Virtual Brazil: Visual Art + Architecture

Brazilian Visual Arts

The hybrid creativity of Brazil’s 20th century visual art and architecture encompasses a striking range of modern and contemporary innovations, and promises increasing vitality and international recognition in coming years. This introduction and related links provide a point of departure.

Brazilian Modernism

Almost 30 years after the birth of the modern Republic in 1889, Brazilian art continued the path of many post-colonial countries: artists replicated imported classical styles and dismissed indigenous and non-European influences. The birth of Brazilian nationalism began in the 1920s when avant-garde artists such as Emiliano Di Cavalcanti and Tarsila Amaral, writers including Mario de Andrade, and composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos began to integrate indigenous and populist subjects and inspiration with international currents of Expressionism, Futurism, Surrealism, and Cubism. In 1928, poet and author Oswaldo de Andrade penned the landmark Anthropophagite Manifesto, which evoked the metaphor of indigenous cannibalism to explain how foreign influences were consumed and transformed into unique, Brazilian articulations.

From Neo-concretism to Tropicalia

Concurrent with progressive, nationalist trends in architecture that began in the 1930 and 40s, Brazil’s avant-garde was once again redefined in the 50s, when artists in Rio and São Paulo began producing striking new sculpture, drawing, painting that evolved into the landmark Neo-concrete movement. Helio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Lydia Pape, and later, Cildo Meireles and Waltercio Caldas and others developed an organic and socially attuned strain of geometric abstraction. Oiticica and Clark’s works became more engaged with provocative social and spatial preoccupations during the late 60s and 70s, paradoxically when Brazil’s military regime (which seized power in 1964) reached its most politically repressive phase.

Tropicalia, the defining movement of the late sixties, was deeply connected to the anthropophagic modernism of the late 20s, as well as international influences like Arte Povera and Pop Art. Tropicalia’s radical and diverse manifestations in music and cinema (Glauber Rocha’s Terra em Transe, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s Macunaima, and Rogerio Sganzerla’s Red Light Bandits) and Helio Oiticica’s “Penetrable” environments and wearable artwork (Parangolés) celebrated the rich traditions of Afro-Brazilian culture and fore grounded Brazil’s striking social and racial inequality. Despite their complex and often veiled social criticism, many of the artists associated with Tropicalia sought exile in the US and Europe during the early 70s.

Visual Arts Today

Contemporary Brazilian art is as diverse and multifaceted as the country itself. The work of internationally celebrated artists including Adriana Varejão, Beatriz Milhazes, Ernesto Neto, Iran do Espírito Santo, Miguel Rio Branco, Regina Silveira, Vik Muniz, and Tunga resists classification by movement, medium, and genre. Keep an eye out for a new generation of artists who have already made waves in Brazil in Europe like assume vivid astro focus, Alex Flemming, Cabelo, Chelpa Ferro, Franklin Cassaro, Lucas Bambozzi, Marcos Chaves, Marepe, Marcone, Nuno Ramos, Rivane Neuenschwander, Rosangela Rennó, and many others. No single adjective could possibly describe the hybrid trajectories and singular visual styles of today’s artists; perhaps the sole common denominator is the spirit of plurality, reinvention, and experimentation that connects contemporary art with Brazil’s rich avant-garde history.

Visual Art Links

The depth and complexity of Brazilian visual art fills hundreds of books, museums, and galleries. Learn more:

São Paulo is the undisputed center of Brazil’s art world, boasting world-class galleries and museums.

Visit some of São Paulo’s best galleries online:

Luisa Strina
Fortes Vilaça
Nara Roesler
Galeria Vermelho

A comprehensive guide to the city’s current exhibitions is available (in Portuguese only) at:

More information on Helio Oiticica
In Documenta 1997
Quasi Cinemas: A recent traveling exhibition

To learn more about classical and modern masters, visit The Brazilian Embassy of London spotlight on Fine Arts

The Itau Cultural Center has created one of the most comprehensive online resources: The Encyclopedia of Brazilian Art (in Portuguese only)

To learn more about the panorama of Brazilian and Latin American art, view work and read texts by Lygia Clark, Helio Oiticica and others, visit the Cisneros Foundation’s fantastic site.

Brazilian Architecture

The Road to Brasilia

The 1950s and early 1960s were a time of great optimism in Brazil. Bossa Nova began to conquer the airwaves, São Paulo’s industrial economy began to grow at rocket speed, and Cinema Novo directors such as Glauber Rocha and Nelson Pereira Dos Santos began making an impact at international film festivals from Cannes to Venice. Parallel transformations took place in architecture.

Le Corbusier-influenced architects who initially worked under the urban planner Lucio Costa during the 30s and 40s, such as Oscar Niemeyer and Affonso Eduardo Reidy, emerged on their own terms during the 1950s. While Reidy designed Rio de Janeiro’s new Museum of Modern Art (completed 1958) and a major public housing project, Niemeyer, Costa, and landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx were busy from 1956-1960 building Brasilia, the nation’s new capital city, commissioned by President Juscelino Kubitschek. This remarkable planned city built on the high plains of Brazil’s interior broke free of all traditionalism, and emblematized the popular catch phrase “Brazil, the Country of the Future”. View more photos of this striking city here.

Architecture Today

The utopian rationalism that flourished from the 40s and 50s continued into the 1960s and beyond with a new generation of visionary architects like Paulo Mendes da Rocha and Ruy Ohtake. Still alive and well in Rio, Oscar Niemeyer created a towering monument to Brazil’s modernist legacy with his striking, space-aged Museum of Contemporary Art in Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro, which opened in 1991. Yet during the 60s and 70s, a growing number of architects discarded the idealistic rationalism epitomized by Niemeyer in favor of utilitarian, “brutalist” solutions to address the rapid population growth in Brazil’s urban centers. From the 1980s to the present, Brazilian architecture has become increasingly influenced by international revisionist trends that reconsidered modernist principals and prioritized local and regional specificities. Architects who integrate inspiration from indigenous constructions, historical and regional motifs, and highlight the relationship between structure and natural landscape such as Assis Reis, Luiz Paulo Conde, Severiano Mario Porto, and Sérgio Magalhães, have made a major impact on Brazil’s vibrant architectural panorama.

Brazilian Architecture Links

To read more about architecture after Brasilia, click here.

Access PROJECTDESIGN, an online journal contemporary architecture and design (in Portuguese).

To learn more about Brazil’s most celebrated architect, visit the Oscar Niemeyer museum.