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Sao Paulo Street Art Again

6 Jan

Staying in Sao Paulo while everyone is away on holiday has its advantages – quieter, cleaner air, easier access. Even losing electricity has an up side. Often happens here in Zona Oeste – with January rain, with wind, or for no reason. Takes out light in homes, and whole blocks of street lighting, makes you get out more, unhooked from the virtual. I went out for a stroll.

Real and painted leaves

Real and mosaic leaves

Diesel generators power the public parts of apartment towers, LEDs light stairwells.  You notice how bright the remaining street lights and traffic lights are. Street art takes on a new character. The mirror tiles on a mural glitter.

Christmas tree, Brazilian style

Christmas tree, Brazilian style

In the holiday season, decorations are up and in the dark, a little more dramatic.

Night-time Nativity

Night-time Nativity

Sao Paulo is an illustrated environment. With lighting changes, you see it anew.

Traffic control ...

Traffic control …

The works on these two traffic control boxes are by prolific local artist Treco, along with anti-meat stickers, declarations of love, and a sketch of an urban Transformer-style creature (on the plinth below). Here’s his Flickr photo-stream.

 ... and public art gallery

… and public art gallery

In the background, painted plant-like filigree adorns the walls of a corner sorveteria, and a beauty parlour. I stroll on.

Wall art - Beryl Cook bathers

Wall art – sea bathing

I discover an older mural. With engaging whimsy, a utilitarian wall has become a grey sandy beach – foaming water, sea creatures, bathing belles. They are from an earlier time, in subject and in style, like British seaside postcards.

View from Rua Teodoro Sampaio

View from Rua Teodoro Sampaio

Rua Teodoro, usually burdened with grinding diesel buses, is calm. From the elevated walkway, something I hadn’t noticed before.

Exotic geisha-like figure

Exotic geisha-like figure

An ordinary mixed-use building shows a mythic scene. A comfortably plump figure floats free – is he underwater? In the circus ring? A long shape, a doorway, is suspended on his silver spear before a geisha, painted in flat Japanese woodcut style, while a costumed aerialist descends with a basket – an air vent – on her arm. Is it a box for steamed dumplings? Will she take what they offer?

Neptune's offering

Neptune’s offering

And under the walkway, on Rua Joaquim Antunes, a pair of new works strikingly lit by yellowish flood lamps. They are a horse and an eagle, in cutaway views, by Austrian muralist Nychos. The eagle is centred on a motto in his native German.

Eagle, but not as we know it

American Eagle, but not as we know it

“der Zeit ihre Kunst.der Kunst ihre Freiheit!” (“the time its art. the art its freedom”) A very famous and important term which was written of top of the Secession in Vienna long time ago. A term which has been forgotten in many ways if i watch austrian news lately.” Nychos.

1897 Wiener Secession, Joseph Maria Olbrich – architectural manifesto for the Vienna Secession

“I painted this piece in Sao Paulo to represent my 15 year anniversary of painting graffiti. The eagle is sliced but set free, tied by his veins to the bricks with all his passion for graffiti. after all these years going through all the steps of graffiti and art, i am happy to be here where i am now, doing what i love to do most and will keep doing forever. thanks to instagrafite for getting this up in the heart of brazil.” Nychos.

Time Your Art, Art Your Freedom

“To every time its art, to art its freedom” Google Translate

His style references gang ‘colours’, tattoo and metal music graphics. The cut-away calls to mind Francis Bacon’s paintings of flayed animals, Damien Hirst’s shark,

Anatomy of a horse

Anatomy of a horse

the plastinated bodies of Gunther von Hagens, or the work of Frederick Stubbs with horse carcasses in preparation for his paintings.

“Horsepower (This one is dedicated to my Mom) THX Instagrafite and Montana Cans (official) Sao Paulo 2014” (May / June. He did a dissection graphic of a wild boar for his dad in Berlin in May.)

The artist's avatar, perhaps

Local post-script

A graphic has been added, commenting in a cryptically good-natured way on the gringo‘s work.

Horse power

Horsepower on the street

Part of the complex cultural eco-system of Brazil, street art is one of its most vital aspects. That it is international in reach, with a substantial history, and that there is a discernible and thriving local style – free-form, incorporating three-dimensional and building elements, unafraid to mix graphic styles in one work (look at this piece from Rio Centro) –

Rua Riacheulo in Rio

Rua Riacheulo in Rio, July 2012

is reason enough for Brazil to be generous with its street artists, and for them to ask for and to expect support.

