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Anyone who drives along the Avenida Paulista, one of São Paulo’s main streets, will immediately notice the striking Museu de Arte de São Paulo. This architectural masterpiece rests on 4 enormous red legs, the glass and concrete box floating metres above the pavement. It is also one of the best art museums in South America.
The MASP (Museu de Arte de São Paulo) takes great pride in housing the largest collection of western art in the entire Southern Hemisphere. The works of many great masters, from Renoir, Cézanne and Monet to Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Matisse, can be admired here. The museum also displays other beautiful works by Brazilian, African and Asian artists.
The mission of Assis Chateaubriand, the founder of the MASP, was to provide São Paulo with an art collection of international calibre. Assisted by art connoisseur Pietro Maria Bardi, the wealthy media mogul began purchasing famous paintings after World Word II. At first, the newly acquired Rembrandts and Picassos were displayed in Chateaubriand’s office building where several floors had been set up as an exhibit space.
However, once the artwork started to outgrow the exhibit space it was time to find a new home. Bardi’s wife, architect Lina Bo Bardi, designed the new museum structure on the Avenida Paulista with 4 gigantic pillars, creating a 74-metre-long building suspended above the ground – the city had mandated her to preserve the view of the city centre. The MASP was completed in 1968. The building is seen as a milestone of modern architecture and is one of the most eye-catching symbols of São Paulo.
There are rumours that the art collection wasn’t acquired entirely in a legitimate way - Chateaubriand may have forced people to donate money or part with pieces from their private collection. The collection however is certainly one that imposes respect, with masterpieces from the 13th through the 19th century. There is an exhibit area that houses the entire collection of sculptures by Edgar Degas; these 73 bronze sculptures truly are unique.
Chateaubriand didn’t want the MASP to be just a fabulous museum but also a place to transmit knowledge and culture, and that has certainly been achieved. The MASP has blossomed into a thriving culture centre, with educational exhibits about art history, creative courses, seminars and film screenings. There is always something new on offer. There are also temporary photography, design or architecture exhibits.