A visit to Oscar Niemeyer’s flying saucer – MAC: Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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In town for the Rio 2016 Olympics, it’s a must to grab a ferry across the bay for both the great views of Rio’s skyline and for a visit to Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói. Unfortunately, the day we visited there wasn’t much to see art-wise as they were in between exhibitions – but the post-modern building’s surreal charm along with the superb views of Rio nestled at the foot of Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain), overlooked by Christ the Redeemer, are really something.

Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, in the region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, in the region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Going boldly where no art has gone before

When the mayor of Niterói decided in 1991 that his city needed a contemporary art gallery, his first (and only) choice for the architect was Oscar Niemeyer (d. 2012), known for his visionary and surreal buildings that often take shapes from nature (like eyes, seashells, or eggs) even as they would also look right at home in a Star Trek episode.

When asked to explain his vision for Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, Niemeyer replied,

…I remember when I went to see the place. The sea, the mountains of Rio, a magnificent landscape that I should preserve. And I went up to the building, adopting the circular shape that, in my view, the space required…

  – Oscar Niemeyer, 2006

During the 2016 Rio Olympics, MAC Niterói had generously waved the R$10 entrance fee for all visitors — though the day I went, the main exhibition hall was completely empty in preparation for the next exhibition, leaving only this composition of a vacuum cleaner, a chair, and a couple of paint cans.

Main gallery, currently closed while a new exhibition is installed, Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, in the region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Main gallery, currently closed while a new exhibition is installed, Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, in the region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Nonetheless, there were a few installations on the mezzanine to look at, under the overall title, “Guanabara Bay: Hidden Waters and Life (Art and Environment Irradiations)”, put on by MAC Niteroi’s curator and director, Luiz Guilherme Vergara.

On the entrance ramp is an installation by Filippe Moraes, 26 flags each dyed a varying percent of grey-scale, that are “visual symbols representing some sovereignty…to remind us about territoriality and black dividing lines that carve borders between countries…in shorelines, these lines are nonexistent.

Inside are a number of installations placed around the mezzanine adjacent to the window affording each work a magnificent backdrop, of Rio de Janeiro, or Boa Viagem islet in the bay.

The interior design of MAC Niterói is equal to the exterior, with hidden corners (in a round building, I know) and this cochlear staircase winding who-knows-where…

Inner staircase, Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, in the region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Inner staircase, Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, in the region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

And looking up into the underbelly of MAC Niterói presents an entirely different building that doesn’t look anything like the one I just exited.

Looking upwards from beneath the winding ramp, Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, in the region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Looking upwards from beneath the winding ramp, Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, in the region of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Beneath the “saucer” part of the gallery is a serene reflecting pool that seems to make the structure above seem upside-down somehow, while the red ramp simultaneously invokes red-carpet or maybe even something more sensual, gliding like a tongue into the embouchement that leads the visitor to the heart of MAC Niterói.

Verdict: even if there isn’t any art in the Contemporary Art Museum of Niterói, still go and admire this impossibly-balanced feat of architecture. It’s an art gallery that is itself a work of art.


More info and links about MAC: Niterói Contemporary Art Museum in Rio

Entrance to Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, in the region of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Entrance to Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC) de Niterói, in the region of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Exhibition details: MAC: Niterói Contemporary Art Museum is open daily except Mondays at Mirante da Boa Viagem, s/nº – Boa Viagem, Niterói – RJ, 24210-390, Brazil. Paid admission (concessions); step-free access.

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