Artist Maxwell Alexandre Goes to War With Brazil’s Inhotim Institute


Inhotim Institute, an open-air contemporary art museum and botanical garden in Southeastern Brazil, has removed a work by Maxwell Alexandre from one of its exhibitions after the Afro-Brazilian artist began calling for the piece to be withdrawn two weeks ago. In a series of Instagram posts, Alexandre said the museum had not secured his approval to include the work in the show and criticized a lack of staff diversity at Inhotim, calling the institution a “white man’s theater.”

Inhotim’s exhibition Quilombo: vida, problemas e aspirações do negro (“Quilombo: life, problems and aspirations of the black people,” per the museum’s own translation) opened November 19. The term quilombo is used to describe communities in Brazil founded by formerly enslaved people, and the exhibition’s title references the name of a 1948–1950 newspaper led by Abdias Nascimento, a 20th-century intellectual and artist who founded Brazil’s Black Experimental Theater, Museum of Black Art, and Institute of Research and Afro-Brazilian Studies (IPEAFRO). Inhotim presented the 33-artist show as part of a larger initiative launched in 2021 titled Abdias Nascimento o Museu de Arte Negra (“Abdias Nascimento and the Black Art Museum”) in partnership with IPEAFRO.

In a November 21 Instagram post — the first of dozens over the coming weeks — Alexandre stated, “Take down my work, take away my name,” and explained that the only way his work could be shown at Inhotim with his approval would be in his own pavilion. The museum is laid out as a series of small outdoor structures which are sometimes dedicated to one artist, such as Tunga and Adriana Varejão. As in many of his early posts, Alexandre added the caption: “My dispute is with White people in positions and claims of power.”

Installation view of Maxwell Alexandre’s work at The Shed in New York (Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

Inhotim purchased Alexandre’s work “Untitled” (2021), from his series Novo Poder, last year. A museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic that the sale did not stipulate any conditions regarding display.

“My work is too good to be used on Black Consciousness Day by negligent White people cleaning their guilt,” Alexandre posted on November 30, referring to “Dia da Consciência Negra,” declared a national holiday in Brazil in 2017. In another post, Alexandre said that on that day, Inhotim “should have held a group exhibition for whites, where the approach was white privilege.” He went on to suggest a number of possible exhibition titles, including “Whites: Life, aspirations, and problems”; “How White Artists Continue to Benefit From Racism”; and “How Did White Identity Create Bolsonarism?”

Jair Bolsonaro served as president of Brazil from 2019 to October of this year, when he was defeated by leftist rival Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro repeatedly expressed racist sentiments and fanned a wave of right-wing ideology in the country that corresponded to a rise in anti-Black sentiment in the nation. Brazil, like other nations, is undergoing a reckoning of its racist past and present.

Alexandre criticized a headline in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo which included the phrase “Black artist attacks” in its header. (The headline has since been edited.) “In the end, I don’t even have a name,” Alexandre wrote in his post. “I am reduced to ‘the black that attacks’ by one of the biggest media outlets in our country.”

In response to Hyperallergic‘s inquiry, a representative from Maxwell’s production team said the artist was not commenting further and referred Hyperallergic to Alexandre’s statements on social media.

Alexandre’s success has skyrocketed in the past few years. The 32-year-old artist currently has a solo exhibition at The Shed in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards neighborhood, and has had solo presentations at international venues including the Paris contemporary art center Palais de Tokyo and the London branch of David Zwirner. The artist said that he did not consent to his work being shown in the Quilombo exhibition even though it was a central part of the show; Inhotim responded in a December 2 press statement that it had informed participating artists of their works’ inclusion in August.

In a statement, Inhotim said the artists in the Quilombo exhibition were invited to the museum in 2023 “in order to listen to their critiques, desires and ideas, with the aim of producing a set of recommendations for the improvement of our institutional practices.” The museum added that it will not take down the entire exhibition, which is slated to run through July 2023.

Inhotim also expressed its commitment to diversifying its exhibitions and stated it was “working towards a more significant presence of Black artists in its future programs” as well as “broadening diversity in decision-making positions,” among other efforts.

Inhotim has been roiled by controversy in previous years related to the activities of its founder, mining magnate Bernardo Paz. The museum is located in Brumadinho in the state of Minas Gerais, a hub of iron-ore extraction, and a 2018 report in Bloomberg detailed how Paz’s former mining operations have been subject to government sanctions over environmental and labor violations. In 2017, Paz was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to prison after the Brazilian government began investigating the funds he had poured into his museum, an estimated $70 million. Paz was acquitted in 2020.

Online, some have praised Alexandre’s request to have his work withdrawn from the exhibition. The artist shared a tweet by Brazilian rapper Gabriel Linhares Rocha (Don L) that simply read: “What Maxwell Alexandre just did is huge and historic.”

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