Time running out for Casa Daros in Rio

City’s mayor offers public support to keep Swiss-based collection’s space open

The decision of the Swiss collector Ruth Schmidheiny to close the Casa Daros in Rio de Janeiro this December has led the mayor of the Brazilian city to offer public support in a bid to keep it open. Schmidheiny’s decision was announced by her foundation in May.

Inaugurated two years ago, the private museum occupies a mansion in the Botafogo neighbourhood, which was renovated by Daros Latinamerica in a $26m project. Schmidheiny, who runs the Zurich-based foundation, wrote to artists in the collection including Cildo Meireles, Antonio Dias, Ernesto Neto and Waltercio Caldas. She said that the foundation will be “exploring fresh horizons” and that the “decision no longer to continue to operate Casa Daros is not one we have taken lightly”.

The move shocked authorities in Rio de Janeiro. Unlike recent cultural additions to the city, such as the publicly funded Museu de Arte do Rio and the Museu do Amanhã, the Casa Daros was an entirely private operation—and one that bolstered Rio’s art scene as the city prepares for next year’s Olympic Games.

Funding problems Eduardo Paes, the city’s mayor, immediately met the directors of Casa Daros and offered public support, but there has been no indication that the organisation will change its mind. Instead, board members said during a recent press conference that they will strive to find a new cultural company that is willing to take over the space.

According to sources close to the troubled institution, Ruth Schmidheiny’s funding problems began seven years ago, when her ex-husband, Stephan Schmidheiny, stepped away from the organisation. The Swiss industrial billionaire set up Daros Latinamerica with his wife in 2000 and initiated the renovation of the Casa Daros building, but he is no longer involved in the institute. Another sign of trouble at the cultural centre is the recent abrupt departure of key members of staff, including Eugenio Valdés Figueroa, who was responsible for the educational programme, and Hans-Michael Herzog, the former curator of the space.

According to Christian Verling, the chairman of Daros Latinamerica’s board of directors, the decision to shut down the space is part of a change in strategy for the Swiss collection, which owns more than 1,000 works by Latin American artists. “We want as many people as possible to engage with the exceptional art from our collection. Therefore, we will focus on co-operation with museums and institutions around the world,” Verling says. “This is why we will not open another Daros Latinamerica space elsewh ere.” The high costs of operating in Brazil and the difficulties in transporting works from Zurich, where they are stored, were also decisive factors in closing Casa Daros, he says.

In response to questions about the loss of personnel and the reasons that led to the decision to close the museum, Verling says that the organisation will not “discuss staff decisions in public” and that it “does not comment on [media] speculation”.

• The writer covers visual arts for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo