It’s hard to choose just 7 of the best contemporary art museums and galleries that Brazil has to offer. With large acclaimed cultural institutions and smaller experimental art studios, there is a huge mix of galleries to explore. If you are staying in the larger cities of Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, you will be spoiled for choice at the world-class exhibitions and collections available to you. It is not worth forgetting that smaller cities throughout the country also offer many excellent delights within the art scene. The museums and galleries in Brazil celebrate both homegrown and international artistry, from modern masters to newly emerging talent.
Throughout Brazil, a great way to learn about the broader or more localized culture is to explore the artwork. The art of Brazil and the institutions in which they are housed represents the contemporary movement, feelings, and ideas of the time and place. It is a deeper way to gain an understanding of the country and its people.
To get you started on your cultural exploration, here are the 7 Best Contemporary Art Museums and Galleries in Brazil.
Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janiero (MAM)
The Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro is one of many crucial stops for culture-seekers visiting the popular city. The museum is located in Flemengo Park, the largest public park in the city. Surrounded by the sprawling space of green, this modernist concrete construction is the most well-known work of Brazilian architect Affonso Eduardo Reidy. The museum has been a driving force for many artistic movements since its inception. Its support of up-and-coming artists have made it an important place in Brazil’s cultural landscape.
The museum has many highly acclaimed collections within its walls. One example is the Gilberto Chateaubriand collection, of which some pieces have been on loan to the institution since 1993. These works are one of the most comprehensive collections of Brazilian art within the last century. Many other national and global exhibits are shown here, with constant rotations of touring art. Comprised of a vast array of exhibitions, the school of art, and a theater, Rio’s Museum of Modern Art has maximized its impact and public outreach. The museum is open daily, with tickets costing between $1 and $2.5 (R$7 and R$14).
Opening in 2006, Inhotim Museum is an extraordinary collection of outdoor art displays spread across an expanse of forests and gardens. Inhotim Museum can be found in the municipality of Brumadinho in Minas Gerais. Inhotim has grown over time to a scale of impressive proportions. Permanent art buildings and sculptures along with temporary and evolving collections are showcased here. Conscious of the space within which the art expands, the exhibitions are often relevant to the preservation of Brazil’s wildlife. In 2011, Inhotim Museum received an official title of Botanic Garden. This is no surprise considering the 5000 species of plant life contained there.
Wandering around the widely dispersed modern installations surrounded by the natural environment is a tranquil and often reflective experience. Inhotim Museum is not something you can see in an hour. A whole day is needed to fully enjoy each exhibition. You can explore the green and open nature preserve freely or with a guide. The museum is free on Wednesdays, while weekends offer the widest range of guided tours. This different take on displaying art shows that art pieces do not need to be confined between four walls, but can integrate and become part of their surrounding environment.
A space for young and emerging international and Brazilian artists, Casa Triângulo in São Paulo is a worthwhile place to visit if you are interested in experimental art and contemporary styles. Since the gallery’s founding in 1988, it has continued to promote and encourage local and international artists. It has therefore become the springboard for many successful careers. This subtle urban space covers two floors while extending out beyond its walls to several courtyards that allow for outdoor exhibitions and events. Each space within Casa Triângulo provides unexpected pieces with every turn. There is an excitement in knowing that certain collections will be the first that some new artists have ever shown.
The pieces displayed at Casa Triângulo provide a unique and memorable experience to its visitors with new and bold ideas able to flourish here. The gallery is open every day except Sundays and is a great place to get your creative juices flowing. The gallery moved to the Jardins municipality in 2016, where many of the best restaurants in the city are located. After exploring the art gallery, hop over to one of the top-class neighboring restaurants for lunch, where you will witness a different type of Brazilian art in the form of what arrives on your plate.
Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (MAC)
One of the main landmarks in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, is the Niterói Contemporary Art Museum. The building is a renowned top choice to visit throughout Brazil for its architecture, art, and views of Guanabara Bay and Sugarloaf Mountain. The striking museum was completed in 1996 and designed by renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. The museum’s design is often likened to a flying saucer, while Niemeyer described the visual inspiration as a flower growing from the rocks. There is no doubt that this intriguingly shaped building and its beautiful setting feels like a piece of art in itself.
The main collection in the museum was donated by businessman and art director João Sattamini. The collection primarily contains art from Brazilian artists such as Frans Krajcberg, Mira Schendel, and Lygia Clark. The Niterói Museum also has many temporary exhibitions to explore. Additional to the art collections, events and educational programs also take place here. The building features a cafe, restaurant, and auditorium with a mesmerizing view from the panoramic windows. It is no wonder that so many visitors flock to this unique building. The art doesn’t end on the canvas but spills out into the surrounding architecture and scenery.
A Gentil Carioca
Compared to the larger art institutions on this list, A Gentil Carioca is a smaller-scale, independent gallery with big ambitions. Co-founded by three artists in Rio de Janiero in 2003, the gallery aims to celebrate and commercialize art, while using it voice to encourage cultural exchange and societal improvement. Along with the ever-changing mix of contemporary artwork within the gallery, A Gentil Carioca is involved with educational and outreach programs. The gallery’s ‘Gentle Wall’ project invites artists to display an artwork on their exterior wall. Organizations often get involved as a way to raise money or promote awareness of different social/human rights issues.
The gallery is located in a 1920’s townhouse in the Saara area of Rio, with the district being best known for its large scale outdoor market. Roaming the rooms of the townhouse where someone used to call home feels like a unique personal touch. The whole project feels grounded in the love for local people. This gem in the historic downtown of Rio is an interesting initiative with a conscience for the surrounding community.
Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)
São Paulo’s Museum of Art is a hugely important institution for housing local and international cultural, historical, and artistic works. The museum holds around 11,000 permanent pieces spanning many historical periods leading up to the 21st century. Along with the Americas, Asia, and Africa, the museum also claims to be home to the most comprehensive and important collection of European art in the Southern Hemisphere. There is a diverse range of works to be found here, such as paintings, photographs and sculptures. The works of many masters of art are shown here including Cézanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso. Along with its permanent collections, the museum also features temporary individual and collective works from esteemed and up-and-coming Brazilian talent. You can roam each piece at your leisure, as the museum’s format promotes a non-linear exploration of its artworks.
The Museum of Art is an essential stop when visiting São Paulo. The distinct and modernist building can be found in the central area of Bela Vista. It is easy to make a whole day out of wandering the extensive collections of the museum. Tickets are $8.50 (R$45) for adults and a little over $4 (R$22) for students and seniors. The museum is free to visit every Tuesday.
Museu Oscar Niemeyer (MON)
The notorious Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer appears once more on our 7 best art museums list (see Niterói Contemporary Art Museum). The modernist architect designed the building with his namesake. The museum was inaugurated in 2002 in Curitiba, Paraná, under the original name of Novo Museu. Fitting with many of the other buildings in his portfolio, the Oscar Niemeyer museum has a unique and dominating visual presence. Due to its shape, the museum is sometimes known as the Museum of the Eye. The entire front of the ‘eye’ is comprised of glass to celebrate the natural light. Inside the gallery, a combination of Brazilian and international contemporary art is showcased as well as works from Niemeyer himself. In addition to the artworks, the museum offers educational courses and workshops. These courses serve teachers and students as well as being open to the wider public.
As one of Curitiba’s most well-known attractions, it is must see when visiting Paraná’s capital. Along with the gallery, you can also visit the surrounding sculpture garden and take a break at the cafe. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday each week, and entry is free every Wednesday. The museum stands as a proud final testament to Oscar Niemeyer’s work who finished the building when he was 95.