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Museu de Arte Contemporanea- USP


The MAC USP (Museu de Arte Contemporanea da Universidade de São Paulo) is located inside the ‘Cidade Universitaria’ of Sao Paulo. The space hosting the museum is a modern building, surrounded by a park. The interior is divided into two parts; a large open space that hosts the museum’s collection and a conference hall. A small bookshop is also present near the entrance. The choice of the location is strictly linked with the institution’s identity: not a place for displaying artworks but a place for research, a place for teaching and learning.

MAC’s history began in 1963 when the President of the MAM (Museu de Arte Moderna de Sao Paulo) decided to give to the University of Sao Paulo the managerial and artistic responsibility over part of the MAM’s collection.

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Our visit was divided into two parts. We were first guided to the museum’s conference hall where a presentation was given by Professor Helouise Costa, vice-director of the museum, and Professor Cristina Freire, head of the division of research in art, theory and critique. Then, we visited the exhibition of the museum’s collection with Professor Freire who explained the main artworks on display.

The meeting began with a video regarding the city of São Paulo, its history, main activities and peculiar traditions. After the video, the professors discussed the history, activities, and management of the MAC, and the production of Brazilian art.


MAC USP was born in 1963 as a division of the already existing MAM (Museum of Modern Art of São Paulo), thanks to the decision of its President, Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho, to give the University the artistic and managerial responsibility of part of the collection. This was done in order to have a more efficient exploitation and a more specific conservation of the artworks. According to this division, the MAM would have a clear focus on Brazilian modern and contemporary art and the MAC a more international and research oriented approach.

In the beginning around 1000 pieces of the MAC’s collection came from the MAM and another 500 came from private collections. Over the years, the MAC struggled to maintain and enrich its collection. Today, the museum’s collection counts over 8000 pieces thanks to donations from artists and collectors.


The MAC does not have a long-term policy for acquiring artworks because it lacks the necessary financial resources (only banks could afford such policies, and for this reason banks have a very strong influence and control over the market). In order to enlarge its collection, the MAC has always relied on donations. From this perspective, developing close relations with key actors of the art world is the success factor that has allowed the MAC to build a significant collection with national and international influences.

The main reason for the MAC’s wide orientation has been the various curatorial attitudes that different directors have brought to the institution over the years. The professors explained that the first director came from Europe and, as a consequence, he oriented his efforts toward the creation of a network between Latin America and Europe. He gave a clear international direction to the existing collection by gathering pieces of conceptual art.

Nowadays the museum’s acquisition activities are fewer, mostly due to a problem of space: the University does not provide enough storage space for the entire collection and so decisions regarding the acquisition of artwork are carefully evaluated based on both economic and artistic criteria. The former concerns both the physical and economic sustainability of the work, while the latter regards its coherence and consistency with the history and line of research of the University. The evaluation process involves specific research and the final decision is made by a commission of internal members.


Regarding the organizational structure, the institution requires that all the people working for the museum are professors of the University, thus emphasizing the educational and research purposes of the MAC. Curators, artistic directors and heads of research divisions must be internal staff. At the moment, eight people are employed in educational programs and five as curators.

In fact, one of the MAC’s goals is to provide support to the University’s activities; its collection is used for teaching and learning. Over the past years many educational projects, refined activities of conservation, and research projects have been developed in order to ensure a proper level of cultural valorization. The adherence to this mission of artistic research and valorization is strictly connected to the actual location of the institution within the university; a location whose future is recently the subject of debate. The MAC has been evaluating a proposal of the local government to move the museum to a more central area of the city. Our interlocutors were skeptical regarding the benefits that they could gain if they decided to move. They are aware that this relocation would go hand in hand with the MAC’s repositioning as a “blockbuster museum”, oriented towards increasing its number of visitors and becoming a touristic attraction rather than a place for academic research. Such a change could result in positive spin-off effects for the city, but moving, the Professors said, would undoubtedly damage the MAC’s educational aim.

Production of Brazilian Art

Next, the discussion shifted towards the themes and trends characterizing the production of Brazilian art. The professors underlined the difference between the past and what is going on at the moment. From the 50’s onward Brazilian art underwent a period of “influence” especially by the European style. By observing and capturing the overseas production, Brazilian art started to build its own identity: artists started to read the modernism movement, and without copying it, they redefined it in their local identity; they took the essence and shaped it according to the local perspective.

Out of pride for their cultural identity, they created something new, linked with traditions and territories. In recent times, for the most part, this way of acting has been lost. The professors explained that there is a lack of a specific and unique thread. They said that the contemporary art production has no themes, no reference with locality, and no dialogue with local identities.

Nowadays the art world is totally globalised and Brazil is an active actor in this contest. The artists hoping to establish a connection with their origins are few. Instead, for the most part, artists focus on the international dimension, in a world where there are no longer boundaries and limits.

Finally, the professors illustrated that there is still something missing in the Brazilian’s contemporary artistic scene: the social vocation of the art. The system is too market oriented: galleries are popping up everywhere, blockbuster museums dominate, fairs and biennials are multiplying and yet there is an absence of meaning.

by Ilaria Montorsi

MAC-USP website

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