FITA Magazine Vol. II / Garden Constellation

Fernanda Arruda
Instituto Inhotim Curator

Interview by Marina Caresia

Photograph © Brendon Campos
Courtesy of Instituto Inhotim

Hélio Oiticica, Invenção da cor,
Penetrável Magic Square #5, De Luxe
, 1977

We enter Inhotim as if we were Alice entering Wonderland. The gates greet us, and our eyes are covered with different green colors as we walk through one of the largest gardens we have ever experienced in our lives. We are taken by small carts on winding roads, deep into the Paraopeba Valley, in Brumadinho, 60 km from Belo Horizonte. In the middle of the road, we stop as if at different stations of an eternal path. As Lewis Carroll writes “If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there.”

    Our attention is drawn to the galleries, like architectural altars signed by the best architectural studios in the world, which house magnificent works by Claudia Andujar, Doug Aitken, Cildo Meireles, William Kentridge, Adriana Varejão, Matthew Barney, Tunga, Hélio Oiticica, Neville D’Almeida, Carroll Dunham, Marilá Dardot or Carlos Garaicoa, to name but a few.

    While crossing enraptured glances, we make a point of stopping by Chris Burden’s Beam Drop Inhotim, Olafur Elliasson’s By Means of a Sudden Intuitive Realization, Giuseppe Penone’s Elevazione, Dominique Gonzalez-Torres’ Desert Park, Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden Inhotim, and Jorge Macchi’s Piscina. We are welcomed by Inhotim’s assistant curator, Fernanda Arruda, who explains to us the experience of curating in a unique organization.

    The certainty of being in a parallel universe of exuberant tropical gardens with more than 4,300 native Brazilian and exotic species from various parts of the world, but at the same time, a universe of contemporary art creation, makes us go behind the scenes to better understand how these works are chosen and how the dynamics of the cultural projects are reinvented through the beauty of the Atlantic Forest and Cerrado biomes, scientific research, forest conservation, and environmental education.

Among the many particularities of Inhotim is its location. The museum, which was built in the middle of the Atlantic Forest, is located in Brumadinho, in the interior of the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. Thus, can we say that Inhotim contributes to the displacement of art as an urban phenomenon?

Definitely, Inhotim’s mission is to create a con- tinuous conversation between art and nature. The- re is not a place in the world that presents art in such a lush natural environment. Surprisingly to many, most of our visitors come to Inhotim for the garden and encounter the art while there; on the other hand, art visitors come for the art and are completely astonished by nature’s presence. Inho- tim would not exist in an urban environment, even with all its forests. Inhotim is a journey that starts when you leave your house.

As an accomplished curator at Instituto Inhotim, but also Apex Art, The Moore Space, Anton Kern Gallery, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, E-Flux, Galeria Luisa Strina in São Paulo, amongst others, what has your experience been like curating an outdo- or space of over “140 hectares” of forests and botanical gardens? Does the making of meaning in such a challenging space comes from years learning about the power of art?

Of course, my background helps me tremendously—especially my experience of working closely with artists—but when I started working at Inhotim, I realized I had to change my way of thinking. It was not about speed, about monthly shows, about telling short stories. It was a much slower process, where everything you do, you create, affects the whole system. Inhotim is about creating experiences, it is about a narration of a bigger story. After a few years, I started considering the development of site-specific works to be a two-phase process: first, the conception, which requires thoughts, discussions, inspirations, desire...; and then the second part, construction, which requires energy, time, patience, and above all trust. Somehow Inhotim becomes responsible for turning an artist’s idea into reality—to build something that will be seen by millions of people—and keeping their dreams alive. At the same time, ‘curated’ shows are extremely important. We have a very faithful public that is eager to acquire knowledge and to experience new things. Themed shows became a great exercise for us to explore different ways of introducing the visitor to the mu- seum’s general collection. Inhotim is also a unique and extraordinary experience for all curators. The opportunities are endless; the public is constant 
and demanding; the artists are excited and engaged; and the garden keeps flourishing.