More on Nychos at

MASP Updates

28 Dec

The Museu de Arte de São Paulo, or MASP  is “undergoing a process of … renewal” in which the architecture of the museum building will be partially restored, and less well-known work from the considerable collection displayed.

Staircase, first floor

Staircase and lift with red arch, first floor

The building is the work of Italian Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. Iconic red arches support the upper floors on legs or pilotis over an open plaza, with its Saturday antiques fair, its buskers and vendors, and its complement of Sao Paulo street life.


The rationale

The re-exhibition of the collection has already begun, in a public process of hanging by themes and types – head and shoulders portraits, full female portraits, landscapes and city-scapes, still life work, male portraits, and more. During January the on-line public can suggest works for exhibition from the Museum’s catalogue, also a three-volume work for sale in the excellent bookshop at a substantial discount.

" ... the emblem of the process ... of institutional renewal"

” … the emblem of the process … of institutional renewal”

The playful sculpture chosen to usher in this new phase is by the internationally active Brazilian artist Rubens Gerchman. Titled Ar – Cartilha do Superlativo or Air – Primer of the Superlative, it has an additional joke for English speakers: it appears to translate its theme when viewed from the side, as in the photo on the hand-out above. Only from the front does the ‘i’ of ‘air’ vanish.

Goddess restored

Goddess restored – Hellenic Hygiea

MASP’s current exhibitions are a credit to their curators and collections – the restored statue above is of the Greek goddess of health and cleanliness, for the exhibition Deuses e Madonas – A Arte do Sagrado. As in any restoration, they will face difficult questions.

Should the red arches be returned to their original concrete, as in the city-scape of Avenida Paulista to be hung on the first floor?

Are there enough funds for the conservation of the collection? (Ar – Cartilha do Superlativo is showing signs of wear.) Or indeed for better translations into English?

If the original open plan of the gallery is to be restored with all its light and air – and a striking view of the canopy of the remaining rainforest across the road in the Parque Trianon – where will the administrators currently occupying the panoramic windows go?

the museum abandoned this ... at the end of the 1990s, when it starts to be ... implemented by foreign institutions

MASP “abandoned this at the end of the 90s as it starts to be implemented by foreign institutions”

What will be the effect of raising prices and abolishing free entry for those 60 years of age and more, due in January?

One thing I dare suggest to mitigate its effect is an improvement in the catering – the café can become a destination and a paying proposition rather than the half-hearted attempt it is now. Here’s a reminder of why from the 1988 ad campaign of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

The V & A: an ace caff  with quite a nice museum attached

Another goddess, in a good café with quite a nice museum attached

Stedelijk Amsterdam Restored & Extended

13 Jan

The Museumplein in Amsterdam used to be a scruffy out-of-the-way grassed space, traditionally the site of demonstrations. These days it’s the setting of a feast for the cultured classes of Amsterdam Centrum, with three internationally recognised museums and a world-class concert venue, the Concertgebouw, to its name. The 1885 Rijksmuseum was restored between 2003 and 2012. A national museum, it covers the years 1200 to 2000.

Museum Square - L to R Stedelijk, van Gogh and Rijksmusea

Museumplein Amsterdam – left to right, Stedelijk, van Gogh and Rijksmusea

In 2004 the renovation and extension of the neighbouring 1895 Stedelijk Museum began, running into 2012. At the same time, the Stedelijk changed its organisational style, moving from municipal status to independence in 2006.

The Stedelijk doubled its gallery space with the new building, but as usual, the architecture was controversial. Just like the National Gallery’s extension in London (“a monstrous carbuncle”, said Prince Charles), the design was roundly criticised – a “ridiculous … bathtub” according to Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for the New York Times. But then, the Eiffel Tower was fiercely criticised at inception too …

Commonly known as "the Bathtub"

Commonly known as “the Bathtub”

The new building has the effect of turning the Stedeljik around, its entrance now in the common cultural space of the Museumplein rather than on the busy Paulus Potterstraat. Home to an extensive collection of twentieth-century and contemporary art, it does indeed resemble a bathtub when viewed from the lofty heights of the critic’s view

but from the user’s perspective, it’s more like the hull of a ship.

