The Museu de Arte de São Paulo, or MASP for short, is not your ordinary art museum. Not only is it a modernist architectural marvel—a giant glass box suspended over concrete supported by four bright red beams—it also doesn’t follow any particular layout, and therefore allows you to meander the gallery making your own ontological journey through the world of art.
This lack of structure combined with the museum’s enormous collection, which is known as the most impressive collection of Western art in Latin America, makes for a rare experience. You can at one moment contemplate the visage of a fearsome Chinese Tang Dynasty tomb guardian, ponder inscrutable African Yoruba fetishes, then study an ethereal sculpture of an ancient Roman goddess. At another moment you may be immersed in the hallucinatory and nightmarish vision of Hieronymus Bosch and in yet another be spellbound by a sublime sunset and landscape painting by Vincent van Gogh.
MASP was designed by the Italian-born architect Lina Bo Bardi, who moved to Brazil in 1946 and spent the rest of her life immersed in Brazilian culture and design. The massive concrete and glass space was constructed between 1956 and 1968.
Many of the paintings on display are beautiful examples of baroque art from Renaissance-era Italy, Spain, and Portugal, while others are from later eras of artistic innovation, such as works by artists of the Dutch Golden Age or the English Romantics. Also displayed are impressionist and modernist masterpieces of the 19th and 20th centuries, by European greats such as Amedeo Modigliani, Edouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, Pierre-Auguste-Renoir, Paul Gauguin, and Francis Bacon.
But it’s not just European art that is showcased here. There are also many works by Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, and the great Brazilian artists such as the haunting social realist paintings of Candido Portinari and the vivacious and sensual works of Emiliano di Cavalcanti. While the vibrant and evocative design of the museum’s exterior has become a landmark of the city, it ought not to overshadow the extraordinary collection housed inside.
Know Before You Go
MASP is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday (closed Mondays) and entrance costs 15 reais. Tuesdays are the best time to visit as the museum stays open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and entrance is free.