The Museu de Arte de São Paulo is a private, nonprofit museum founded by Brazilian businessman Assis Chateaubriand, in 1947, as Brazil’s first modern museum. Chateaubriand invited Italian art dealer and critic Pietro Maria Bardi to serve as MASP’s director, a position he held for nearly forty-five years. Acquired through donations from the local society, MASP’s first artworks were selected by Bardi and became the most important collection of European art in the Southern Hemisphere. 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. Besides the permanent exhibition of its collection, MASP organizes a comprehensive program of temporary exhibitions, courses, and talks, as well as musical, dance, and theater presentations.
Originally located on Rua 7 de Abril, in São Paulo’s downtown district, in 1968 the museum was transferred to its current building on Avenida Paulista; its striking architectural design by Lina Bo Bardi has made it a landmark of 20th-century architecture. Lina Bo Bardi used glass and concrete to create an architecture of rough surfaces without luxurious finishing but that conveys a sense of lightness, transparency, and suspension. The plaza underneath the building, known as “free span”, was designed to serve as a public square. The architect’s radicality can also be appreciated in the iconic crystal easels she designed for displaying the museum’s collection on the building’s second floor.
In removing the artworks from the wall, the easels question the traditional model of the European museum. At MASP, the vast open space, coupled with a transparent, suspended exhibition design, allows for a closer rapport between the visitors and the collection, one in which visitors choose their own paths, tracing their own histories.