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Museums in the 21st century are pulling out all the stops when it comes to installations, none more so than the ever-global Guggenheim Museum. For "Brazil: Body & Soul," currently on view at the Gugg's Fifth Avenue headquarters, Oct. 18, 2001-Jan. 27, 2002, French architect Jean Nouvel took one look at the interior of Frank Lloyd Wright's organic white spiral and painted the entire thing... black. What's more, Wright's sandy-colored terrazzo floor is covered in dark gray linoleum, with workmen painstakingly reproducing Wright's pattern of large bronze circles by hand with white paint. Spotlights are everywhere. The overall effect is "dramatic and mysterious," as the museum says, though that has nothing in particular to do with Brazilian art. (As for the silly primitivist notion of a "union of body and soul" -- well, this is show biz, after all.)

Installed in the center of the space is the monumental 44-foot-tall, carved and gilded Baroque altarpiece, an impressive sight despite being only partly completed by the time of the exhibition opening. "It won't be finished till November," said a carpenter at the press preview, "but don't quote me." The more than 350 objects in the exhibition include a goodly selection of polychromed religious sculptures, an array of colonial-era religious paintings, a few landscapes by 17th-century Dutch traveler Frans Post (whose work hit a new 3 auction high earlier this month), several bays of ex-votos and folk art carvings, and even some jewelry.

Up towards the top of the ramp is a selection of works by Brazilian modernists (Tarsila do Amaral, Anita Malfatti, Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, Candido Portinari), several bays of works from the hippie 1960s and '70s (Sérgio Camargo, Lygia Clark, Hélio Oiticica, Franz Weissman), plus big pieces by contemporary Brazilian art stars (Miguel Rio Branco, Vik Muniz, Ernesto Neto, Tunga, Adriana Varejão). Several projections and flat-screen videos in various corners and stairwells of the museum, including a bit on Brasilia and a high-temperature film of the erotic carnival, round out the exhibition.

The show is organized by a team of curators headed by Edward J. Sullivan, chairman of the fine arts department at NYU, along with São Paulo Biennial chief curator Nelson Aguilar, Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo director Emanoel Araújo, and São Paulo Museu de Arte Sacra director Mari Marino. Why Brazil at the Gugg? Why not! And besides, the country has one of the largest economies in South America, and would be a great place for still another Guggenheim satellite branch. After its run in New York, "Brazil: Body & Soul" appears at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Mar. 24-Sept. 27, 2002.

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Miguel Rio Branco

Vik Muniz

Ernesto Neto


Adriana Varejão