular, are not chiefly supported by the government.
JC: There is an ongoing dialogue between the government and cultural producers. Though the involvement of the government in culture is a double-edged sword. I am especially involved with an agency called the Apex, which helps different branches of the cultural field, from cinema to theatre, fashion and art. The aim of the programme is to foster the exportation of the Brazilian arts. The government gives each sector a certain amount of funding every two years. I think that for the association of commercial galleries this is close to $1.5 million. The committee of which I am part decides how to use this funding to improve the ways we export Brazilian products. In particular, we use the amount to support galleries in doing international art fairs. For instance, depending on size, galleries get something like $3000/4000 to take part in a fair. For a young gallery this is almost half of the fee of a booth: very helpful for enterprises at their beginnings. In addition, we employ the money to also invite international collectors and curators to come to Brazil, two or three times a year. We organise groups and meetings and we fly these individuals here for free, with the goal of showing them Brazilian art to engage with and, for collectors, to possibly buy. This is the part of the project that we have more feedback on, to bring people that can buy art. We do not bring artists. It is something that has to be very well connected with the fact that we can increase sales. The association counts around 40 galleries and we have such a committee made of 5/6 galleries who decide how to use the funding. So this is a very good programme developed together with the government.
On the contrary, we have a lot of other problems. I imagine you have heard about the situation of shows being censured like the case of Queermuseu: this is crazy. We do not have a dialogue with the government in this respect. Their position towards inclusion of a diversity of voices within the cultural sector is very controversial. There is closeness instead of openness and censorship is spreading; this is very worrying. The growth of the censorship movement is scary. At the moment, we are closer to dictatorship than democracy. I think that the direction of the government in 2018 will decide the route of the next 20 years in Brazil. We have the extreme right coming in very aggressively. We have to keep doing what we know and we are good at. We have to make our voice heard. This demands responsibility. I know a lot of people that are going away from the country, moving to Portugal, to the United States or to the UK. Portugal is really undergoing a good transition, but I feel that, ultimately, they are not very different from Brazil. They also live in circles like us; we are their former colony after all. If I had to choose a place to live, honestly, I would not know where to go. We have to keep on moving and fighting.
On a more practical, and still very relevant, note, we also have issues with customs. To give you an example, we represent an artist that lives between Rio and Berlin. She has a company in Brazil she sells work through, and pays her taxes with, and everything is correct. However, if she wanted to send me a work from Berlin I would have to pay for a huge amount of taxes to nationalise the work. How do you nationalise a Brazilian artist/artwork? The cost would be 100% of the present work. Hence, we have a lot of problems to solve. On the one hand we have an agency to promote and increase sales abroad, and on the other we cannot bring anything or export anything outside of the country. This forces us to only work locally. Everybody asks me why I do not represent international artists: well, it is complicated. During art fairs, a lot of galleries invite me to do something together, like exchange artists. Though I cannot sell works of a non-Brazilian artist at the same price that someone would do in Europe or the United States. I would have to pay so much more to sell the work here and it becomes impossible. In this respect, Brazil is like an island. I firmly believe that we produce a lot of good art. We make an effort to promote and sell it at international art fairs – for instance, we just had a Brazilian gallery winning the best booth at Frieze – but if you want to do a show with international artists it is better if you bring them here to spend time and produce the work inside the country; like in a residency. However, there are other costs involved in this process. Sometimes depending on the type of work, it is impossible for the artist to leave their studio. Consequently, it would be overly expensive for a gallery of our size to reconstruct the studio of some very well established artist. We would love for the government to understand this. I believe we have the same difficulty with the import/export of all Brazilian forms of art and culture. Brazil is very different from other countries in art-terms.
MLR: What do you think the solution could be to solve the issue of costs in import and export?
JC: The law would have to change. We are trying through the association of commercial galleries, but it is hard, especially in this period. The next president should, (must!), do something to lower these taxes and simplify the procedures. In fact, it is not only expensive but also complicated to either buy or sell artworks. Collecting takes almost six months. I do truly hope for things to change because this problem affects every sector of the economy.
MLR: With these considerations in mind, did you ever think of opening another location in Europe or the United States?
