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    From Bilbao to Brazil?

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    With branches in three European countries and several proposals for new facilities in New York City on the drawing board, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has spent the last decade trying to redefine the meaning of a global art institution. Now, an exploratory visit to Brazil by director Thomas Krens and other top Guggenheim officials indicates that there is another international Guggenheim venue—this time in South America—under consideration.

    The possibility of a Brazil Guggenheim was raised during a four-day trip to the country last fall by Krens and the museum’s deputy director and chief curator, Lisa Dennison, along with other staff. The trip, which was sponsored by Brazil, was arranged to coincide with preparations for an upcoming exhibition of Brazilian art in Sí£o Paulo and included meetings with top government and cultural officials in Rio de Janeiro, Sí£o Paulo, and Brasilia.

    According to Dennison, the purpose of the visit was to meet with the organizers of the exhibition, which is titled “500 Years of Visual Arts in Brazil” and opens in April. Brazil has invited the Guggenheim to exhibit some or all of the show in 2001, Dennison told ARTnews, and the museum’s curators are in the process of determining what portions they are interested in showing.

    But the trip also provided an opportunity to discuss with Brazilian leaders the potential for developing a new Guggenheim. In Brasilia, the nation’s capital, Krens and Dennison met with Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, foreign minister Luiz Felipe Lampreia, and culture minister Francisco Weffort. In Rio they met with businessman Roberto Marinho and senior Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, and in Sí£o Paulo, they met with Mario Covas, the governor of Sí£o Paulo state. While she declines to comment on the content of the meetings, Dennison confirms that bringing a Guggenheim to Brazil was high on the agenda of the Brazilian leaders. “There was definitely a concrete interest on their part,” she says. “No question about it.”

    The city of Sí£o Paulo appears to have figured prominently in these discussions. Covas publicly stated his desire to bring the Guggenheim to the South American metropolis and offered Villa-Lobos Park as a potential site. The park encompasses 185 acres, of which more than 24 would be available to the museum, according to park director Laércio Villa-Lobos. There is a preliminary plan to develop an arts facility there, and park and state officials would like to bring the Guggenheim on board. Krens and Dennison were flown over the city and the park by helicopter, but did not visit the site on the ground, Villa-Lobos says. “There is interest and possibilities” for the Guggenheim, Krens told the newspaper O Estado de Sí£o Paulo, “but I don’t want to create too many expectations.”

    Marcos Arbaitman, the tourism secretary of Sí£o Paulo state, who also met with the Guggenheim officials, says the city’s large population makes it an ideal candidate for a museum. “I said to Mr. Krens,” Arbaitman told ARTnews, “Bilbao is small; Sí£o Paulo has 11 million people in the city and 34 million in the state.”

    But financing the venture would not be easy. In Bilbao, the Basque government paid $100 million for the building and $50 million for new acquisitions, and also agreed to subsidize the museum’s $12 million budget. Arbaitman says the Sí£o Paulo government is unable to cover such costs. Financing would have to be largely private—as with the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, which is housed in a building owned by its founder and sponsor, Deutsche Bank.

    Although Brazil appears to be the front-runner for a potential southern expansion, the Guggenheim is also examining possibilities in Argentina and Chile, O Estado de Sí£o Paulo reports. “South America has a great public for art, and the Guggenheim is an international institution,” Krens told the newspaper.

    The Guggenheim is also considering options farther afield. According to the Australian daily Geelong Advertiser, the mayor of Geelong, a city near Sydney, met with a Guggenheim official in Sydney last fall to discuss the possibility of building a $190 million museum. “Given the success of Bilbao,” Dennison says, “we have been receiving phone calls from everywhere. Everywhere people have buildings or sites they want converted into a Guggenheim.”

    According to Dennison, the development of the Bilbao museum has given the Guggenheim incentive to expand its ties with the Hispanic world. While she declines to speculate about a long-term relationship with Brazil or another South American country, she says the museum is committed to showing its own version of the Brazilian exhibition in late 2001 and 2002.

    “We have been thinking about Brazil for a while,” she says. “We are definitely going forward with the show. We are now a Hispanic institution and we want to capitalize on that.”

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