Rio de Janeiro might be known more for its beautiful natural setting than for its artistic tradition, but that doesn’t mean the Marvelous City can’t serve up a mean art scene. From massive public institutions to humorous street art to intimate, out-of-the-way galleries, there’s plenty of art in Rio.
Set amid the renaissance overtaking downtown Rio in anticipation of the pending World Cup and Olympic Games, the National Museum of Fine Arts (Museu Nacional de Belas Artes), opened in 1937, hosts an impressive mix of international and Brazilian paintings and sculpture from the 19th century to the present. In nearby Glória, the Modern Art Museum (MAM) showcases international and Brazilian Modernists, from Moore to Giacometti. Under the shadow of Christ the Redeemer, in Cosme Velho, the International Naïve Art Museum (Museu Internacional de Arte Naïf) displays a collection of colorfully evocative works including a room dedicated to naïve representations of 40 of the city’s landmarks. And don’t forget the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC) across the bay in Niterói—a work of art in itself, it’s the one perched over the water like a flying saucer.
Established, privately-owned collections and experimental, underground art spaces comprise Rio’s gallery scene. The excellent Instituto Moreira Salles, established in the former private home of the one-time Brazilian ambassador to the United States, houses hundreds of thousands of artistic photographs and other visual works in an upscale Modernist setting.
Other notable galleries are sprinkled throughout downtown Rio and Zona Sul, especially around Gávea and the Botanical Garden. Silvia Cintra + Box 4 features contemporary paintings and sculptures with a decidedly Rio feel, inconspicuous HAP Galeria exhibits large-scale installations in a gorgeously renovated colonial-style house, and Galeria Anna Niemeyer—daughter of architect Oscar—continues the family’s artistic tradition with exhibitions offering a fresh take on Modernism.
For up-and-coming artists plugged into the pulse of the city, downtown galleries Atemporal, A Gentil Carioca, and Fabrica Behring—set in a former chocolate factory—foster and display the impactful photography, paintings, and other visual projects of local talent.
3) Cultural Centers
The cultural centers that dot Rio often sit at the forefront of contemporary art and photography exhibitions in the city, with the three heaviest hitters backed by major corporations. The Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, CAIXA Cultural, and Oi Futuro all offer ever-evolving lineups of art exhibitions, film screenings, and interactive multimedia installations—for free—along with inviting cafés and free wifi to attract creative types.
4) Art Events
Each year, Rio hosts several major art fairs and events that bring international attention and acclaim to town. ArtRio, held in September, showcases established and emerging galleries and art spaces, as well as fostering artistic interchange with various communities throughout the city and encouraging talent. Later each spring (that would be September through November in Brazil), interior design show Casa Cor unites designers, architects, and landscapers under one roof to flex their creative muscles. At the end of the event, all the cutting-edge furniture and housewares are put on sale, some even at bargain basement prices.
5) Street Art
Colorful graffiti, intricate murals, and outdoor installations make walking tours around Rio even more of an adventure at every turn. Some of the more noticeable pieces get created by artists known only by their initials or tags, but others, such as the vibrant Escadaria Selarón—a staircase connecting Santa Teresa and Lapa that shines with multicolored tiles and bits of mirrored glass—have less ambiguous origins.