When I was in college studying Art History, I found myself consumed with wanderlust. I dreamed of seeing the masterpieces I viewed on slides in person instead: works at the Uffizi, the Prado, the Hermitage, the Met and hidden in tiny towns throughout the European countryside. By the time I began working in the contemporary art world—with its constant schedule of art fairs and biennials across the globe—traveling became intrinsic to my career. From rising early to see Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel in Padua near Venice to spending a day at Château La Coste after a trip to Paris, I began to view the world in terms of my ‘Art Bucket List’ rather than a standard map of cities and countries. Now with Indagare, I scout these art-inspired travels for a living, and I have just returned from my most adventurous and memorable journey to date.
Instituto Inhotim, located in the lush Minas Gerais region of Brazil three hours from the nearest airport in Belo Horizonte, is an open-air sculpture park and botanical garden covering over 5,000 acres. The site’s founder, mining magnate and longtime art patron Bernardo Paz, began the project privately in the early 2000’s at the urging of his close circle of artist and architect friends (including the renowned multi-disciplinary artist Tunga). Paz debuted Inhotim to the public in 2006; today, it is comprised of 21 pavilions and more than 500 works of art as well as a remarkable 4,500 species of plant life.
The site was designed by famed Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. What makes the project so unique, apart from its remote location, is the fact that most of the works here are site-specific. Paz invited the artists to explore the site and choose specific locations as part of their creative processes—a method that allowed the creators to integrate their visions with the visitors’ experience. During a time when private museums frequently are emerging to house the works of mega-collectors (think The Broad in Los Angeles or Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Arkansas), Inhotim’s thoughtful location-focused design distinguishes it as a modern art exhibition.
Navigating through the expansive grounds of this site (which warrants at least a full day), visitors may often find themselves feeling slightly lost, disoriented from the tropical heat. Then, seconds later, they stumble upon a pavilion or sculpture that appears to be secretly or ironically placed—and it was. For example, Los Angeles–based Doug Aiken selected a location on the outskirts of the property for his installation: a pavilion built above a 200-meter deep hole, which through sound amplification allows visitors to ‘hear’ the earth while looking over the vast rainforest. The booming echo is not only awe-inspiring but also reminds guests just how far off-the-beaten path they truly are. Nearby, Jorge Macchi’s Piscina allows visitors to (quite literally) dive in and cool off, offering a welcome respite from the sun. Located in the heart of the Inhotim complex, Olafur Eliasson’s hexagonal kaleidoscope Viewing Machine invites visitors to maneuver their own vantage point and to take an irresistible ‘art-selfie.’
To put it simply, what makes Inhotim so special also makes it challenging. Due to logistics, the site is impossible to visit as a day trip from Sao Paulo or Rio due to its distance from the nearest airport (unless visitors are traveling by helicopter). Accommodations in town are not impressive, almost no English is spoken throughout the site and Wi-Fi within the area is scarce. A luxury hotel near Inhotim is rumored to be opening in the future, but until then, visiting the site requires a great deal of grit. That said, nowhere but here could one have quite the same experience. I left with a sense of accomplishment that extended far beyond crossing off another item on my bucket list.
At Inhotim, our eccentric driver (who was quick to name a few world-renowned artists he had rubbed elbows with) called Inhotim “Brazil’s last secret.” Anyone with a love of contemporary art, architecture or gardens should plan a trip now before this ‘last secret’ is revealed.
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