From its "floating" design to its famous art heists
1. It’s Brazil's first modern museum
Chateaubriand was no stranger to launching big, public passion projects, like his National Aviation Campaign. And in the 1940s he turned this attention to art. On October 2, 1947, he opened his ‘Museu de Arte de São Paulo’, often shortened to MASP.
MASP is considered by many to be Brazil’s first modern museum.
2. It’s a museum for all
Chateaubriand couldn’t open the museum alone. In the 1940s, he recruited the Italian art expert Pietro Maria Bardi to help him, and Bardi had a huge influence on the project, becoming Co-Founder and Director. Chateaubriand initially wanted to open a "Museum of Classical and Modern Art", but Bardi stopped him; he believed that there shouldn’t be distinctions made between art forms – such as fine art and design – and that art galleries should be more accessible. So Bardi renamed the museum the more general and simple "Museum of Art". Ever since, the museum has stayed true to this open, diverse approach to the arts, with a varied program of temporary exhibitions, courses, and talks, as well as musical, dance, and theater performances.
3. It’s the child of a power couple
The museum – both its building and the building’s contents – are the product of one of the most successful and talented of all power couples. Pietro Maria Bardi didn’t come from Italy to open the museum alone: Bardi’s wife, the talented architect and designer Lina Bo Bardi, accompanied him to Brazil.
Born in Italy in 1914, Lina Bo Bardi moved to Brazil with her husband in 1946. Lina Bo Bardi was a pioneering Modernist architect who designed several iconic buildings, including The Glass House, where she lived with her husband, and - you’ve guess it - the The São Paulo Museum of Art. Lina Bo Bardi’s design for MASP made the site one of the greatest landmarks in São Paulo, and is regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-Century architecture.
Lina Bo Bardi’s reach also extended well beyond her architecture career: she was also a publisher, teacher, designer, curator and political activist. Bardi was both a pioneer and a polymath.
4. It floats
As well as housing works of fine art, the museum building is a work of art in its own right. A landmark of modern Brazilian architecture and a striking example of Brutalism, Lina Bo Bardi used glass and concrete to create a building that almost seems to float in mid-air. The main building is suspended on two large concrete beams which rest on huge piers. Not only does this give the building a greater sense of light and space, but it also creates an open public plaza underneath. Known as “free span”, Lina Bo Bardi designed this area beneath the galleries to serve as a public square for the community to gather, to give shelter and shade, and to host public events. It’s beautiful AND practical.
5. Its art is set in “crystal easels”
The building isn’t the only thing that Lina Bo Bardi designed to appear to float; her design for the building was complemented by the clear “crystal easels” she created for the gallery’s interior. As radical as the exterior, Bardi’s design suspended the artworks in perspex frames. Free from the walls, the artworks hang in the middle of the huge gallery space, meaning that visitors can work out their own routes around the artworks and the space, drawing their own connections and choosing their own path through art history.
6. It was involved in an art heist worthy of a Hollywood film
MASP has been at the center of not one but two attempted art thefts. On October 29, 2007, two men attacked security guards in an attempt to steal priceless paintings, but fled without taking anything with them. On December 20, 2007, a second group of men broke in to attempt to steal artworks including the very valuable Portrait of Suzanne Bloch by Pablo Picasso. The thieves made off with about $70 million worth of paintings. But all’s well that ends well – the artworks were later recovered and returned to the museum.
7. It houses some VERY familiar names
Only the best art galleries are the targets of art thieves, and MASP has an incredible collection of artworks from some of the most famous names in art history. Today, MASP’s collection contains more than 8.000 works, including paintings, sculptures, objects, photographs, and costumes from a wide range of periods, encompassing art from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. It houses works by Raphael, Titian, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and many, many more. In fact, the museum's collection of Western art is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere.