Art collecting in São Paulo is big business. Anyone who joined the crowds at last year’s SP-Arte, rubbing shoulders with the paulistano arterati, quaffing champagne and popping sugared almonds, could tell you that. There have never been so many buyers, according to one smiling dealer at the show last May. Reports from December 2011’s Art Basel Miami Beach, where Brazilian galleries were out in force, also suggested a growing phalanx of well-to-do Brazilians interested not only in snapping up Miami real estate, but also art for their private collections. In November, the Miami Herald reported on the phenomenon of Brazilians buying fine art to leave in their fine Miami apartments, spooked by exorbitant import duties – we’re talking 40 per cent – on artworks into Brazil.
The downside of the collection boom is, of course, that some of the work being collected will never be seen in public again. And though there’s a tradition of private collections open to the public in many cities around the world, it’s rare here in São Paulo, where the vast quantity of privately owned fine art stays behind closed doors, viewed by a privileged few.
But that’s not the style of one SP collector, Oswaldo Costa. His personal collection of contemporary Brazilian art is open to anyone who calls, and it’s Costa himself who swings back the industrial door of his gallery, Coleção Particular, set down a leafy dead end in Pinheiros.
‘I run my space on a shoestring,’ he tell us, ‘with no employees and minimal expenses. It sounds like a lot of work, but I haven’t been overwhelmed, and it has so far been very rewarding. My motivation is to understand the organising principle behind this collection, by what now seem like different versions of me, since one’s taste constantly evolves. My father was a civil servant, so I suppose there is also a desire to fulfill a public vocation, no matter how specialised or potentially elitist,’ he adds.
One 2011 exhibition, on the 1980s, was selected from a collection amassed over forty years. ‘All the pieces are Brazilian,’ says Costa. ‘I started out buying here because I didn’t have much money and it was cheap – though it has become expensive. Some pieces were given to me; some I paid for in twenty instalments. Many of the artists are good friends of mine now.’
Visitors to the gallery receive a comparably friendly reception, treated to a personal tour that’s peppered with anecdotes on some of the most famous artists in Brazil, and with the chance to view works by artists like Geraldo de Barros, Cássio Michalany and Cildo Meireles. One work by the late Leonilson, whose work was the subject of a retrospective at Itaú Cultural early in 2011, was made on Banana Republic wrapping paper after a shopping trip in New York. Another, by Leda Catunda, is made from the jigsaws the artist was obsessed with at the time.
A tour with Costa also gives a delicious sense of the way artists have grown into their styles. Sergio Romagnolo, who recently had a solo show at Casa Triângulo, started out working as a painter, but Costa was more interested in collecting his unusual plastic sculptures, which had a roughness he enjoyed. Two works of couples embracing, hewn rudely out of plastic, have a cartoon-like naïve quality and a particular combination of subject and form that gives the impression of people not yet fully formed: raw, teenage passion, explosive and potentially dangerous.
Costa’s tales of artists bring the often opaque world of contemporary art alive and give a personal flavour to the collection that’s not usually found in commercial or public galleries.
‘My mission is to make art accessible,’ says the collector. ‘It seems kind of silly to just put it up and let people get on with it … When collections are donated to a museum they usually lose their distinctiveness. By visiting private collections, a viewer is able to experience not only the art but also the taste of the collector, which is usually a good reflection of the taste of the time.’
Coleção Particular is at Rua Artur de Azevedo 51, Pinheiros, 2365 9575, colecaoparticular.com. It can be visited by appointment most days – call, or leave a comment on the site requesting a day and time.