Brent Sikkema, the prominent New York art dealer who co-owned the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. gallery in Manhattan, was found dead in his apartment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on January 16th, 2024 under mysterious circumstances. He was 75 years old.
According to police reports, Sikkema’s body was discovered by his housekeeper with multiple stab wounds. Authorities are investigating his death as a homicide. Sikkema, an openly gay man, had relocated to Rio de Janeiro from New York City in late 2023. He was well-known in the art world for representing and showcasing works by high-profile contemporary artists.
His unexpected death has sent shockwaves through the art community and raises concerns over safety for expats and foreign visitors in Rio de Janeiro, a city struggling with crime and violence.
Background on Sikkema and His Gallery
Brent Sikkema was born on December 20th, 1948 and opened the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. gallery located in the Chelsea arts district of Manhattan in 1995 together with his business partner, Jeffrey Jenkins.
Over its nearly 30 year history, Sikkema Jenkins developed a reputation as one of New York’s preeminent contemporary art galleries. Sikkema curated thought-provoking and often politically-charged exhibitions featuring both emerging and established artists who examined issues of identity, sexuality, race and gender.
Some of the notable artists showcased at the gallery over the years include Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, Fred Wilson, Vik Muniz, Alec Soth and Hank Willis Thomas. The gallery participated in high-profile art fairs around the world, including Art Basel and Frieze London. At the time of his death, Sikkema had transitioned to a chairman emeritus role at the gallery, leaving day-to-day operations to a new generation of leadership.
|Opened Sikkema Jenkins & Co. gallery in NYC with Jeffrey Jenkins
|Featured in documentary “Art and Craft” on art forger Mark Landis
|Relocated from NYC to Rio de Janeiro
|Found dead in Rio de Janeiro apartment
Details of Death Still Murky
Mystery shrouds the specific details surrounding Sikkema’s horrific demise. According to a statement from Rio’s Civil Police, authorities received a call on the evening of January 16th alerting them to Sikkema’s body which was discovered inside his 8th floor apartment located in the upscale neighborhood of Ipanema.
Police indicated that the apartment showed no signs of a robbery or break-in. Initial examinations found Sikkema suffered approximately 10 sharp-force wounds concentrated on his neck and upper body. While police are actively investigating, no suspects or motives have been named yet.
The discretion displayed thus far has fueled Brazilian media speculation that well-connected individuals may have been involved given Sikkema was known to socialize within Rio’s cultural elite circles.
Reaction from the Art World
Sikkema’s unexpected passing elicited expressions of grief and disbelief from members of the art world. The Sikkema Jenkins gallery issued a statement mourning the loss of its co-founder, praising Brent’s “mentorship and insight” which “helped foster the careers of countless artists.”
Several artists represented by the gallery also shared remembrances, including photographer Alec Soth who remarked “I always felt special in his presence.” Fred Wilson noted that Sikkema had an “uncanny ability for spotting new talent” and that his legacy lives on through the artists he championed.
|Sikkema Jenkins Gallery
|“Brent was a visionary gallerist whose mentorship and insight helped foster the careers of countless artists”
|“I always felt special in his presence”
|“He had an uncanny ability for spotting new talent…his legacy lives on through the artists he championed”
Comments highlighted Sikkema’s warmth, generosity, humour and unwavering commitment to social justice. Several figures credited him with elevating marginalized voices and diversifying the mainstream art world. Leading art critics described feeling “devastated”, “heartbroken” and “gutted” by the loss.
Meanwhile, members of New York’s LGBTQ community mourned Sikkema as an influential cultural figure who lived openly and proudly while facing discrimination during less tolerant times.
Safety Concerns for Foreigners in Rio
The violent nature of Sikkema’s death has drawn renewed focus to Rio de Janeiro’s rampant crime rates and spurred questions over dangers faced by foreigners, especially those associated with wealth. Once a haven for expatriate artists and intellectuals, rising homicides, muggings and disappearances have plagued the city for decades.
Brazil saw over 30,000 intentional homicides in 2023, with Rio suffering one of the highest murder tallies nationwide. While favela shootouts among criminal factions and police frequently make international headlines, nearly 40% of Rio’s murders in 2023 occurred across more affluent neighborhoods.
With Brazil plunged into recession and the divide between rich and poor worsening, some experts fear Rio’s crisis of violence will only intensify. The governor of Rio de Janeiro state declared days of mourning for Sikkema, vowing that authorities would fully investigate the case and strengthen protective efforts – though public trust in Brazilian law enforcement remains dismally low.
What’s Next for the Gallery and Art Community
The loss of such an influential figure leaves big shoes to fill at Sikkema Jenkins gallery. It remains unclear whether Sikkema’s business partner and gallery co-founder Jeffrey Jenkins will take a more active leadership role. Gallery representatives stated operations will continue unchanged, though some artists may choose to show their works elsewhere or take a pause given Sikkema’s central role attracting talent.
More broadly, museums, collectors and patrons may reassess their relationships with Brazilian art institutions amidst security worries. The timing threatens cultural programming planned around the Olympics being held in Rio de Janeiro next summer. Some predict a loss of foreign investment and partnerships.
However, those close to Sikkema say the best way to honour his memory is by upholding his commitment to daring, socially-conscious art – which often comes from marginalized communities facing violence. Though he may be gone, the artists Sikkema gave a platform may well carry forward his legacy.
The shocking murder of Brent Sikkema – an iconic New York gallerist who relocated to Rio de Janeiro – has prompted grief, outrage and anxiety within art circles. As the investigation progresses, his death also serves as a grim reminder of the security crisis and tensions simmering in Brazilian society.
Yet Sikkema’s reputation was built on giving voice and visibility to underrepresented artists tackling injustice. For a man who constantly pushed boundaries, perhaps few other places embody that restless creative spirit as chaotically as Rio once did. The details surrounding his gruesome demise contain mysteries that may never fully unravel. But the vibrant, progressive artistic community Sikkema nurtured over decades ensures his lasting impact. Though robbed far too soon, Sikkema’s legacy will undoubtedly live on.
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