The Wexner Center for the Arts is bringing some tropical flair to the heart of Columbus.
“Cruzamentos: Contemporary Art in Brazil,” a multidisciplinary arts exhibit exploring the culture of Brazil, officially opens to the public Saturday, but its initial roots trace back to 2011.
Three years ago, the Wexner Center received a $782,300 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in order to support “a multidisciplinary, four-year initiative” in the arts.
Erik Pepple, spokesman for the Wexner Center, said that without the Mellon Grant, this exhibit would not have been possible.
“The Mellon Grant is an extraordinarily generous gift,” Pepple said. “It means a great deal to the Center that such an esteemed group would support our research and work with such enthusiasm.”
The Wexner Center staff gathered together to brainstorm and initiate a direction in which to take this open-ended funding.
After hours of discussion, Via Brasil, the overarching project of which Cruzamentos is a massive part, reared its head.
“We took our cues from the university,” said Jennifer Lange, co-curator of the Cruzamentos exhibit. “The university was putting together its Global Gateways initiative and had plans to make a presence in areas around the world. We looked at all the countries they were looking at, but we were looking for something significant for the art world also. We decided that China was done often, so we chose Brazil.”
Jennifer Wray, the marketing and media assistant of the Wexner Center, explained further why the staff took an interest in Brazil.
“Brazil is having a moment in a lot of ways,” Wray said. “The World Cup is headed their way. The Summer Olympics are going to be happening. There is, politically, a lot of change and activity. The spotlight of the world is on Brazil right now.”
Brazil is set to host the Summer Olympics in 2016.
Lange explained Via Brasil is a massive initiative to immerse the arts community at the Wexner Center in the culture of the South American land.
The project includes a book translations project, a contemporary film series, an art exhibition and a series of individual performing arts events, each of which are centered around Brazilian culture.
In addition, there is funding for a post-doctoral position that allows a graduate student to teach a seminar based on the “Cruzamentos” exhibit.
All the while, information about Brazil and its culture was mostly unknown to the Wexner Center staff.
“We were really starting from scratch and we wanted to do it right. We wanted it to be meaningful and complete and we wanted to do it in a way it hadn’t been done before,” Lange said. “We were trying to figure out how to make connections and relationships. One of the curators said ‘Just come and spend a couple of weeks here and you’ll understand.’”
Lange and her colleagues took to Brazil, spending eight weeks exploring the culture and art of the area. They took Portuguese classes, visited galleries and spoke to curators. Eventually, another theme for the project came to fruition.
With the art as their guiding light, the staff at the Wexner Center began to put together Cruzamentos, which means “crossings” in Portuguese. The idea came together as the curators began to see that Brazilian artists were rarely pigeonholed into one specific style or medium.
“‘Cruzamentos’ is a metaphorical meaning for hybridity and exchange,” Lange said. “We found that in Brazil, many of these artists cross between different artistic mediums. You can understand how it’s the same artist, but they’re equally adept in both mediums.”
For example, artist Lucia Koch, who has already begun transforming the lobby of the Wexner Center into her own mirror-themed work of art, creates architectural design, sculpture and videos.
It was interesting, Lange said, that artists such as Koch were willing to travel to Columbus to work on pieces for the Wexner Center.
“Artists are just as interested in learning about Columbus as we are about them,” Lange said. “It is unprecedented for so many artists to come at various points in the exhibition, especially coming from Brazil. They’re all so open.”
In total, 80 works of art — six of which were made exclusively for the Wexner Center — by 35 different artists are set to be on display.
“This is the biggest exhibition of contemporary Brazilian art ever in North America,” Wray said. “Many of these artists have never shown their work in the United States, so it’s exciting for us.”
Lange said she believes Cruzamentos will expand goers’ perception of Brazilian culture.
“My hope is that people will have heard enough about Brazil because of the cliched reasons: the soccer, the stories, the Olympics, crime and corruption,” Lange said. “I think it’s a fascinating country for people and people want to understand it. Some of those expectations based around clichés will be met, but not in cliche ways at all…I think it will surprise people.”
In addition to free entry to the exhibit, the Wexner Center is set to work with the Department of Art to make the exhibit more interactive for students.
“There will be 10 featured artists from Brazil at the opening,” Lange said. “They will be coming to do seminars and studio visits with students in the department of the arts. There will be lots of moments for students to interact.”
The Wexner Center is hosting a preview party Friday at 7 p.m. that is free and open to the public.
The event, Wray said, is set to have snacks, drinks and a Brazilian-themed dance party, all scheduled to embrace the spirit of Brazil.
“Cruzamentos” is slated to run from Saturday to April 20 in the Wexner Center’s galleries.