The first time I visited MASP was in 2007, while travelling around South America with my boyfriend. And as there is nothing worse than admiring an amazing brushwork and suddenly hearing behind you, ‘Hmm, not bad ...’, I sent him to see some reptiles in Butantã.
And on my own, I was heading to enjoy what is considered to be the most important collection of Occidental Art in the Southern hemisphere. At that time, the museum made a great impression on me. Although this was before I took my degree in Art History, I knew straight away that I was standing in front of some seriously good artworks.
Nine years went by and I was back living in Brazil! Ever since I came back to live in Sao Paulo, I’ve been thinking about going to MASP. It has been deeply intriguing me. I often walked on Avenida Paulista, and I observed the museum’s facade restoration, I planed the visit, then I did not do it for I do not know what reason...
Just looking at the building made me feel guilty as all the people I met kept asking me: “An art historian? So you must have visited MASP? What do you think about it?”. And I couldn’t really answer them, ‘Well, when I visited it nine years ago...’, could I?
But why did I hesitate? Why did I postpone the visit all the time? I was not worried about being disappointed or anything like that. The truth is that I simply did not want this first-time after-nine-years visit to be over!
The day I finally decided to go, the permanent collection had been closed for renovation since June... Then everything became clear to me: there is no doubt; it must have been some kind of a sixth sense that kept me away from the museum for so long. I could now simply answer: I haven’t been to MASP yet, because it is c-l-o-s-e-d!
Now that I have finally been to this ‘new’ MASP, I can affirm it was worth waiting. I can´t tell what amazed me more. Is it the first impression when you enter the vast room and see all these paintings right in front of you? Or is it the unusual, seemingly random disposition of the rooms? Or does the content of the collection itself that strikes you straight away? I can’t say, but I was truly bewitched.
You do not need a map to visit MASP’s permanent exhibition, as everything is in the same room. Still, you might feel somehow lost in this ‘forest’ of famous paintings. But surprisingly, being lost there is rather pleasant than confusing. You can walk freely from masterpiece to masterpiece and unless you are the kind of super-organized visitor that must see clearly what’s first and what’s next, you will very much enjoy the playful liberty. I admit that I am usually one of those visitors, but the originality of the layout seduced me. Just make sure you don’t miss a single painting!
The collection as a whole is very photogenic from the entering point, where you can get a full glimpse at the whole exposition. However, you quickly realize that the general view is not the only beautiful one of the museum. Each step forward, you will discover a new perspective, a new superposition of art pieces, of styles, of periods, of artists.
Approaching a Titian, you can already anticipate the Goya right after. Then in the background you can glimpse Modigliani’s elongated silhouettes and empty eyes, which you cannot wait to approach. You then move a few steps aside and the whole collage is transformed: Modigliani disappears, you lose sight of Goya, and you leave Titian behind. All masterpieces are suddenly replaced by other ones that progressively enter your sight. The exhibition somehow unfolds in front of you.
And that’s not all. The Museum has decided to return to its original project by Lina Bo Bardi, MASP’s architect, and to exhibit the artworks on transparent glass panels.
Firstly, the total absence of walls contributes to the general impression of an ‘art forest’ where the paintings themselves constitute the only presence of the space: they become the ‘trees’, freed of all disturbances that walls may have caused. Try to narrow your eyes and you’ll have a surreal impression that the frames are floating in the air. Basically, it’s you and the art, nothing else.
Secondly, this singular ‘crystal’ disposition allows you to observe the back of the canvases. Make sure not to miss it, as the hidden (here revealed) side of the painting can actually be very interesting. It tells you the story of the masterpiece through diverse inventory and temporary exhibition stamps. Among the most ancient artworks, look for the original wax seals.
Chronologically organized, but without suggested itinerary, you can discover the collection in the manner that pleases you. You can actually create your own exhibition, with your unique itinerary. Progress by rows, and you will have more ‘by period’ view. Go forward and backward, then forward again etc., and you will see alternatively the fronts and the backs of the paintings. Or let yourself guided by what you feel like to see, and go randomly from one painting to another, like a butterfly would go from one flower to another.
I spent three hours in this single room (frozen to death by air conditioning... but who cares?!) and I am planning to visit again soon (free Tuesdays!). To me MASP is, for the quality of its collection and the daring disposition, one of the most fascinating museums I have ever visited.