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Inhotim

Brazil's sprawling art zoo

by Phuong-Cac Nguyen in Travel on 31 March 2010

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A private, 178-acre lush botanical garden of 3,500 plant species, the outdoor museum Inhotim is home to commissioned and collected works from artists such as Doug Aitken and Matthew Barney. A visit to the immense Brazilian art park, an hour away from the country's third-largest metropolis, Belo Horizonte, feels both unusual and completely natural in this breathtaking setting.

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Created in 2004, Inhotim didn't gain international fame until recent years, when the local iron magnate Bernardo Paz commissioned some high-profile American artists to make site-specific pieces. Because it expands continuously, each visit tends to be different, whether due to the opening of a new pavilion or finding that pieces from his 500-strong collection have rotated to new locations.

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The quality and range of the artwork in Inhotim is truly magnificent. Coming up to Doug Aitken's Sonic Pavilion by golf cart (some of the pieces are more easily accessed by vehicle transport) looks like you're visiting a set of a different planet. When you enter, a buzzing sound that varies with the time of day amplifies the noise coming below the earth 300 meters deep.

Danish-Iceland artist Olafur Eliasson has several contributions here, including a large-scale kaleidoscope and a dark igloo with spurting water fountain inside. Chris Burden's "Beam Drop Inhotim" references an earlier piece of his ("Samson") but was created for the park using locally-sourced steel beams.

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Perhaps the best non-American works come from the architecturally-outstanding Adriana Varejão pavilion, a hard-edged concrete box housing her work. Rivane Neuenschwander's installation is another exceptional piece. A house boasting an opaque ceiling filled with tiny Styrofoam balls moves with the wind, seeming to come alive with each breeze. Tunga's bizarre "True Rouge," a series of suspended red nets and liquids, lives in a gallery off the edge of a pretty lake full of black swans.

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Modern, sleek food stands spread throughout the grounds stock everything from beverages to hot dogs, but two chic restaurants in clear view of a Paul McCarthy sculpture, serve a delicious high-end buffet and a la carte plates.

Check the site for a list of artists and visitor info. In September, Inhotim will show permanent works from Helio Oiticica, Miguel Rio Branco and Lygia Pape.

Visitors are recommended to stay in Belo Horizonte and make the drive to the park, however, count on two to three days for the full experience.

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