Contemporary Brazilian Art from theMuseum of Modern Art, São Paulo
explores themes of tradition, transformation, and subversion 

text and photos courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

Adriana Varejão, Dioneia (série Carnívoras) (Dioneia [Carnivorous Series]), 2012. Oil and gesso on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo Collection, Gift of the Artist. Photo by Renato Parada.

In an era of globalization, old stereotypes of Brazil as a land of Carmen Miranda and carnaval have begun to give way to views of a burgeoning economy, beset by income inequalities. As our understanding of Brazilian culture transcends tourist attractions and nightly-news talking points, what does this mean for the question of authenticity? How can we begin to approach the essence of a complex culture that many of us know only through commercialized, highly-mediated images? 

Odires Mlászho, Marcus Aurelius (da série: Cavo um fossil replete de anzóis) (Marcus Aurelius [From the series: I Dig Up a  Fossil Full of Hooks]), 1996. Photograph. Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo Collection, Gift of José Mindlin. Photo by Romulo Fialdini. 

The upcoming exhibition Past/Future/Present: Contemporary Brazilian Art from the Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo examines this question in the context of artistic practice. For the first time in the United States, Past/Future/Present brings to Phoenix Art Museum a rare panorama of the most innovative art produced in Brazil from the 1990s to the 2010s.

Open to the public beginning on First Friday, September 1, through December 31, Past/Future/Present features 70 artworks created by 59 artists in diverse media, including painting, sculpture, installation, photography, video, and performance. This varied selection of works highlights the perils of any attempt to define some quality approaching authenticity, or essence. When the artists’ shared nationality is the common denominator, what other qualities make their work akin to others? What, in other words, is “Brazilian” about contemporary Brazilian art?


Keila Alaver, Sem título (Untitled), 2000. Leather, photograph, and wood. Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo Collection, Loan from Eduardo Brandão and Jan Fjeld. Photo by Ding Musa. 

“We are delighted to welcome the MAM’s extraordinary collection to Phoenix,” says Amada Cruz, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “At the Museum, we are committed to bringing the world to our city. Past/Future/Present is a testament not only to the extraordinary caliber of the MAM’s collection, but also to the benefits enjoyed by communities near and far whenever there is successful collaboration between international institutions.”

Past/Future/Present is organized around five themes: The Body/The Social Body; Shifting Identities; Landscape, Reimagined; Impossible Objects; and The Reinvention of the Monochrome. The vast variation of styles, subject matter, and media in each nucleus highlight the impossibility of defining a national artistic style. This artistic cross-section instead reveals that there are no universal formal traits among contemporary Brazilian artists, and that brasilidade, or “Brazilianness,” cannot be defined as a fixed “essence” tied to physical geography. Rather, these works’ commonalities revolve around allusions to shared histories, indigenous mythologies, social norms (and transgressions), and both tributes to and subversions of national art histories.

Lia Chaia, Minhocão (detail), 2006. Video. Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo Collection, Loan from Eduardo Brandão and Jan Fjeld. Photo by Edouard Fraipont. 

As the title implies, Past/Future/Present illustrates how Brazil’s most celebrated contemporary artists maintain creative dialogues with past national artistic traditions while also looking toward the future with a global perspective and boundless creativity.

“This selection of works from the Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo, displays the adeptness with which Brazilian artists have adapted to the realities of globalization,” said Vanessa Davidson, PhD, the Shawn and Joe Lampe Curator of Latin American Art. “They speak fluently in artistic languages spotlighted on the global stage at the same time that their art, imbued with both local specificity and universal resonance, has itself become an international reference point.” For this exhibition, co-curators Dr. Davidson and Dr. Cauê Alves selected pioneering, experimental works to share with the Phoenix community. “Because the MAM-SP houses one of the most important collections of Brazilian art in the world,” said Dr. Davidson, “this exhibition is only one constellation of artworks among many others that could be imagined. It is not intended as a definitive look at contemporary artistic production in Brazil, but rather aimed to contribute to the ongoing conversation about what Brazilian art is and can be.”

