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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

Guignard, Brazilian artist

9 Nov

In an eighteenth century house on the busy thoroughfare of Rua Direita (officially known as Rua Conde de Bobadela), at number 110 in Ouro Preto MG, there’s a little gem of an art museum. An elegant building, like much of the centre of Ouro Preto it’s baroque in style.

It’s the Casa Museu Guignard, dedicated to the work of Alberto da Veiga Guignard, twentieth century Brazilian painter.

18th century domestic architecture

Many of Guignard’s works are in private collections; the museum’s modest collection is mostly portraits. The collection offers an insight into the workings of Brazilian society.

A a series of portrait sketches from the 1950s are decorative and well drafted.

Indian ink on paper – reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley

But there’s more than decoration here. A sketch of a freed slave, Francisca da Silva de Oliveira, who rose to the highest levels of society in the wealthy state of Minas Gerais, rubs shoulders with portraits of writers and patrons of the arts.


Chica da Silva (1732 – 1796), freed slave and Minas Gerais society figure

More of her story at

Equally, Guignard’s unerring eye is turned on himself – thick glasses, hare lip – and stares back at us from the self-portrait.



An accomplished draftsman, Guignard also handled paint with skill.

Brazilian Italian Anita Uxa, founder of an arts appreciation society in Belo Horizonte

Brazilian Italian Anita Uxa, founder of an arts appreciation society in Belo Horizonte MG

Video portrait of Anita Uxa in Italian at 

His style calls to mind Warhol portraits, his backgrounds can remind you of the topography of European portraiture.

Lúcia Machado de Almeida, Ouro Preto writer

Lúcia Machado de Almeida, Ouro Preto children’s author

In the portrait of Lúcia Machado de Almeida, her subject – the city and its surroundings – seem to revolve around her. More at

A landscape of Minas Gerais is apocalyptic – the baroque landmarks look like ships on a storm-tossed sea, roped together by the roads.

Minas landscape

Minas landscape

At his best, Guignard transcends the naif style of the souvenir painting to offer penetrating vision and insight. The museum rightly offers this portrait as his best work in their holdings.

Portrait of a man, oil on wood, 1949

Portrait of a man, oil on wood, 1949

There are more sketches and portraits in the collection, as well as hand-drawn cards, decorated objects and photographs. A short documentary video is also helpful.

Known as a landscape painter, Guignard’s portraits are the stronger work. With a European-trained eye and a deep connection to society life, he offers a new perspective on the rich diversity of Brazilian culture.

Old Testament Illustrations by Gustave Doré

14 Oct

During a recent visit to Montevideo, at a wedding reception in a country house, I came across the first volume of a family Bible.

Your name here - family tree in family Bible

Your name here – family tree in family Bible

It had survived the transformation from family home to hospitality venue, albeit more as set dressing than as devotional book. The illustrations by Gustave Doré, printed as woodcuts, mostly by Héliodore Pisan, are rich in detail and drama.

God creates light

God creates light …

I found the urge to record and share these images irresistible.

 ... and Eve.

… and Eve.

Immaculately engraved by Pisan, foremost engraver of Doré’s illustrations, they repay close attention for his fluency of line, and for the skill with which he handles light. Zoom in to see more.

Adam and Eve banished from Paradise

Adam and Eve banished from Paradise

The compositions are as dramatic as we expect from Doré. They were a great success when first published in 1866 for the English text, and seem to have made their way to Uruguay as well, to accompany a Spanish version.

A scene from the Flood

A scene from the Flood

Influenced by and influencing artists in France, and in London from 1853 – where Fuseli was Keeper of the Royal Academy until 1825, Géricault had exhibited The Raft of the Medusa in 1820, Blake worked on Biblical illustrations until his death in 1827  – Doré’s eye for the dramatic fitted well with Old Testament stories.

Noah sends out a dove

Noah sends out a dove

Adept at depicting the historical times and the scenarios of Old Testament stories,

Mesopotamian lion

Mesopotamian lion

Doré combined easily a sense of dramatic lighting and composition with symbolism and allegory – the Christian cross outlined against the fallen Mesopotamian pillar, the snake-like writhing tail of one of Daniel’s lions.

The dream of Jacob

The dream of Jacob

Recurring devices – writhing figures, rays of light,

Jacob's prayer

Jacob’s prayer

cloudscapes –

Jacob - soon to  be named 'Israel', wrestling with God - and the angel

Jacob – soon to be named Israel, ‘wrestling with God’ – and the angel

are deployed with an unerring sense of the dramatic.

