Inhotim: contemporary art & botanic gardens

South American Handbook author Ben Box explores the incredible botanic gardens and art installations found at Inhotim in Minas Gerais.

Everything in the room is red, the furniture, the clothes in the cupboard, the TV screen, the kitchen utensils, the fresh fruit in the refrigerator. A doorway turns to the left off the kitchen area; someone has dropped a tiny bottle on the shiny black floor and from its mouth flows an ever-widening glossy red stream that leads into all-enveloping darkness. On the wall at the end of the blackness is a white sink, wonky, filthy, from whose single tap pours blood.

Cildo Meireles’ Red Shift is just one of 22 galleries at Inhotim. Outside the monochrome room with its disturbing endpiece, you are back in the calming surroundings of tropical gardens and one of several large lakes. Every gallery presents this same contrast of contemporary art with nature, not always with such political overtones as Meireles’ installation. Take, for example, Janet Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet: a bare white room with two simple benches in the middle, surrounded by a circle of 40 audio speakers. Sit on the benches and you hear the glorious harmonies of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir singing a 16th-century piece by Thomas Tallis. Approach any one of the speakers and you hear only one member of the choir in isolation; perhaps your chosen station will have a spell of silence before the singer re-enters the chorus. The piece lasts for 20 minutes, but if you stay beyond the end you will hear the choristers shuffling their music, clearing their throats, getting ready for the motet to recommence. Everyone that I saw in this room was smiling.

Since 2006, Inhotim has been enjoying highest billing with Ouro Preto as a tourist destination. The 147-hectare botanic garden has 1,500 species of palms from around the world, flowering plants, paths and lakes around the art galleries. These are dedicated to contemporary Brazilian and international artists, gathered by mining magnate and collector Bernardo Paz. Some works are displayed in the open air, such as Chris Burden’s Beam Drop, and Jarbas Lopes’ Troca Troca (three VW Beetles whose primary-coloured panels have been swapped about), but the purpose-built spaces are large enough to show works of monumental size, video installations, or interactive displays. Between 2008 and 2014 the number of visitors to Inhotim grew by about 20% per year, from 121,308 to 356,128. In that same period the number of foreign visitors grew by 580%, some 45,000, or 13.6% of the total in 2013 (source Secretaria de Estado de Turismo de Minas Gerais).

To see everything at Inhotim you need at least one day. It is so big that electric buggies ferry visitors from one group of galleries to another. There are two restaurants, plus snack bars dotted about the gardens, but best consult the map as each serves just one type of meal and if it’s pizza you fancy, it may be way over the other side of the park. It so happened that the nearest snack bar at lunchtime on the day I visited offered burgers and so we sat at our table with the strident brass band music of William Kentridge’s mesmerising animations, I am not me, the horse is not mine, echoing in our ears. 

How to get there: There is one bus a day with Saritur from the bus station in Belo Horizonte at 0815 (0830 Thursday and Saturday), return 1630 (1730 weekends), 1½ hours with 48 speed bumps once you leave the motorway, US$12.50.

Contact: Rua B, 20, Inhotim, Brumadinho, T031-3571 9700,, Tuesday-Friday 0930-1630, Saturday-Sunday 0930-1730, US$9, US$14 at weekends, reduced price “passport” for 2-day visits, free on Wednesdays.

Ben Box visited Minas Gerais with the assistance of the Secretaria de Estado de Turismo, Governo do Estado de Minas Gerais, and CDN Comunicação, Belo Horizonte. Ben would like to thank at the former Mariana Salazar Martins and at the latter Marcelo Fiuza. He is also most grateful to Luciana Nascimento, Guia de Turismo Nacional/Regional MG, and José Eustâquio, the group’s driver. 

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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