The magnificent garden at the Williams’ residence in the Tijuca Forest.

 

RIO DE JANEIRO – We flew from São Paul to Rio, and the vibe immediately changed. The pace here is more laid back and the atmosphere is festive. The city offers gorgeous sun-drenched views of the sea, great collections and more fabulous Brazilian cuisine. Our first stop was the Tijuca Forest, a protected rainforest just outside the city, where we visited the magnificent home of Maria Thereza Williams. When Maria Thereza’s father bought the property (the former residence of the British admiral Thomas Cochrane) in 1930, he had the garden restored to its true English design. The house, the art, the scenery are incomparable, and there was more good news: we were treated to a lunch of feijoada, Brazil’s national dish. Feijoada is made with beans, pork and beef (including in this case delicious smoked sausage) and accompanied by traditional side dishes including rice, chopped fried collard greens, peeled and sliced oranges, and farofa (lightly roasted manioc flour – for more on this staple, see my post from São Paulo). It’s not for the faint of heart: after you eat it, you are decidedly only interested in a siesta.


Left: Rio de Janeiro’s Museum of Modern Art, photographed by Leonardo Finotti. Right: Black risotto with duck at Laguiole, the outstanding restaurant in Rio’s MoMA.

 

The next day we visited the Museum of Modern Art, a Brazilian modernist gem by the architect Affonso Eduardo Reidy. The museum houses the collection of Gilberto Chateaubriand, an avid collector who amassed an extensive collection of modern Brazilian art. We had the opportunity to see part of this collection in an exhibition curated by Luis Camilo Osorio, who accompanied us in the tour. Inside the museum we lunched at Laguiole, where the chef prepared an outstanding “modernist” menu especially for our group, including a wonderful black rice risotto with morsels of duck.

Later that afternoon we visited two of Brazil’s most celebrated contemporary artists, Vik Muniz and Adriana Varejão, both of whom are frequently featured in our auctions. In his work, Vik makes use of chocolate, sugar, and even trash to create recognizable imagery which he then photographs.  His movie Waste Land depicts the story of garbage pickers from a dump in the outskirts of Rio, with whom Vik created his “Pictures of Garbage” series. He received us at his beautiful home for an informal conversation about his work, even though he had just become a father only a few days earlier.

Left: Sotheby’s Maria Bonta de la Pezuela and Jessica Yakubowicz with new father Vik Muniz. Right: Adriana Varejão in her studio.

 

Next we went to see Adriana Varejão in her studio, where she was working on a new series of large “ceramic plates”.  These are actually oil paintings on concave surfaces, painted front and back, which grew out of the artist’s obsession to reconstruct the imagery of Bordalo Pinheiro’s 19th-century Faience.    Adriana was previously married to Bernardo Paz, who founded the Inhotim Institute, our next destination.

Some of Adriana Varejão’s new work in her Rio studio.

 

We boarded a plane for the pilgrimage to Brumadinho, near Belo Horizone in southeast Brazil, to spend a day at the famed Inhotim Contemporary Art Institute and Botanical Garden. This not-to-be-missed destination is the brainchild of mining magnate Bernardo Paz, who, in the 1980s, converted a 3,000-acre ranch into a sprawling botanical garden, designed by the late landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx.  Paz personally greeted us at Inhotim’s restaurant, which had one of the most varied and colorful buffets I have ever seen.  There was a sumptuous emphasis on fruits and vegetables, including artfully arranged platters of some of my favorites – fried plantains, onions roasted to a golden perfection, a cake made entirely of luscious figs, roasted squash enlivened by pink peppercorns. I think I made three or four passes at the buffet, until I remembered that there would be another meal in my future that day.

 


Fried plantains and roasted onions at the Inhotim buffet.

 

Inhotim’s spectacular gardens are filled with more than 500 works of art. We spent hours touring pavilions and outdoor installations by noted Brazilian and international artists such as Hélio Oiticica, Yayoi Kusama, Anish Kapoor, Thomas Hirschhorn, Doug Aitken, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Steve McQueen, Cildo Meireles and Vik Muniz. One of my favorites was Doug Aitken’s sonic pavilion, situated with great vistas to the surrounding mountains, and containing nothing more than a 633 foot hole drilled into the earth. In it are high-sensitivity geological microphones, which literally deliver the sounds of the earth, from a light swooshing sound to a deep rumble. I also loved Matthew Barney’s mud-caked tractor gripping a white tree that had been used as a float in a carnival parade and now resides within a geodesic dome. This is Land Art at its very best.

Clockwise from left:  A glimpse of Inhotim through Olafur Eliasson’s “Viewing Machine”; Matthew Barney’s “De Lama Lama”; Doug Aitken’s Sonic Pavilion; Katia Mindlin peeking through Olafur’s Viewing Machine.

As the closing event to this unforgettable trip, we were hosted by Lilibeth Monteiro de Carvalho and her family for dinner at their spectacular art deco home in the hills of Santa Teresa.  As we drove up through Santa Teresa’s winding streets in our mini-buses, the adrenaline mounted, and as we reached the top the energy immediately dissipated with the live samba band that received us.  The patriarch of the Monteiro de Carvalho family, Alberto, purchased the house in the ’30s, and lavished attention on every detail; he even commissioned fixtures from the best Art Deco designers of his time, such as Jean Perzel and Lalique, whom he knew personally. After a buffet which included all of our new Brazilian favorites, we decamped back to the Hotel Fasano to sleep off the capairinhas, and dream of our final day in paradise.

Garden and view of tables at the Monteiro de Carvalho home.