JC: Well, there are a lot of Brazilian galleries following this trend, especially because of the logistic we have discussed. It is easier, for a gallery that does a lot of fairs abroad, to have a centre in the United States or Europe; you would not have taxes of import/export. I do not have this desire at the moment. We have a small yet efficient structure here and I would not want for it to become massive. To a certain extent, I like to work locally. Brazil is a huge country with a lot of problems to solve and things to engage with. For instance, if you look at the pyramid of people that could potentially buy art, those who really buy it are a very small percentage. We have a lot to do in connecting people with the arts. Obviously, our gallery periodically takes part in international art fairs, including Frieze New York, The Armory Show and Art Basel. For us it is important to be out there, but we need a very thorough plan to do so, because Brazil is too far away and these undertakings can be expensive. I reinforce the idea that it is really important to show Brazilian artists outside of Brazil. Though, whereas for many galleries the main project is to be international, ours is to be part of an international discourse without losing the goal of being locally involved in an active and relevant manner.
MLR: Following the line of dialogue and cooperation, how would you describe the relationship between the private sector of corporate companies and commercial galleries, and the public sector of museums in Brazil?
JC: We have some cases of good museums doing well, though the majority does not have enough funding to support the realisation of a show; hence galleries help them. In this respect, I think that the work of commercial galleries should be better acknowledged, because we support a huge structure. Our job is not only to sell artworks. Often, without the intervention and support of the private sector art is hardly produced. With the current crisis, museums are seeing less and less support from corporate companies as well, those that in the past were directing big sums of money towards them.
MLR: How would you describe the Brazilian art market?
JC: From 2009 to 2014 we had a boom in the market and a lot of young people beginning to buy art. It was a great moment. Then the crisis kicked in and all turned out difficult. I still believe that the market will rise again. The 95% of the Brazilian collectors only buy Brazilian art, because of the costs I mentioned. A few years ago, the local art fairs saw the participation of big international galleries such as Gagosian and White Cube. Everybody was coming to Brazil until they realised that it was very hard. Even if individuals are interested and want to buy, there is so much bureaucracy that they give up. White Cube opened in São Paulo to later close. There are galleries that think it is good to be working in a small, close, market, because they feel they have more agency and opportunities to sell. I think otherwise that it is good to encounter openness and diversification, embracing the challenge offered by international competitors.
MLR: Talking more specifically about the trajectory of Silvia Cintra + Box 4: in which way does the gallery support its artists?
JC: I do not like the idea of a gallery that does the work of a museum or a curator. I think it can be toxic. I see myself like a bridge between the market and the art. Sometimes, I have to say to the artists that although what they have in mind is great, it is hard to ship; it is fragile or not really marketable. Sometimes, especially with young artists, I have to show them the practical side of things. If I work with an artist, I have to give them the freedom they need to produce, but since they also want to sell we have to arrange things to work for both sides. Some artists can be insecure and call me asking for an opinion. I do always give them my opinion, but I do not want to influence their concepts. Occasionally, (mostly young) artists want to do a museum-like show in the gallery. But I am not a museum and I believe that, yes, in the gallery you can do something that is not necessarily for sale, but you cannot do a museum show. There is a difference between museum production and gallery production.
MLR: So what do you think of the very current trend of galleries such as Hauser & Wirth or Thaddaeus Ropac, which are increasingly developing a museum-like practice?
JC: Simply that this is not the work I want to do. I do not want to be a huge company. If my gallery went that way, I did not have the time to do what I really like doing. Meaning to be close with the clients and the artists. Perhaps, I would be closer to lawyers and accountants. I am very happy with the present structure of the gallery. I do not like the idea of spending my life on an airplane. My mother and I travel a lot and do the homework, but with some limits and a very clear set of purposes.
The current show at Silvia Cintra + Box 4 is Você vê os pássaros? Sempre quis que você visse os pássaros daqui: Omar Salomão. (19 October – 18 November). To find out about past, current and future projects, please visit the gallery website: http://www.silviacintra.com.br
Featured Image: Juliana and Silvia Cintra. Image Courtesy of Silvia Cintra + Box 4.
Miriam La Rosa