Open-air museums and the experience of artworks “without walls”

10 minutes to read

If, on the one hand, museums are capable of providing unique sensitive experiences where what is contained within their walls is the core of the provocation, on the other hand, when exposed in the open, the works released from the four walls seem to make a whole region of the sensitive, a landscape – be it an island, a forest or more.

The Inhotim Institute in Minas Gerais

The Inhotim Institute, located in Brumadinho (MG), is a contemporary art museum and Botanical Garden. Considered one of the largest open-air museums in the world, it was born from the idea of ​​collector Bernardo de Mello Paz.

Opened to the general public in 2006, the museum is located between the Atlantic Forest and the Cerrado – with a visitation area of ​​140 hectares. Today Inhotim has around 700 works by more than 60 artists from almost 40 countries.

The commissioning of works is one of the main curatorial aspects of the Institute. In this way, artists are invited to create works especially for the institution, having their works on permanent display – which is seen by Inhotim’s management as a way of strengthening the ties between artists and the museum.

Inhotim has a permanent collection of contemporary art made up of gardens, galleries and outdoor works where art and landscaping are intertwined. In addition, the Institute has temporary exhibitions.

Throughout the territory of the museum there are works on display in the open air and artistic galleries – each with its own architectural and exhibition proposal – that share their spaces with the more than 4,300 rare botanical species of the Botanical Garden.

After completing 15 years, the exhibitions organized by the museum have followed the research theme called “Specific Territory”, inspired by the studies of the geographer Milton Santos. With this line of research, the Institute seeks to reflect on its role and impact on the territory where it is located, as well as the role of art in local and global territories. For the Institute, Inhotim is part of Brumadinho, and the city is part of Inhotim.

The Brennand Workshop in Pernambuco

On the banks of the Capibaribe River, in Recife (PE), is the Francisco Brennand Ceramic Workshop. Its history begins in 1971 in the ruins of a pottery that operated at the beginning of the 20th century and was inherited by Francisco Brennand’s father and became the artist’s atelier. Today, the Oficina hosts Brennand’s artistic-architectural universe.

Born in Recife, Francisco Brennand (1927-2019) began to dedicate himself to the craft of painter, draftsman and sculptor at the age of 13. Throughout his life he was alongside artists from Pernambuco such as Murilo La Greca and Álvaro Amorim. He was honored with awards by the city of Recife, by the State of Pernambuco and by the Organization of American States (OAS).

With 15 km² of built area, the grounds of his Workshop have galleries with varied exhibitions, outdoor sculptures, unique pieces, ornate ceramics, fountains, paintings and more. There are more than 2000 exhibits. Among the exhibition areas is the “Temple of Sacrifice”, an allusion to the massacre of pre-Columbian civilizations, designed by the artist before his death and where his funerary urn is kept alongside a symbolic set of sculptures.

With the celebrations of its 50th anniversary, Oficina became an institute dedicated to bringing Brennand’s work closer to that of other contemporary artists.

Visitors to Oficina Brennand will also see the Academy (which functions as a Pinacoteca), the Amphitheater, the Sculpture Hall, the Central Temple, the Stadium, auditorium and the Imaculada Conceição chapel. In addition, the production of ceramics – the main activity of the space, still takes place on a small scale, and it is possible to purchase small utilitarian ceramic objects – such as plates and fruit bowls.

To Pablo Atchugarry Foundation in Uruguay

In Punta del Este, Uruguay, you can find Fundación Pablo Atchugarry. Inaugurated in 2007, it bears the name of its founder. The Foundation, and its open-air museum, were created with the intention of promoting the visual arts, literature, music, dance and various other forms of artistic expression. Among the activities organized by the Foundation, there is the proposal to bring together different generations of artists and art enthusiasts.

