Collector Pedro Barbosa: “People will really regret going digital” – 71Bait

Pedro Barbosa’s home in the leafy Jardins neighborhood of São Paulo is at first glance the home of any avid art collector. Minimalist sculptures, monochrome canvases, and text works hang on the walls and sit on every surface. While nothing stands in the way of a market-friendly figurative painting, the real revelation comes in the windowless garage on the ground floor, where Barbosa has built his ‘den’ next to the family’s cars, next to a perch for the parrot’.

A maze of floor-to-ceiling metal shelves houses hundreds of artist multiples, binders of historical gallery invitations, entire editions of experimental journals and esoteric publications, stacks of rare records of sound art and avant-garde performance, a library of books, and sheets of experimental composition. Barbosa says he can spend hours down here.

Cover from an exhibition catalog by Barbara Kruger at the Mary Boone Gallery, NY 1997

“There are mayfly traders,” he says. “It’s a growing market. These announcement cards sold for a single dollar 10 years ago, now they cost me about $500.” Are some more valuable than others? “Each of the Robert Barry exhibition announcement cards when the gallery was closed is something special.” (In 1969, the American artist invited to three exhibitions and informed the recipient in each case that the gallery was closing.) “I’ we got one.”

A chemical engineer by training from a family of academics and scientists, Barbosa entered banking but, having made his fortune in bond trading, now devoted most of his time to art. He bought his first artwork in 1999, a kinetic sculpture by Jesús Rafael Soto, after seeing the Venezuelan’s work at MoMA in New York.

He says his collection of archival material, built with his wife Patricia Moraes, is a natural progression from his interest in conceptualism, which attracted him for its academic rigor. “Conceptual art was often ephemeral, so in order to have a complete collection I had to look for the material that went beyond the actual art action.” Barbosa quotes Ian Wilson, the artist who died in 2020 and has not had an object for more than 50 years offered for sale. Instead, Wilson’s most iconic project was a series of public discussions in which he spoke about a specific topic but did not chronicle the event. “The only thing left is the announcement card, so I have to collect it.”

Black and white closeup of a man's face in profile against a blurred background

From the series “Posicionamentos-monumentos” by Jonathas de Andrade (2014) © Eduardo Ortega. Courtesy of the artist and Galeria Vermelho

Barbosa is aware of the national composition of his collection. “I estimate that around 40 percent of the collection is work by Brazilian artists, but that percentage is steadily declining dramatically. . . I happen to have a Brazilian passport, I happen to be here, but I’m not interested in borders and regions.”

However, there are compatriots he appreciates: the current exhibition at the non-profit gallery in central São Paulo that he opened last year includes the work of Denilson Baniwa and Cinthia Marcelle alongside international names Martine Syms and Mona Hatoum. He also raves about Jonathas de Andrade, who is representing Brazil at the Venice Biennale, and Bruno Baptistelli, a rising star from São Paulo.

Two almost black screenprinted canvases side by side, one with the word

Bruno Baptiselli’s “Language” (2015) © Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Gui Gomes

The collector bought key works from them early on, he says, including de Andrade’s Moral Census of the City of Recife (2008), a compendium of questionnaires collected after the artist posed as a census taker to get the city’s numbers in northeastern Brazil to capture views on manners and Baptistelli’s black-on-black text serigraph contrasting the two Portuguese words for black and relating to color and skin tone.

Both artists’ use of language and text is typical of Barbosa’s persistent academic tastes, as is their subtle social satire of class and race. “The issues that have my attention are global issues,” he says emphatically. “They are political subjects.”

He describes the lynchpin of the collection as Hans Haacke, the German artist known for his razor-sharp political commentary. Helmsboro Country (1990), a screenprint by the artist, depicts what appears to be an enlarged and unfolded pack of Marlboro Red cigarettes, the brand name of which has been replaced with that of Jesse Helms, an American Senator funded by the Philip Morris tobacco company.

Perhaps understandable given his previous profession, the work that attracts Barbosa often raises questions of finance and ethics. His last purchase was a work from the economic poem Series by the Spanish artist Oriol Vilanova. It shows a series of numbers painted white on black, each representing the stages of Barbosa and Vilanova’s haggling during the commissioning process. They finally agreed on the price of €13,000. Another recent find was a limestone wall sculpture by Carolyn Lazard, a young American artist exploring the themes of disability and work.

Rectangular speckled glass sculpture

Hans Haacke’s “Weather Box” (1963-64) © Courtesy of the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery

“Brazilian art is overpriced on the financial side,” says Barbosa. “You hardly see a name that isn’t Brazilian in the museums or galleries, and if you stop showing foreigners, it has consequences for the market. You can now buy an amazing Hans Haacke for less than any of these great Brazilian painters.” This frustration at the country’s seeming remoteness is one of the reasons he opened his gallery last year, which is programmed by his team of up to nine researchers and residencies for artists and art historians to delve into the archive.

Barbosa admits that his collecting zeal is a zeal for perfection, especially when it comes to ephemera. “So often artists’ résumés turn out to be incomplete, so it’s always amazing when you find an invitation card to a show that isn’t listed.”

Surely there’s a danger that this email culture is dying? Barbosa agrees. “People will really regret going digital. If you don’t print, delete your history.” He adds that physical material like gallery ads or exhibition posters also have academic value. “I have 480 articles on Lawrence Weiner’s career. It’s crazy!” The American artist was known for his work with typographic text. “But when you look at all these cards together, you can clearly see how Weiner’s aesthetic has changed over time. It’s beautiful. And it is one fascinating resource for anyone studying graphic design for example, something you don’t get by just studying your work. It’s a different way of approaching your practice.”

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