Entrance hall

Entrance hall

The ‘legs’ of the bathtub enable a long perspective and natural light as the initial effects. Informative screens, orderly queues, and helpful multi-lingual staff add to a pleasant welcome. The restaurant seems well-used.

Posters of exhibitions at Stedelijk and other museums

Posters of exhibitions at Stedelijk and other museums

The Stedelijk is aware of its contribution to cultural life; its exhibition posters are markers in Dutch typography and design as well as in art.

Dan Flavin neon illuminates the older entrance

Dan Flavin neon illuminates the older entrance

It refers to other aspects of its history too. The white exterior of the new building alludes to the Stedelijk’s early use of the ‘white cube’ convention as exhibition space; a playful approach to the same concept is the candy-pink and mint ice-green neon of Dan Flavin’s work hung on the white entrance staircase.

Five Fives (to Donald Judd), 1965, by Joseph Kosuth underscrutiny

Five Fives (to Donald Judd), 1965, by Joseph Kosuth, under scrutiny

It’s a good contrast with Kosuth’s piece in neon. Kosuth, a minimalist heavyweight, is nevertheless sprinkled with the same fairy-dust by association.

In The Beanery by Edward Kienholz, 1965

In The Beanery by Edward Kienholz, 1965

Art history of a different sort is on show inside Kienholz’s reconstructed early Sixties bar; out in the town, neon and the demise of homophobia can be found colliding, to delicious effect. The original Beanery and the governing charity for Out of the Closet both hail from Los Angeles. Perhaps you need the distance of Amsterdam to gain perspective.

No ordinary charity store on the Jodenbreestraat

On the Jodenbreestraat, not an ordinary charity store

Another piece which uses light is LUST’s projections of news text onto the walls of the gallery, again to playful effect. As you move closer to a specific text box, it increases in size. A neat metaphor for the subjectivity of news media.

Type/Dynamics by design studio LUST inspired by Jurriaan Schrofer

2013 Type/Dynamics by design studio LUST, inspired by Jurriaan Schrofer

The perennial questions about ‘modern art’ – is it art? Emperor’s new clothes? could a five-year old do it? – make their appearance too. Is Jeff Koons’ work anything more than a sneer at popular taste? Is it original? Does it have to be? Given the title, he must be joking when he says his intent is not ironic. Multiple ironies, which sell rather well.

Jeff Koons, Ushering in Banality, inspired by  Hummel figurine ... or ...

Jeff Koons, Ushering in Banality, inspired by Hummel figurine … or …

Though Barbara Campbell who took the photograph from which Koons’ studio worked, didn’t enjoy the joke. See Comment 3 on

The Stedelijk carefully informed us that in this 1980s piece the wood carver from his Italian studio was still permitted to add his signature, a feature absent from Koons’ more recent work.

Police post alongside US Consulate, Museumplein

Police post alongside US Consulate, Museumplein

As you exit from the Stedelijk, across the open space of the Museumplein there’s a clear reminder of the social context for the new building. A police post sits up on sturdy, well-defended legs. Not a deliberate echo of the new building, it keeps watch over the space in front of the US Consulate opposite the Museum. It puts the repurposing of the Museumplein in a different light.

Tomie Ohtake at Estação Consolação

3 Apr

Architect Ruy Ohtake’s work is well known – his Torrre Faria Lima and Torrre Pedroso de Moraes, housing the Instituto Cultural Tomie Ohtake, is a familiar Sao Paulo landmark. The locals know the lower tower in the foreground by another more affectionate name.


Foreground, inverted ziggurat and sculptural support in the shape of star fruit – known as Palácio da Carambola

More on Ruy Ohtake at  and  .

His mother Tomie Ohtake is an established Brazilian painter, represented in the collections of the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP) and the Ibiripuera Auditorium, among others. Like her son, she uses bright areas and blocks of colour.

Tomie Ohtake, Composição em Amarelo, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo MASP

Tomie Ohtake, Composição em Amarelo, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo MASP

Entrance to theatre, Instituto Ohtake, architect Ruy Ohtake

Tomie Ohtake’s work is also on more public display. On a recent trip to Santos I used the Green Line, the Linha Verde or Line 2 of the Sao Paulo Metro. I was struck once more by the unabashed way in which Brazilian architects use exposed raw concrete in their work, alongside colourful tiling deployed with equal abandon. I have seen it in other settings.