The Sculpture Park covers 30 hectares and surrounds the institution’s grounds. Designed in dialogue with the landscape, it provides a natural setting to appreciate his national and international works. In addition to the Park, the complex has a building with three exhibition rooms; an auditorium; an open-air stage; a restaurant; a didactic hall dedicated to classes in drawing, painting, sculpture and ceramics; and a space for the permanent collection and for the works of its founder.

Pablo Atchugarry founded the museum in order to enable a union between art and nature, taking visitors to observe works spread across lakes and undulating terrain from where sculptures and other artistic manifestations could – apparently – germinate. The festival “Música entre naturaleza y arte”, held during the summers at the Foundation, takes sound interventions to the field with violins, guitars, pianos, voices and songs from the lyrical to the popular.

A non-profit institution, Fundación Pablo Atchugarry promotes its activities free of charge.

Gibbs Farm in New Zealand

The Gibbs Farm open-air sculpture park is located in Makarau – north of Auckland – in New Zealand. Open to the public for a few days a year, the Alan Gibbs Private Collection is the largest collection of large-scale outdoor sculpture in the country. The 400-hectare farm was purchased in 1991 and since then its owner has been collecting monumental sculptures. A considerable part of the works were commissioned and seek to incorporate landscape elements into their design.

The property’s entire western horizon is dominated by the Kaipara estuary port. Large in size and shallow in depth, the tides of the port transform the landscape which, at low tide, can have kilometers of exposed sand full of puddles of water that reflect sunlight along its length.

The works by Gibbs Farms incorporate the importance that the port has over the landscape and, in many ways, seem to flow towards the sea – as well as the geographic formations that lead there. The shape of the land, the presence of a huge body of water, the extension of the port and, mainly, the enormous scale of the property are a challenge for the artists in the creation of their works.

Contemporary art from Naoshima, Japan

The island of Naoshima, in Japan, is part of an archipelago composed of 12 islands in all where contemporary art has settled – earning them the nickname “islands of art”. Over the past three decades, the Benesse Art Site Naoshima project has inaugurated a series of open-air museums dedicated to contemporary art in the archipelago, commissioning site-specific works from artists across the globe.

“Benesse Art Site Naoshima” is the name of the actions carried out by Benesse Holdings and the Fukutake Foundation to promote regional development through the arts in the archipelago of the Seto Inland Sea (where the island of Naoshima is located). Among the actions are the creation of museums, galleries and commissioning of works that are exposed by the archipelago.

Naoshima stands out as one of the main islands of the project and its architectural installations were mainly composed by the architect Ando Tadao. Among his projects is the Chichu Museum of Art – built underground to avoid any disturbance to the landscape of Naoshima Island. In an almost symbiotic relationship with the land, Monet’s “Water Lilies” series are permanently displayed here, illuminated only by natural light.

Among the works and interventions carried out in the archipelago is the Teshima Art Museum (one of the islands in the Seto Sea). The museum reverses the logic of what is expected of a space with such a name, as there is nothing on display. Nothing. Or, at least, not what you’d expect.

The Teshima Art Museum is made up of a kind of dome with a hole in its center, from where the visitor is encouraged to contemplate the nature of the island.

The archipelago brings, in its own way, a new form of interaction with what is meant by a museum. In addition to more “traditional” open-air works – such as the famous pumpkin by artist Yayoi Kusama on the Naoshima pier – the buildings in galleries and museums around the archipelago are, in themselves, open-air sculptures that instigate and enable a relationship the public’s unique experience with the nature of the islands where they are located.

The exposed art

In general, museums that are dedicated to the exhibition of works of art in the open bring with them a provocative proposal: how do these institutions and their installations relate to and interfere in the places where they are located? This is a question that, as seen here, can be approached from numerous angles and perspectives.

By releasing their works to the weather, these institutions and artists seem to suggest that the artistic universe in which they are found overflows beyond what the eye can reach. Universes that are not confined, but with infinite horizons.

Matheus Paiva is a cultural producer and internationalist, graduated from the University of São Paulo.

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