The visionary behind the world’s largest art garden invites all to visit.
BY: Lianna Patch
Photos: Inhotim Institute
Though it sounds like a dream, the experience that spurred former mining tycoon Bernardo Paz to dedicate his fortune to art is a true story. “During a trip to Acapulco, Mexico, I saw a very tall wall that intrigued me, and I decided to climb it to see what was on the other side,” Paz remembers. “What I saw changed my life forever. There was a beautiful lake surrounded by wonderful gardens, with many people dancing to music played by an orchestra. The garden was very light and beautiful.”
Paz resolved to recreate the Gatsby-esque experience on his own land. “At the time, I owned a farm in Brumadinho, a place near Belo Horizonte, capital of the state of Minas Gerais,” he says. “Farm” is a humble word to describe the enormity of Paz’s property; spanning close to 500,000 acres of lush foliage, the land diverges somewhat from the rustic, hay-filled, barnyard ideal that might come to North American minds.
“In the 1980s, I founded the botanical gardens, where I think the real beauty lies,” Paz says. These botanical gardens became the basis for the Centro de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim, or simply Inhotim. With more than 100 acres of neatly manicured grounds, and nearly 5,000 plant species, the park’s grounds form an inimitable backdrop for hundreds of contemporary art installations by both Brazilian and international artists. “After a while, I added some pavilions to enhance the garden,” he says (did you catch it? That was another understatement; the pavilions are works of art in themselves).
Over the years, Paz continued shaping the park, inviting artists to collaborate and create site-specific works. “Inhotim has become a very special and magical place,” Paz says. “Our visitors are so fascinated that they spend days and days here and never tire. Art can be better appreciated and understood in an environment where the mind is relaxed and unoccupied.”
Paz knows there’s no possible comparison between Inhotim and other destinations, however spectacular. “It is unique,” he says simply. “I do not think there is anything similar.”
More than mere artworks, many of the pieces scattered throughout the park are all-consuming, large-scale experiences. “Most of the art exhibited in the park could not be displayed anywhere [else],” Paz says. “Inhotim has made a difference in the [customary ways] of displaying art, not only in Brazil, but worldwide. We also have to thank the artists who perform — in works commissioned by our curators — some of their best and most unique projects at Inhotim.”
American artists are well-represented at Inhotim. “Doug Aitken of California did the unique site-specific work called ‘Sonic Pavilion,’” Paz says. “Chris Burden, of Boston, did the piece ‘Beam Drop Inhotim’. We also have on display ‘Bisected Triangle,’ a work by Dan Graham of New Jersey.” Last year, Inhotim opened a space dedicated specifically to the work of Carroll Dunham, of New Haven.
But after a couple of decades, when Paz surveyed the massive garden he’d created in the image of his Mexican memory, there was one thing missing. “Over time, I realized that all that was being created transcended individual property,” he says. “Inhotim has great botanical value and an amazing collection of art, which should be affordable for people … I did not start a private art collection for my friends to enjoy. My intention was always to promote education and bring art and culture to my country.”
In 2006, Paz opened Inhotim Art Park to the public. Despite the massive expense of running the park, he refuses to raise the modest ticket prices or do away with his free-on-Tuesdays policy, which allows locals from nearby towns and schoolchildren to visit. “I have a passion for education; I want to open the doors of education to those who do not yet have it,” he says. “Every year, we receive more than 50,000 children —mostly kids in need — in art and environment[al science] classes. We’ve formed orchestras, bands, and choirs of children, youths, and adults.”
According to the Guardian, Paz does plan to increase Inhotim’s revenue by adding hotels, resorts, and other venues (not to mention building roads that make it easier to actually get to the park). But these attractions will not be Inhotim’s main focus. That, Paz says, will always be sharing the beauty of nature and art with anyone who cares to experience it. “All this was only possible because I saw the light in the eyes of our visitors, especially children,” he explains. “You have no idea what it is like to look at the eyes of poor children who come to Inhotim every week, and realize the joy they feel for being here.”
Lianna Patch is a writer and editor from New Orleans, LA, whose portfolio spans copywriting, cultural publications, and literary journals.