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The neoclassical grandeur of one of Botafogo's numerous crumbling architectural gems has been lovingly restored by the Swiss art institute Daros to house Ruth Schmidheiny's extensive collection of contemporary Latin American art. Selected back in 2006 as the venue of choice for the archive of 1,200 works of art by 117 artists, the heritage-protected former country home-turned-orphanage lands on the Rio cultural circuit at a time when the audience for - indeed the production of - the arts is flourishing, Casa Daros represents an ultra-modern exhibition space (the organisers are actively avoiding the phrases 'cultural centre' or 'museum') that would not be out of place in New York or London.
The idea driving the project, curated by Hans-Michael Herzog, was to create a space for the people of Latin America at large to be able to communicate and debate art, whilst at the same time providing a platform for discussion from the artists themselves, often little-known beyond the borders of their native countries. Workshops and courses involving the protagonists regularly tie in with the specific exhibitions, beginning with a focus on the art of Colombia in 'Cantos Cuentos Colombianos'.
Designed by the architect Francisco Joaquim Bethencourt da Silva (1831-1912), the building covers 11,000 square metres on two floors, the upper of which hosts numerous interlocking exhibition spaces. Beautifully restored, huge wooden shutters line the windows of impressive corridors that occasionally threaten to swamp the art itself, not helped by the maze of small rooms and the lure of the magnificent courtyard outside lined with imperial palm trees.
Downstairs is home to a bright, well-equipped shop dedicated to art books, posters and supplies (many of which are aimed at children) and the Mira! restaurant from the same team behind local hit Oui Oui that comfortably transcends the below-par cafés in many of the city's older cultural offerings. Here, too, the large ateliê also hosts workshops and family-friendly weekend creativity sessions, with the nearby auditorium the focus for film screenings and debates.