Looking Scandal in the Eye at Exhibit on Rio's Hedge-Fund Lane

  • Netflix to street artists basing projects on Brazil's scandal
  • Artist Giucci's exhibit showcases faces of the accused

At a gallery in Leblon, Brazil’s most expensive neighborhood and home to Rio de Janeiro’s hedge funds, patrons gaze into the eyes of men they regard as scoundrels: their elected politicians. More specifically, $1,300 oil paintings of them.

While working as an artist’s assistant in New York, Gabriel Giucci, 29, found his attention gravitating to the political crisis in Brazil, where he grew up. For months he climbed four flights of stairs to a cramped studio in a former Brooklyn textile factory with just a printed photo of his politician du jour. By painting their portraits, he sought to depict Brazil at the juncture of a process that’s drawing closer to toppling the president amid a colossal corruption probe that has ensnared dozens of lawmakers and executives.

Painting by Gabriel Giucci.

Source: Gabriel Giucci

After Giucci confirmed the gallery showing, he quickly packed up the paintings and flew south to display profiles of the men who have shaken Brazil to its core.

“It’s not great seeing these people,” said Maria Clara Barbosa, 57, an orchestra conductor attending the exhibition’s April 29 opening. “I think we have to look deep into their faces to know what we should do.”

Giucci is tapping into a zeitgeist that’s surfacing in Brazil’s art world. Netflix announced last month it’s readying the tale of the graft investigation for the small screen. Jose Padilha, who helmed the series “Narcos,” will direct. Rio-based graphic artist Luciano Cunha sold the film rights for his corruption-fighting comic book hero. And a massive mural has popped up along a key Sao Paulo boulevard depicting four politicians caught up in the scandal, including President Dilma Rousseff, who hasn’t been accused of graft but whose support has disintegrated as the investigation spread.

As for Giucci’s portraits, they aspire to classical European style with a soupçon of caricature. They include lawmakers angling for Rousseff’s impeachment, allies who allegedly benefited from the pay-to-play scheme at state-run oil producer Petrobras, plus executives accused of paying the bribes.

Painting by Gabriel Giucci.

Source: Gabriel Giucci

Patrons visiting the gallery on a recent evening expressed the same curiosity that prompted scores of people to tune in to the April 17 impeachment vote in Brazil’s lower-house. During the six-hour vote, lawmakers went to the dais one by one, their faces broadcast to a rapt, nationwide audience unfamiliar with many of them. There’s more spectacle in store, with the Senate readying to vote on impeachment and the prosecutor general this week requesting the Supreme Court authorize investigation of Rousseff, her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and about 30 politicians and executives.

“I’m not ennobling their images, because everyone is thinking in bad terms about the whole situation,” Giucci said. “I like the images I select in a visual way, but also because people think they are like this -- greedy for power, relationships and corporate affairs, and all the negotiations they’re going through.”

The Gabriel Giucci exhibit.

Photographer: David Biller/Bloomberg

A few days after the exhibition opened, Giucci had sold three of the 16 paintings on offer: those of construction company Camargo Correa’s former CEO Dalton Avincini, former Petrobras refining head Paulo Roberto Costa, and Lula’s ex-chief of staff, Jose Dirceu. No one, so far, wanted to display a sitting politician inside their home.

The gallery’s back room is reserved for one portrait alone: that of lower-house Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who pulled the trigger on the impeachment process and who is being investigated for also allegedly receiving millions of dollars in bribes. (He denies any wrongdoing.) Octavio Moreira, a 62-year-old advertising executive, found himself drawn to Cunha’s ambiguous grin -- less Mona Lisa and more “a child making mischief, but whose mischief is something monstrous.”

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