RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Long a cultural backwater, Rio de Janeiro has taken another leap toward becoming an art hot spot with this week's opening of a museum built around one of the world's premier collections of contemporary Latin American art.
Casa Daros, a 12,000-square-meter (129,000-square-foot) space in an impeccably renovated 1866 mansion, will house some of the works acquired the past 13 years by Zurich-based collector Ruth Schmidheiny. Working with German curator Hans-Michael Herzog, she combed Latin America at a time when the art world paid little attention to the region. The 1,200 pieces they bought came from 117 artists, most of them still alive and working.
It was easy pickings, Herzog told journalists at a news conference Wednesday ahead of the museum's public opening Saturday.
"In Europe, there was zero interest because people there knew nothing about Latin American art — Latin American literature, yes, but contemporary art, no," Herzog said. "We started to acquire, which was so easy because the field was so very rich."
Stored in a facility in Zurich, many of the pieces have been shown to the public in twice-yearly exhibits there, but Schmidheiny and Herzog dreamed of having a place to show off the collection in Latin America as a way to spark dialogue among artists across the diverse region.
Initially they planned to put the museum in Havana, but talks with the Cuban government failed. Given the violence that plagued Colombia in the early 2000s, the political situation in Venezuela and the lack of basic infrastructure in the Andean countries, they narrowed their list of possible host cities to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Sao Paulo and Rio in Brazil, Herzog said.
But both Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires already had bustling arts scenes, so in 2006 they settled on Rio, which was still plagued by drug gang violence and resolutely off the radar of the art world.
That's since changed, with the pacification of dozens of Rio's "favela" hillside slums, the discovery of offshore oil deposits that have flooded the city with petrodollars and Rio's role as host for the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. The art world is now eager to get a toehold in this burgeoning and lucrative market, and Rio officials hope to capitalize on their moment in the spotlight to turn the laid-back beach city known mainly for its over-the-top Carnival celebrations into a world-class metropolis and Latin America's newest arts hub.