São Paulo often gets dubbed ‘the financial capital of Brazil’, yet this neglects to mention its rich and varied cultural scene – arguably the best in the country. From art galleries on a par with London and Paris, to eye-opening museums and breathtaking theater performances, here’s why São Paulo is a must for culture lovers.
The football museum will certainly appeal to die-hard fans, yet even those not fanatic about the sport will enjoy getting a glimpse into the Brazilian passion for football. The museum guides visitors through the history of football, including Brazilian soccer legends (there are many) and a timeline of the World Cup since it all began in 1930. In addition to film clips and radio transmissions from past football games, there are also interviews with Brazilian players, a screening room to watch the 1950 World Cup final when Uruguay scored the winning goal against Brazil in the final few minutes of the game to bring the score to 2-1 (a dark moment in Brazilian football), and a room dedicated to Pele, Brazil’s most iconic player. The Body Game Room allows visitors to measure the speed of their strike by making a penalty kick.
Pinacoteca is the oldest museum in São Paulo and is home to around 9,000 pieces of national and foreign artists held on the museum’s second floor, while the first floor is reserved for temporary exhibitions. Their museum is divided into two buildings; the first is the main building where all the artworks – both permanent and temporary are held. The second is the former Department for Political and Social Order which was used during Brazil’s dictatorship era for both formal and torture-led interrogations. It’s now a memorial to the resistance movement against the dictatorship and to Brazil’s political repression at that time.
One of the oldest modern art museums in Latin America, São Paulo’s Modern Art Museum (or MAM as it’s usually referred to) was founded in 1948 and has more than 5,000 artworks from the most celebrated Brazilian modern and contemporary artists. Located in the city’s most visited park, Ibirapuera Park, the museum is surrounded by a large sculpture garden designed by Roberto Burle, Brazil’s most famous landscape architect, and is home to about 30 sculptures. The entrance of the museum is decorated with colorful graffiti and the inside has several unique collections, including a huge bronze spider. The large gardens are occasionally the venue for official weekend raves with great Brazilian house and electronic music DJs and a liberal, alternative spirit.
Os Satyros was founded in 1989 and is actually two theater spaces that are managed by a Brazilian theater group known as the Satyros Theater Company. Located in the heart of São Paulo, the theater is credited with revitalizing Praça Roosevelt square, which is now a popular hipster hangout with quirky bars and late-night street parties. In addition to regular theater performances throughout the year, the group also host an annual ‘cultural marathon’ of 78-hours, back-to-back performances and events, including cinema, literature, circus, dance, and music.
Inaugurated in 1929, the Renault Theater – formerly known as the Paramount Cineteatro – was the first sound cinema in Latin America, and has capacity for 1,530 spectators. The theater has hosted shows from Brazil’s most iconic musicians such as Tom Jobim and Elis Regina, and nowadays exhibits Portuguese-versions of some of Broadway’s most incredible productions such as The Lion King, Les Miserables, The Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked.
Located in Vila Madalena, one of São Paulo’s most lively neighborhoods for gastronomy and nightlife, Beco do Batman is a cobbled alleyway that has been transformed by some of the city’s most well-known street artists as well as international contributions. The once grey walls are now covered with brightly colored graffiti works that are constantly in a state of flux, as new artists add their own designs on top of older images. Beco do Batman is the nickname for two streets that make up this alternative outdoor art gallery – Rua Goncalo Afonso street and Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque.
The Museum of Art São Paulo (MASP) is one of São Paulo’s most famous and talked-about art galleries, both for its permanent art collections and its unusual architecture designed by Lina Bo Bardi. Shaped like a large red box on pillars, some believe the museum is a fine example of contemporary architecture, while others simply dismiss it as an eyesore. Whatever the perspective, MASP stands out on the city’s main street Avenida Paulista and its design underscores the strength in Brazil’s contemporary scene. Its exhibitions include contemporary and post-World War II masterpieces from Brazilian artists, in addition to the largest collection of art from European artists in the Southern hemisphere.
The Instituto Cultural Tomie Ohtake – named after the renowned artist, Tomie Ohtake – is spread across seven huge floors with ample space to showcase the latest trends in the world of Brazilian and international art. The building includes an education sector, four art studios, and a seminar room, in addition to a restaurant, a shop to buy souvenirs, and a bookstore. The gallery has a mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions and has hosted a collection of works by Salvador Dali and a photo gallery of the works of photographer, Cristiano Mascaro.
Located in the heart of São Paulo, the Japan House came from a Japanese government initiative to promote Japanese culture around the world. São Paulo was considered an ideal city to host such a cultural center due to the predominant Japanese community that live there – the largest outside of Japan. The other two cities chosen to receive a Japan House were Los Angeles and London. Near to the Brigadeiro subway station, the cultural center includes several art, literature, and photography exhibitions and has been credited with contributing to the city’s Japanese heritage and culture.
Originally constructed with the intention of creating a library, this spot was later turned into the Centro Cultural São Paulo – otherwise known as CCSP – and although the (huge) library is still there, there are also several exhibition spaces, a cinema, and a theater. Unlike some cultural spaces where you feel obliged to wander around and take everything in, CCSP is more laid back, meaning visitors can go there to simply chill out in the rooftop garden while enjoying the view, or meet with friends in the lounge areas. There are tables where you can safely use your laptop (it makes a great remote office for location-independent workers) and there is also a cafe and restaurant with good prices.
Casa das Rosas is a cultural center in São Paulo set inside a reformed French-style mansion once owned by a coffee wealthy baron during Brazil’s coffee boom. Just across the street from the Japan House, the well-preserved building creates a pleasant setting to wander around with its classic design and several exhibition spaces that now are the main focus of the house. When you’re feeling peckish, head to the cafe at the back of the building, which serves delicious, fresh food amid a picturesque rose garden.