Márcio Botner used to joke that A Gentil Carioca was born independent because it was opened on September 6th, 2003, only a day prior to Brazil’s Independence Day. The artist-run space, led by Laura Lima, Ernesto Neto and Márcio Botner will celebrate its 10th anniversary this year and has been leading and changing the face of the Rio art scene since early on.
A Gentil Carioca is not your typical art gallery. Housed in an old building from the 1920s, the gallery, located in the historical center of Rio de Janeiro - more specifically in the region called Saara —was conceived in an effort to capture and spread the diversity of the Brazilian art scene.
“All three of us are artists,” says Botner, “And what drove us to open the gallery was the need for having a space that has the eyes of the artist behind it. The idea was to be an independent gallery and to put words of art out in the world.”
The gallery’s name nicely defines their approach towards art. The A stands for a feminine article in Portuguese, meaning if the art would have a gender, it would be female. Gentil means gentle or kind. Carioca is the name of someone who was born in Rio de Janeiro.
Asked about the Brazilian art scene back in 2003, Botner recalls that “Ten years ago was a totally different moment in the Rio art scene. The scene was very strong but there were not too many galleries around. We didn’t know where to start, because we never worked in a gallery before. I remember when someone asked me for the first invoice, I didn’t have any idea what is that. We had to create our own way of doing. Despite having the slightest idea, things began really strong for us. In the first year, we did fourteen shows.”
Botner, Lima and Neto felt they have a responsibility to bring recognition to young Brazilian artists and during the past decade, they were able to change the local art market and promote many upcoming artists. These same artists who began working with the gallery ten years ago are still represented by the gallery. In addition to promoting young artists and experimental work, one of the gallery’s main aspirations since the beginning was to involve the local community and create an art education plan for the local population.
An important turning point for A Gentil Carioca happened in 2005 when the gallery produced an exhibition entitled: ‘Education, look!’ with over sixty artists participating. It gave Botner and his partners the opportunity to speak of education from the artist point of view. This exhibition was a milestone for the gallery and led to new education-driven projects such as “Gentil’s Wall” and “Education T-shirt”.
The gallery has been running these two continuous projects that complement its regular schedule, for a few years now. The “Gentle Wall” project invites an artist to propose and develop an artwork on an external wall of the gallery. Each individual artwork is sponsored by a collector and stays up for four months.
“The idea was to use the facade in front of the gallery – ten meters of a blind wall. We thought that this was an amazing space so why not bring art to the neighborhood and to the street? So we began inviting artists and collectors and we tried to create a conversation about how the collection of art can educate,” explains Botner of the reasons behind the project.
“These two projects express the gallery’s philosophy in a sense,” he adds, “Over time, we understood much better how we want to influence people around us. when I’m thinking about putting a piece of art on a wall, of course I’m thinking how it will help our gallery and lead us do other exhibitions but at the same time, I’m also thinking of the kind of culture and content I’m putting out in the world. “
The gallery’s location made it easier to put art on the street. It is located at the back of the biggest open market in South America that was founded at the beginning of the last century by immigrants. Today, there are still many immigrants in the area and Botner says that this location is very symbolic for them. “Brazilian culture is mixed and can become even more mixed,” he explains. “Being around downtown, seeing people from different backgrounds getting along, fits the gallery’s melting-pot philosophy.” Botner feels that many of the people who pass the gallery on their way to the market, such as the local business owners in the area, rarely get the opportunity connect with art. Botner said he witnessed the gradual contamination of the neighborhood and its people with their art: “By putting art out on the street, viewers simply bump into it as they’re passing by.”
The ‘Education T-shirt” project, invites artists to submit a design using the word or theme ‘education’ in it, representing their opinion of education in Brazil and the role of art in it. A new T-shirt is launched at every new exhibition opening. It started in 2005 and the gallery now has fifty art-to-wear pieces created by fifty different artists.
“One reason we keep going with these projects is continuity,” says Botner, “If you really want to contaminate, then you should have a bigger plan with an idea and a goal behind it so people can understand the continuity behind it.”
Botner, a visual artist himself who works mainly in video, a half of the Botner & Pedro duo, used to create his art in his studio that is now the A Gentil Carioca exhibition space. He remembers celebrating with Lima and Neto their decision to open the gallery over beers and sardines when he received a phone call announcing that one of the Botner & Pedro video installations won a prize.
This piece was a big box with white exterior and yellow interior with all-yellow objects inside - table, computer, plate and a yellow pages book. A movie was playing on the computer, showing Botner eating the yellow pages. Botner, seated at the table, was eating words such as ‘decoration’ and ‘esthetics’, becoming yellower with every additional word he ate. Finally, when he ate the words ‘art gallery’, he exploded. It is a nice coincidence and maybe a sign, marks Botner, that at that moment, when this work won a major prize, they were opening the gallery.
In 2013, the gallery continues to forge forward with new projects: They currently have a second, smaller space in an art deco building in Lagoa, which hosts lectures, readings and art events. This ‘new baby’ as Botner refers to it, has been running for over a year now and is beginning to grow. The space is called A Gentil Carioca La (the word La means there in Portuguese). “It’s there because it’s not here,” laughs Botner, explaining that they are trying to approach other areas of the city and contaminate those areas with their art as well, thus having additional discussions with different kind of audiences.
A new exhibition is scheduled to open in the gallery in two weeks by OPAVIVARÁ!, a collective of five artists, who create social art. In this exhibition, the artists present everyday objects and encourage people to use them. These sculptures-objects - connected with food, music and design - will be around the gallery and viewers can use them inside or outside of the gallery as they wish.
Though it’s ambitious programming, the gallery has built a reputation in the art world, while becoming a prominent cultural center and social hub in Rio. By stirring up the local art scene, A Gentil Carioca managed to intensify the artistic debate and create projects that reinforce the idea of exchange and take a “gentil” and kind approach towards artists and the community alike.