Group shot: Gabriel, me, Lissy, Dick, Fernanda, Isaac and Alexia, under one of the 1,500 different species of palm trees on the reserve

I learned (or relearned, as it were) a very valuable lesson when I was in Brazil: Sometimes, you can’t be such a control freak. My friends Alexia and Fernanda, who put together the Louis Vuitton store opening in Sao Paolo, told me they were taking me to the mythical Inhotim art sanctuary, and to leave all the details up to them. I have a hard time with that sort of thing; and a few times I thought they were going to kill me when I moaned about not knowing every detail about flights, travel, dietary restrictions and such. And, looking back, they should have killed me. They put together the most marvelous visit to Inhotim, the sort I could have only prayed for and never organized for myself. Glamorous transportation, glorious accommodations in the home of the founder of Inhotim, guided tours. I owe them big time.

I had heard about Inhotim in art circles in the past, but it seemed too good to actually exist: A self-made rich man, who made his fortune in mining, acquired a few hundred acres of wildlife in his native town in Central Brazil, and turned it into an art reserve, inviting artists to come and make their fantasies come true. We met the man, called Bernardo Paz, and the story checked out. Entirely true. A true patron of the art world. Who has he brought to this mecca? Doug Aiken, Yayoi Kusama, Matthew Barney, Cildo Meireles, Olafur Eliasson, and his friend, the one who got him into collecting in the first place, Tunga. And many more. He has built pavilions for these artists, or galleries to house their art. And then there are the gardens. He has more than 1,500 different species of palm trees, the most of any place in the world.

When we were walking around the gardens, we overheard two women talking about Bernardo, saying they should marry him and live here and be his queen. (If they had, they would be his seventh and eighth wives.) But it’s funny: In England, everyone wants Prince Harry. Here, they want this silver haired desert fox with a penchant for supporting contemporary artists. As with anything truly inspiring, the time we were there was never enough. We visited all the pavilions, we swam under the palm trees, we ate delicious food. But we didn’t even tap into the education network that Paz has built, and how his vision has revolutionized the economy of the surrounding towns. As the New York Times said in their interview with him, they call him the ‘Emperor of Inhotim’ for a reason. (And in case anyone, like me, had a problem pronouncing the place, it’s Inhotim: “Eng-yo-chim.” You’re welcome.)

My favorite work of art? Olafur Eliason’s ‘View Machine (2001-2008).’ And I think the reasons why it would be my favorite are many times obvious here

Yayoi Kusama’s ‘Narcissist Garden,’ which was an homage to her performance pieces (she used to sell these silver balls for $2 when she ewas living the life of an avante garde performance artist in 1960′s New York) of years ago

Elisabeth von Thurn and Taxis in Inhotim’s very first gallery, with work by Tunga. Within a few years, there will be more than 100 different galleries and pavilions

Matthew Barney’s ‘From mud, a blade (2009),’ which was another one of my favorites. (I also loved Doug Akin’s mountain top sound installation, which recorded the sounds from the center of the earth. Hard to illustrate in a picture, though.) Inside what looks like Barney’s mirrored climatron was a beat up, muddy tractor holding a waxed white tree. The experience, especially in this jungle, was surreal

Fernanda in a red room by Cildo Meireles. Like I Instagrammed when I was sat at fiery desk in this same piece, eat your heart out, Diana Vreeland!
Tunga’s hat in his pavilion, the largest and newest. Between the boater appeal and the skulls, all I could think about was ‘Death in Venice’

I learned a new Portuguese expression in Brazil: ‘Um Luxo,’ which means, ‘The Luxury.’ It amused me, Lissy, Fernanda and Alexia to all ends, so we decided to illustrate it at Marila Dardot’s pavilion of potted plant letters

Chris Burden filled a pool with cement and dumped these large metal poles in them. It took 10 minutes. Viola!

Giuseppe Penone created the trunk of this tree in bronze, and then suspended it on top of four real trees. This was in a grassy, sun drenched field in the middle of the property. For some reason it reminded me of that scene in Jurassic Park where the flock of dinosaurs runs through a field and then gets eaten by the T-Rex. I wouldn’t have been surprised if this guy had dinosaurs down there too

Valeska Soares created one of my favorite works too: Inside this mirrored hut was a virtual dance floor, with Dusty Springfield’s ‘The Look of Love,’ one of my favorite-est songs ever, playing on repeat

Bernardo was kind enough to let us occupy the guest rooms of his house, and this fantastic bell was situated by the pool. Alexia discovered that, yes, the sculpture was entirely anatomically represented

Having (a little too much?) fun at Cristina Iglesias’ pavilion

Until next time, Brazil!