Most of the installations in Inhotim’s gardens are site specific, i.e., they were designed to create an intrinsic and interdependent relationship with the space they occupy. However, some of them were originally conceptualized for closed places, such as museums and galleries, as is the case of Invenção da Cor, Penetrável Magic Square #5, De Luxe, by Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica, which is also one of the most popular works in the museum. As the work moves from place to place, it creates an opportunity for the re-signification of that work in a new context. What are the challenges of transposing and maintaining these installations in an open-air garden without losing the original essence of the work?

I believe the work only finds its essence when allowed to be experienced in different ways. Exhibiting Magic Square outdoors enables infinite readings of the piece: one can see it on a super-hot day, a rainy day, a quiet day, a busy day, with a concert, a theatre play, or as the background for a photograph. We usually recommend that the visitors create their own route through Inhotim. So you might start your day at Magic Square when your mind is fresh and curious, and it might create a mind set for the rest of the day; or you can see it on your way out when you are full of ideas from the other experiences you’ve accumulated throughout the day. I am sure the morning visitor has a completely different view of the piece than the afternoon visitor.

Photograph © Instituto Inhotim
Cildo Meireles, Inmensa, 1982 – 2002

Inhotim is in a symbiotic relationship with the forest territory it occupies, and because of this it is an organic place that has its landscape constantly changed by the passage of time. In fact, many of the works at Inhotim address this question. How does the cycle of nature itself impact the conception and the narrative of these works? Can we say that there is also a direct impact of these interventions on the local fauna and flora?

We have been fortunate to have a mutually informative relationship between our curatorial and production team and the artists. Creating a work for Inhotim or adding a work to Inhotim has its complexities but we seek to adjust and adapt the needs of the works and the wishes of the artists to develop an optimal situation where the work and nature are respected simultaneously. Nature not only impacts the conception of the work, it impacts the future and conservation of the work as well. Nature is a force and it is constantly showing us its power. It is a challenge for us of course, but the balance between art and nature is an intricate and important part of Inhotim’s core, so we are systematically consulting with our botanical team, studying, researching, and developing methods to keep this relationship stable and compelling.

Photographs © Instituto Inhotim
Marilá Dardot, Primeira página, 2020
Projeto ‘15 Segundos’ (15 Seconds Project)

For the years 2021-2022, Inhotim has organized itself around the theme Specific Territory, inspired by the concept of “territory” according to the studies of Brazilian geographer Milton Santos. In his book Nature of Space, Milton describes the geographical construction as a “description of the earth, its inhabitants, and their relations among themselves and the resulting works, which includes all human action on the planet”. However, a description presupposes the previous idea of a system of observation, production, and dissemination of knowledge. In this sense, can we consider contemporary art as an agglutinating element of the space, of the production of knowledge, and of the social relations waged in a given space?

Inhotim is a destination. A destination that was created to enrich people’s minds, to accumulate experiences, a place that is always evolving and never complete. In this sense, Inhotim is almost boundless, not only as a site, but also in producing knowledge and immersing the visitors in its core. There is no museum without a public—art needs interaction, participation and involvement. Inhotim used to be a farm and it is now a huge park with a botanical garden, art works, restaurants, an auditorium, and social spaces. It is a big machine that invites you to lose yourself, to embark on an immersive journey, to create your own path at your own pace. If there is a social element to the equation, contemporary art has the potential to change and create its own territory and geography.

The verb “to communicate” etymologically means “to put in common”. Considering that museums are institutions of power, what is the role of museums as creators of a “common place” to reflect on contemporary social issues? How much of this premise is reflected in Inhotim’s program?

The background of our visitors is diverse and as I said above, some of our visitors don’t come to Inhotim to see art. When acquiring or creating a new project we must keep this in mind. We try our best to please each one of our visitors; we want all of them to experience the museum in its full capacity. Most of our collection talks about social issues, most artists we collect are trying to change something, to show us something, and it is up to each of us to interpret, to enjoy and to question it. We have a lot of interactive works, but they are not necessarily flat or dull; the works we show in Inhotim can give you pleasure but there is always more to take away, we want to enrich our visitors’ minds. We want to represent artistic perspectives that explore and challenge our assumptions about contemporary art.

Photograph © William Gomes
Courtesy of Instituto Inhotim

John Ahearn and Riberto Torres, Abre a porta, 2006

Although Inhotim counts with international artists in its collection and approaches global themes, the museum is deeply connected to the local community in which it is inserted. Revisiting Milton Santos, the author also speaks extensively about re-discovering the dimension of the local to address global solutions. In what ways is Inhotim committed to creating an innovative community, making room for new realities and experiences?

