Time Out São Paulo

Tadeu Chiarelli: interview

The director of the Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) talks about the museum’s magnificent new space in Ibirapuera

Why was sculpture chosen for the building’s first exhibition?

As we are beginning our activities here, we’re also working on restoring the Oscar Niemeyer-designed building. If we had organised a painting exhibition on the ground floor, we would have had to fill it with panels, hiding the beauty and elegance of the space, which is what a lot of people want to see. So as to not compromise the architectural experience, our solution was to select sculptures from our collection.

How does the Niemeyer building interact with the art?

The building itself is one of MAC’s major artworks now – Niemeyer is one of the greatest Brazilian artists. The building is monumental, but it doesn’t diminish the visitor – you don’t feel dwarfed by its grandiosity. It respects the human scale. From now on, all our exhibitions will establish a dialogue with the space. One of the purposes of this particular exhibition is to explore the integration between sculpture and architecture.

Has the renovation produced any dramatic changes?

The building was orginally designed to be the department of agriculture [for São Paulo state], and it functioned as such for a short time. Afterwards, DETRAN [São Paulo’s transport department] was here for decades. In that period, the building was divided up and improvised in such a way that it was stripped of its character. People coming here were confused by the building – they might have imagined it as some wonderful thing, but it just looked like a big mess. When DETRAN left, the idea was to return the building to its original concept, adapting it to host the museum without interfering with its structure.

Are you hoping to bring the entire MAC collection, which is currently divided between the two older locations, into the new building?

If everything goes according to plan, by October 2012, most of the MAC collection will be stored here and the public will be able to see a significant part of our collection of modern and contemporary works. By then, we will have held more than ten exhibitions as well as international courses and seminars, and published at least three books about the museum. The USP [University of São Paulo] location is going to focus on activities for students of art history, criticism and museology, with more specific exhibitions too, open to the public.

You’re planning to hold longer exhibitions here: why is that?

The world’s great museums have permanent collections that they display for at least a year, so the public can make repeat visits – it’s an experience that we think is fundamental, and now that we have this space, we can guarantee that for the people of São Paulo. The MAC’s major concern is educating the public, and we believe that takes place through a process of sedimentation – the person comes, returns, and takes part in parallel activities. My idea is to bring in primary and secondary schools and get them to visit the same show twice, so they can participate in different activities around the same works. It’s about winning over the public and creating intimacy with the artworks, so they start to have favourites, and to know where they’re located.

Why is it so important to have the MAC collection on display?

The MAC possesses some very iconic works in both Brazilian and international art, such as the only self-portrait painted by Modigliani. We want to make it possible for people to always be able to see these works. Since the other spaces were smaller, if we showed the collection, we weren’t able to hold temporary exhibitions – we always had to choose. Now, with the new space, we have room for everything.

The MAC has almost 10,000 pieces in its collection. Will they all be on show at the new location?

With just the two spaces, we were only ever able to show 5 to 7 per cent of the collection, but once the new museum is really up and running, we’ll be able to display around 25 per cent. No museum shows its entire collection – there’s always a reserve collection. We also need to take into account the care and maintenance of the works: some of them can’t be on display for more than two months, because they’re too sensitive to light or moisture. After a year or so, we have to take sections of what’s on display into the cleaning and preservation workshops – that’s also an important part of the museum’s work.

By Alice Rangel
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