Concrete and tile, Clube Paineiras do Morumby

Concrete and tile, Clube Paineiras do Morumby

The Metro stations use the same vernacular. See  .

Tomie Ohtake takes the language a step further. She has hung long shallow strips of primary-coloured tiling along the platform at Estação Consolação. The grey concrete is an effective foil for the colour, but more than that, the swooping shapes of the darker hues inserted from the top edge appear to dip as the slowing trains pull in, the uptick at the end of the shape reflecting the speed with which the train comes to a stop. She uses the kinetic aspect of her setting with refreshing playfulness.

Art advert ...

Overview for stationary passengers

The way the piece interacts with its setting even for stationary passengers is also an unexpected pleasure. You may not see the  colours swoop while standing on the platform, but the reflection in the steel pedestrian strip shows the work in a different light. The subtle and playful use of colour, shape and light enlivens the drabbest grey. You begin to understand why Tomie Ohtake has achieved her respected status, and how art can animate the urban built environment.

P.S Here’s the yellow panel in more detail, a beautifully realised colour balance.

Detail, tiled panel

Detail, tiled panel


 ... and the art itself

Platform Estação Consolação

Miguel Morois, Brasilian sculptor

23 Oct

In Salvador da Bahia, the strength of the Brasilian  visual culture is even more evident than usual. The historic Pelourinho centre is crammed full of baroque buildings – town houses, churches and institutions  – with a wealth of colour and ornament to dazzle and delight the eye.

Town houses, Praça da Sé

Ordem Terceira São Domingos Gusmão Church, Largo Terreiro de Jesus, Pelourinho

Museu de Arte Sacra, Rua do Sodré

The interiors of the churches are heavily ornamented – in some cases to excess – the traditional crafts and the popular arte naif mode are well represented, and fine examples of high art, including wood carving, abound. You can understand why an artist might want to live in such a visually rich environment.

Interior of São Francisco Church, Praça Anchieta

Fabric craft shop, Rua das Laranjeiras

Art shop, Rua das Laranjeiras

Carved jacaranda railing, São Francisco Church, Praça Anchieta

Forty years ago, Uruguyan sculptor Miguel Morois moved to Salvador da Bahia, and stayed. His work is displayed and sold at the Hotel Casa do Amarelindo in Pelourinho in Salvador. It’s a carefully restored nineteenth century town house which demonstrates the visual acuity of its owners.

Entrance to the hotel

Miguel carves and paints figures in wood of the gods or orixas of the candomble religious tradition. This work is medium scale – the figures stand 30 to 40 centimtres high – and they make good use of the bright colours traditionally associated with the various gods. More on them here

This is the Archangel Michael, who weighs souls and defeats Satan

They stand comparison with the best of church statuary.

Saint with skull, Catedral Basílica de Salvador

Xango, god of thunder and of justice, and Iemanja, goddess of the sea and of families …

… in their setting at Hotel Casa do Amarelindo

Saint George / Sao Jorge?

Ibeji, twin child gods – in Yoruba culture, a carving can stand in for a dead twin

At Hotel Casa do Amarelindo, it’s not just the menu which offers a feast. More at

View from restaurant to orixas in foyer

Trophy Towers

19 Jul

Torrre Faria Lima, on the Sao Paulo street of same name, and the low-rise Torrre Pedroso de Moraes (on that street), are the work of Brasilian architect Ruy Ohtake.

The two towers

The taller tower includes a heli-pad, as do quite a few office blocks in Sao Paulo. The low-rise went up first, and is known locally as the ‘Palácio da Carambola’ for its star-fruit-shaped supports.

Torre Pedroso de Moraes in the foreground

The low-rise tower houses “the Instituto Cultural Tomie Ohtake , a tribute to one of the most important contemporary visual artists and the mother of Ruy.” Commercial space is currently leased to a Brasilian international law firm.

Offices of Demarest & Almeida Avogados

The sleek tower sits somewhat incongrously in its surroundings, in the vanguard of the blocks marching down Avenida Faria Lima. More on Sao Paulo skyscrapers at

The towers in context

The towers are undeniably striking in their use of colour, all too rare in the usual modern tower block.

Vivid Brasilian colour

The link with his mother’s work in colour can easily be made.

Tomie Ohtake, Composição em Amarelo, Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo MASP

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