The discussion about community has always been part of Inhotim’s mission, so it is a natural step to commission artists to create works that were inspired by the region, the grounds, nature, community, and local culture. That is not neces- sarily innovative, but it was our first approach to create something unique for us and for the visitors, and at the same time giving the artist the possibility of opening their minds and engendering their experiences of the region into their work. John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres moved to Brumadinho to conceive Abra a Porta, 2006 and Rodoviária de Brumadinho, 2005. They completely immersed themselves into the lives of people from Brumadinho and its surroundings. They worked closely with them in order to produce a project that would represent the perplexity of this community and their own relationship to the place. At the same time, many educational programs were created to address the local community and its inclusion in the museum. We produced concerts, theater, talks, seminars, performances, amongst others. The pandemic challenged us to create a digital platform to keep our public engaged, so we worked together with our educators, curators, and artists to generate a program that was interesting to our public and at the same time representative of the spirit of Inhotim. For that, we launched Inhotim’s ‘15 Segundos’ in 2020. Inhotim started inviting artists to develop works in digital format. The works are displayed on Full HD Led panels throughout the surrounding cities and on the museum’s Instagram page. That has been a great way to expand the museum’s physical limits.

Photographs © Pedro Motta
Courtesy of Instituto Inhotim

Jorge Macchi, Piscina, 2009

Inhotim has always had an innovative approach to contemporary art and the use of territory as a substantial part of the exhibitions, but also as a cultural mediator. Due to Covid-19, many museums had difficulties in adapting to the new reality. Did the pandemic significantly change Inhotim’s activities? What were the challenges and opportunities for the curatorial team that followed?

The pandemic was complicated for all of us, but the fact that Inhotim is part open-air and has a lot of space helped us a lot, especially with social distancing in public areas. Even before the pandemic, most of our indoor facilities only allowed a limited number of people inside in order to protect the art and enable visitors to experience the works in a calm and very personal environment. Some pavilions remain closed for the time being, unfortunately. One of the most beloved, Galeria Cosmocoma, where the public interaction is paramount, and Jorge Macchi’s pool are two examples. As curators we had to deal with postponements of events and production of new commissions. This is a challenging time, so we had to learn to deal with new parameters one day at the time, planning without knowing what was going to happen. We kept moving internally, brainstorming, and trying new ways to reach the public. We were already producing many works in-house, but the pandemic exacerbated this need and our production team worked really hard to make things happen. In a way, it was a great time to think and regroup. Inhotim is a big family and everyone did their part to keep it moving, keep it relevant. We believe art elevates people’s spirits, takes their minds to a different place. We just had an opening at Inhotim where we inaugurated new projects and it was a great sense of accomplishment. We have around 12 new projects to be produced in the near future that we are very excited about. Inhotim aims to create something meaningful for our visitors, where one can contemplate, be challenged, and enjoy themselves. We believe in the transformative power of art.

The interview to Fernanda Arruda was published on pages 42 to 48 in the Bordallo Pinheiro Garden chapter of FITA Magazine Vol. II / Garden Constellation dedicated to the city of Lisbon.
FITA Agency

Artist Management
Talent Agency 
Venice - Lisbon

Address / Avenidas Novas
1050 Lisbon, Portugal

Telephone / +351 912 199 768

E-mail /

Read The Venice Doors Tale ︎︎︎
FITA Magazine

International Arts Magazine
Yearly Publication in Volumes
︎︎︎ Vol. I / Invisible Atlas / Venice
︎︎︎ Vol. II / Garden Constellation / Lisbon
︎︎︎ Vol. III / Star Portraits / London
︎︎︎ Vol. IV / Time Travel / Berlin

Supported by Companhia Portugueza do Chá, Licor Beirão, Tinta-da-China, Smuth Socks, Art of This Place, Rimas e Batidas, Criatividade ao Lume, Hangar Design Store, Midori, E-Comunicar, Lohause & LeBond Watches.

Privacy Policy
Terms of Use

Designed by FITA - Friends In The Arts © 2023