Mendes Wood DM, the Cool Kids of the Brazilian Art World, Take on Brussels

The São Paulo gallery's founders tell us what drew them to the Belgian capital.

Mendes Wood DM's new space at Rue des Sablons 13. Photo: Screenshot via Google Maps.

After opening an office and showroom in New York last year, São Paulo-based gallery Mendes Wood DM is expanding again. The gallery will open a new space in Brussels on April 18, during the city’s art week.

With a growing international appetite for Latin American art and sky high import and sales taxes limiting growth in their home country’s domestic market, the cool kids of Brazilian art are embarking on a strategy of international expansion.

Located in a historic Art Deco building built by the Belgian modernist Adrien Blomme in 1910, the gallery encompasses three exhibition rooms as well as a residence to house visiting artists, curators and critics.

Gallery founders Pedro Mendes, Matthew Wood, and Felipe Dmab tapped independent curator and Latin American art specialist Carolyn Drake as a partner to run the gallery’s European operations from the Belgian capital.

Brussels. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The inaugural show features over 40 artists, including gallery artists Adriano Costa, Lucas Arruda and Michael Dean, as well as Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster & Manuel Raeder, Franz West, Jason Dodge, and Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten. Titled “Neither,” the show is curated by Fernanda Brenner, director of the São Paulo-based non-profit Pivô, and revolves around French philosopher Roland Barthes’ concept of the neutral.

Ahead of the opening of the space, artnet News spoke to partners Matthew Wood and Felipe Dmab about their new venture in Europe.

Installation view of “Neither” at Mendes Wood DM, Brussels. Photo: courtesy of Mendes Wood DM.

Why did you chose Brussels as the location for your third gallery?

Felipe Dmab: Brussels is the understated cosmopolitan heart of Europe—it casually blends a rich and dynamic history with a discrete vigor and charm that is all its own. The Belgians have a long tradition of art patronage that involves a real fascination for plural, multicultural visions of art and art practice. Their capital was always—and continues to be—an incredible crossroads of European cultures; and within the context of volatile and inward-looking contemporary politics manages to hold on to the promise of the European integration project.

What can visitors expect out of the new space?

Matthew Wood: Our gallery is a fully outfitted 1910 family townhouse. We have managed to adapt the space to the necessities of a contemporary art gallery while maintaining the original details. The floors creak and the walls are white between eccentrically-colored wainscoting and the windows look out onto the 15th century Notre Dame du Sablon.

Installation view of “Neither” at Mendes Wood DM, Brussels. Photo: courtesy of Mendes Wood DM.

How will you shape the gallery’s programming in Belgium? Will you do anything differently?

Wood: Our gallery in São Paulo developed out of a very diverse but coherent community of artists and supporters. Our hope for Belgium is the same—that we can foster an inclusive and international community. Our gallery here has a studio which will receive artists so that they are able to have the experience of living in Brussels and engaging with its people and ideas. We hope to invite many artists who have never had European exposure—for us and for Brussels, I guess that we can expect the unexpected.

How has the interest in Latin American art developed in Europe?

Dmab: Significant and long-overdue retrospectives of Latin American artists have recently begun to hit home in Europe, sparking the realization that the modernities of Brazil, and Latin America more largely, were the crucible of avant-garde ideas that continue to hold vital importance for our actuality. Now, we have to work on the recognition of younger artists—avoiding both the easy classification of ‘Latin America’ as well as market trends which seek to commercialize cultural identity. That in itself is a long and interesting conversation.

Neither” runs from April 18 – June 17, 2017 at Mendes Wood DM, Brussels.

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