This fall break, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Sao Paulo along with my professors and peers in ARC 205: Introductory Interdisciplinary Studio. This excursion was designed for us to observe and analyse how the city’s art and architecture has mimicked, reflected, and catalysed social, economic, and political attitudes across Sao Paulo and, by extension, Brazil. The Museum of Modern Art is one structure that struck me, since it illustrated in a very real sense the impact of art and architecture on the built environment and developing urbanism. Its impact is twofold: first, in its physical design that directly intervenes with the city’s landscape, and next, in its unique exhibition style and in the genres of art it exhibits.The Museum of Modern Art (MASP: Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo) headquarters were built by acclaimed Brazilian Modernist architect Lina Bardi in 1968, and today, remains a landmark site located in the center of the city’s commercial district. It currently functions as a non-profit private institution concerned with initiatives promoting art education and cultural awareness. What fascinated me most about the structure is how Bo Bardi designed it as a building that, as if famously suggested, does not just occupy prime Sao Paulo real estate in its immense physicality, but rather, manages to give back and produce more public space. This is possible since the building has been created with a massive split down the middle, with one half buried under the plaza, and the other suspended above it, a condition that seems surreal and almost gravity-defying to a passer-by. The plaza remains occupiable, rather, it seems like fascination with the surrounding architectural environment has increased its popularity — at any given point in the day, it is filled with locals and tourists. This radical design choice emphasises the significance of materiality and the effects it produces. Despite the MASP’s large span and evidently discernable weight through sheer physicality of reinforced concrete, the two red pillars and the suspended structure give rise to, unexpectedly enough, a paradoxical feeling of both lightness and immense strength. Walking underneath the box is a strange and inexplicable feeling, producing at once feelings of intrepidity, fear, and great liberation.
The uniqueness of the MASP does not stop at the form, but continues to the main gallery — another of Bo Bardi’s fascinating artistic statements. While the main galleries of most other large museums, especially those housing Western art, are connected via a series of passageways opening out onto the next, the MASP rejects these traditional plans in favor of one very large rectangular open floor plan that questions and redefines hierarchies connected to forms and genres of art. Visitors are meant to walk through this large space with little forced directionality, allowing for a non-linear, and therefore, a more fluid experience of viewing artwork.The feature of this gallery that struck me most was the iconic mounting style of the painting. Each painting is mounted between two glass sheets, that produce the suggestion that the paintings seem to be ‘suspended’ in mid-air — much like the museum itself is suspended in the center of the city. This suspension, where museum labels are mounted on the back of the mounted canvas, also clearly calls to attention the pure physicality and three-dimensionality of a work of art, and immediately objectifies it, something I thought was a charged, and highly idiosyncratic move for a museum to be making. This generated a peculiar viewing experience that definitely took getting used to, but not one that I necessarily disliked. Conclusively, not only is the MASP celebrated for its collection of fine Western and Brazilian art, but is also iconic in its deliberate architectural, artistic, and design choices that set it apart from any other museum I have visited. It significantly altered the role I assigned to art and architecture as reflectors of, and catalysts for, socio-economic and political change, and witnessing how residents and tourists engaged with this unique site re-affirmed to me the undeniable role of these two media to affect an urban population.