Joseph sold into slavery

Joseph sold into slavery

In architectural and in natural settings,

The interpretation of dreams

The interpretation of dreams

Doré places and lights his characters assuredly.

Saul and David

Saul and David

whether singly or in large groups.

Elijah taken into Heaven

Elijah taken into Heaven

Doré’s choice of passages for illustration may reflect his own times too – the reign of Queen Athaliah of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles has parallels with the reign of Napoleon III, who declared himself Emperor in 1852,

The execution of Queen  Athaliah

The execution of Queen Athaliah

and was eventually exiled to England after his reversals of fortune.

His three friends visit Job on his dunghill

His three friends counsel Job on his dunghill

Doré’s illustrations can be read as a warning to the rulers of Doré’s France.

The sack of Jerusalem and the First Temple

The sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple

Incursion by Prussia was a real threat to the Second Empire in France,

The Mesopotamian Great Bull of Heaven imagined by Doré

The Mesopotamian Great Bull of Heaven imagined by Doré

to be followed, after the defeats of the Franco-Prussian War, by the Third Empire.

Minor prophet and scribe to Jeremiah, Baruch believed in Jerusalem's resurgence

Minor prophet and scribe to Jeremiah, Baruch believed in Jerusalem’s resurgence

Perhaps Doré ascribes to artists the power of the Biblical prophets to see a brighter future,

Daniel, who refused to accept the culture of his Babylonian captors

Daniel, who refused to accept the culture of his Babylonian captors

even when their faith is sorely tested.

Daniel in the lions' den

Daniel in the lions’ den

The dramatic power of his vision and his invention is Doré’s own firm and lasting monument. It was thrilling to see how it has lasted over space and time.

Sylvio Perlstein Collection at MASP

29 Jun

The Sao Paulo gallery MASP (“maspee”) or Museu de Arte de São Paulo is hosting an extraordinary collection of twentieth-century art, assembled over many years by Sylvio Perlstein, a Brazilian-Belgian jeweler and diamond merchant. It is on show until August 10th.

An expertly hung show

An expertly hung show

First exhibited publicly seven years ago in Paris, this treasure trove of twentieth century art is an outstanding collection, including iconic works by leading artists – Duchamp, Man Ray, Dali, Magritte, Breton, Kandinsky, Klein, Twombly, Johns, Lichtenstein, Nauman, André, Kosuth, Long, Warhol, Kruger, Haring … and you recognise them from reproductions. They are not minor works.

(Part of) Obstruction by Man Ray

(Part of) Obstruction by Man Ray

From the first work, by Man Ray, which greets you at the entrance, the art canon jumps off the walls at you, propelled by its fame.

MASP takes its remit to educate seriously, and this exhibition serves that purpose admirably. It’s a lightning tour of most of the important art movements of the twentieth century, and an exciting collection. (And the antique and crafts market under the red MASP arches on Saturdays and Sundays is good too.) Go!

The MASP mission to educate is well served

The MASP mission to educate is well served

Murano glass?

26 Jun

Here is a piece from the famous firm of Seguso, based on the island of Murano in the lagoon of Venice since 1397.

More at

from the Ca d'Or line of Seguso glass

from the Ca d’Or line of Seguso glass

I bought it at the shop within the Instituto Cultural Tomie Ohtake in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Brazilians have admired good glass for many years. The antique markets have plenty of examples, from Lalique and from Murano makers.

This piece is from the product line named Cá d’Oro, after a palazzo in Venice which was once covered in gold leaf. There were a number of examples of the line in various colours in the shop – black, white, red, a bright blue. I found this the most successful.

The piece works by reflecting the colour in the base internally within its thickness, so that it shines through the rounded lip as well as the coin spot of vivid colour in the base. A little treasure in a well-stocked shop.

Colour reflected and transmitted

Colour reflected and transmitted

P.S.  As to the mystery of why a piece of Murano glass can be so cheap – R$80, about US$35, or GB£20 at today’s rates – it is because it’s Brazilian Seguso.

“Mario Seguso (and sons) was of the well known Seguso family of Murano but was working in Brazil … he took up residence in Brazil from 1954 … items made by Mario Seguso in Brazil are signed Seguso Brazil”, though this particular example is not signed like that.

More at,33418.5/wap2.html

and at


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.

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