AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. Brazil has long been known for its music and distinctive dances, not for painting or photography, but that's changing. Not only are Brazilian artists now getting big play in major museums around the world, something new is happening inside Brazil, too. From Sao Paolo, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on Brazilians' burgeoning appetite for art.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: So I'm at the biggest photography art fair in Sao Paolo. All around me in the light-filled rooms perched on top of the most expensive mall in the city are 25 galleries and they're showing 250 works. The bubbly is flowing and deals are being made. Brazilian art is hot.
CLAUDIO EDINGER: It's booming. Brazilian art is booming.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's photographer Claudio Edinger, whose work was being exhibited at the show. A Rio de Janeiro native, he lived for decades in the U.S., but moved back to Brazil. His pictures capture a country in flux: the bright lights of Rio at night; the soft folds of hammocks on a barge in the Amazon. He says the country is undergoing a transformation.
EDINGER: Our references are all new. We are creating our references right now, so there is a world of things to do here that you don't find anywhere else.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there's something else, too.
EDINGER: Money makes art grow.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And money, there is - lots of it. In the past decade, Brazil's economy has boomed, many of the poor moved into the middle class, and the rich got richer. People started to travel more. That included trips to museums and galleries in New York and Paris and London. People here have become less parochial, analysts say, and their appetites more sophisticated. And it's the younger, as always, who seem to be leading the way.
Marianna Suchodolski is a 22-year-old Brazilian who studied art in the U.S. She's at the fair today looking at what's on offer with her mother, a collector.
MARIANNA SUCHODOLSKI: There's definitely more happening, galleries opening, people talking about art. People who really looked down on art, you know, I had friends who called it finger painting and nowadays there's just a lot more interest in it, and taking it seriously.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Fernanda Feitosa is the founder and director of SP-Arte, the main art fair in Sao Paolo, one of the galvanizing forces in the art world here. She says there is a whole new class of people buying art.
FERNANDA FEITOSA: The fair has helped a lot to promote the awareness in the young wealthy community of younger professionals who became more successful in their works. Art has become a preoccupation and a point of interest, and also perhaps for some of them, a point of let's diversify investment and invest in art.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says numbers are difficult to track because the market here is so new, and also many people don't disclose what they buy. But by what's been registered at SP-Arte, she can see the appetite for art is growing.
FEITOSA: What we hear from the fair is like every year, galleries improve their sales by 30 percent. Last year, the number of works sold was 45 million reals and this year was 100 million reals. So we doubled.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And as demand rises, so do prices. Silvio Frota is a collector. He owns over 2,000 photographs.
SILVIO FROTA: (Through translator) Today, it's a great investment. In the last five years prices have gone up a lot and that will continue. And it's good because it gives incentive to galleries to show the work people are doing and for artists to produce it.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's not just about buying. For the past few years running, according to an international survey of attendance at art exhibitions, Brazil has topped the charts with record-busting turnout for big museum shows here. Many of them are free, and they attract people from all social groups. The world, too, has discovered Brazilian art.
This year there will be a massive pavilion in Art Basel Miami dedicated to Brazilian art. There are also major shows slated as well. This month, painter Mira Schendel is having an exhibition at London's Tate Modern. A top tier London gallery, White Cube, has also opened the first foreign top tier gallery in the country.
Back at the photography art fair, Claudio Edinger says Brazil has always been fetishized, the beaches, the music, the women. But the culture here goes much deeper and it needs art to thrive.
EDINGER: We have a lack of education, a cultural void that needs to be filled if we are to become a nation. There is no nation in the world without strong cultural identity, and we are building that. It's fantastic.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paolo.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.