March 2013 saw the partial opening of MAR (Museum of Art, Rio) in Praça Mauá, at the north end of Av. Rio Branco. Designed by Bernardes + Jacobsen Arquitetura, the museum itself is an anachronism, integrating three existing buildings with distinct functions – the palace of Dom João, the old central bus station and a police building – beneath an undulating canopy. Visitors enter through an opening in a glass wall which reveals the museum atrium (or “public square”) to the street, but separates it all the same. On purchasing a ticket, they are ushered up to the 6th floor for the views and the restaurant – a place which is so pretentious that it serves beer in wine glasses.
You don’t need to see the view from the top to recognise that MAR is a strategic part of an ongoing process of urban regeneration, with anticipated completion in 2015, just in time for the Olympics. Our walk to the space from the nearest metro station at Uruguaiana took us through streets lined with people sleeping in a city where, according to a 2005 report by the United Nations, an estimated 2,500 people sleep rough. Read about the report here. The Time Out Rio de Janeiro website even recommends the area’s social problems as a titillating prelude to the art on show, describing MAR as “an excellent excuse to come to what was until recently a gritty, dangerous part of the city and witness first-hand its ongoing transformation and a slice of carioca history being made, before the final vestiges of the seedier side of traditional port ‘entertainment’ are banished forever.” Read the article in full here. Though painfully common here, the visibility of the problem of homelessness in the shadow of MAR brought to mind Rosalyn Deutsche’s Evictions: Art and Spatial Politics, and her critique of art’s use to gentrify urban space by stealth by evicting those whom art ‘others’.
Inside, the exhibition spaces include a permanent display relating to the history and context of Rio de Janeiro. The display is thematically organised, but feels like a mistake shop – a jumble of oil paintings, antique maps, advertising posters, video works, tourist trinkets, photographs, glassware and unrealised artists’ proposals. In amongst all this stuff, there seemed to be some important attempts to address Rio de Janeiro’s colonial history, and the complexities of racial difference and discrimination, but any nuance was frustratingly lost in the visual clamour.
The temporary exhibition spaces, which are spread over two floors, are more conventional – white walls, lots of space for circulating. During our visit, we were lucky enough to see Xavier Le Roy’s Retrospective, a performance by a group of dancers who present individual Xavier Le Roy ‘retrospectives’ in rotation, for the duration of the exhibition. The dancer whose personal story we heard spoke about indecision, unexpected change, and her attempts to negotiate practice and theory through her PhD and post-doc. Interspersed with her humming and dancing extracts of other works – flurries of activity that made speaking more laboured – her narrative really connected. The work raised the issue of reenactment, or retrospective, as a performance in its own right, and questions of how time is wasted, occupied, or produced – by the artist, by the visitor, by whoever we might encounter beyond the limits of the gallery space.