Past/Future/Present is a singular opportunity for American audiences to experience an in-depth look at the practice of contemporary Brazilian artists now recognized as the pioneers of their generation. The exhibition also features several historical anchors that illustrate conceptual continuities between past and present, such as works by Waltercio Caldas, Lenora de Barros, Antonio Dias, Anna Bella Geiger, José Leonilson, Antonio Manuel, Cildo Meireles, and Carlos Zilio, among others.

During the course of the exhibition, featured artists Laura Lima, Vik Muniz, and Jac Leirner will travel from Brazil to Phoenix to give public lectures on their artistic practice. Beginning in August, the Museum will also host a Past/Future/ Present film series, bringing an even wider view of Brazil to Phoenix through screenings of five films.

Dora Longo Bahia, Fúlvio e a Medusa (Fúlvio and the Medusa), 2001. Cibrachrome transparency, light box, and alabaster. Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo Collection, Loan from Eduardo Brandão and Jan Fjeld. Photo by Ding Musa. 

Past/ Future/ Present: Contemporary Brazilian Art

from the Museum of Modern Art, São Paulo 

September 1 – December 31

SEE MORE Past/ Future/ Present

In conjunction with the exhibition, Phoenix Art Museum will be hosting a number of Past/Future/Present-themed events to accompany the exhibition. For details on all events, please visit or

First Friday | September 1, 6 – 10 pm 

Coinciding with the opening day of the exhibition, the Museum will host a Past/Future/Present-inspired First Friday event. Beginning at 6 pm, general admission will be waived (as part of the normal First Friday voluntary-donation, free-access hours) and the exhibition will be open to the general public. There will be live music, Brazilian dance performances (samba, oxum, frevo, capoeira and more), a cash bar, and activities throughout the Museum. Admission to Past/Future/Present is $5 for the general public and free for Museum Members. Reserve tickets in advance at

Logan Lecture Series: Visiting Artist Lectures 

Throughout the course of the exhibition, featured artists Laura Lima, Vik Muniz, and Jac Leirner will travel from Brazil to give public lectures at the Museum on their artistic practice and engage with our community:

October 11 | Laura Lima November 8 | Vik Muniz December 13 | Jac Leirner

Tickets to all lectures are free for Museum Members and are $5 for the general public. Advance tickets will be available at This lecture series is made possible through the generosity of Kent and Vicki Logan. 

Past/Future/Present Film Series

This film series explores Brazilian cinema through an introductory selection of Brazil’s most well-known directors and historically-pivotal works. Features include Cinema Novo, the cinematic movement that brought Brazil to international acclaim, as well as documentaries that capture contemporary Brazil in both life and cinematic practice. Free for Museum Members and included with general admission.

August 27 | Central Station November 11, 12 | Waste Land September 17 | Vidas Secas December 17 | High-Rise October 1 | Bye Bye Brazil 

All films will take place at 2 pm in Whiteman Hall. Advance tickets will be available This film series is made possible through the generosity of Angela and Leonard Singer. 

Family Activities: Discount Tire Free Family Weekend and Make It! 

During September, the Museum’s free family activities will celebrate Brazil and themes from Past/Future/Present:

o Discount Tire Free Family Weekend: Global

September 9, 10 | 10 am – 5 pm, 12 – 5 pm

The Museum’s Global weekend will feature interactive capoeira and samba performances, opportunities to explore objects in the Museum’s collection from all over the world, and activities led by Phoenix-based teaching artists to help families discover how artists draw global inspiration from various cultures, places, and time periods.

Free general admission courtesy of Discount Tire. Admission to Past/Future/Present is $5 for the general public and free for Museum Members. Reserve tickets in advance at

o Make It!

Wednesday, September 27

3:30 – 7:30 pm

The Museum will host a free art-making activity inspired by works in Past/Future/Present. Free and open to the public.