São Paulo is often likened to New York City, and although Brazil’s financial capital can most certainly hold its own in the global pantheon of big, dynamic metropolises, the city can indeed be compared to the Big Apple when it comes to accessible, interesting, high-quality museums. If it’s only to get out of the tropical rain or the urban smog, there is much to be said for having an engaging, educational experience in South America’s biggest city.
Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)
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Temporary exhibitions include a series of photographs documenting the women’s suffrage movement and a collection of sculptures and carvings from the Yoruba culture of West Africa.
Looming large over the main thoroughfare of Avenida Paulista, the flagship São Paulo Art Museum is a showplace inside and out. The immense red columns supporting the International-style glass box that comprises the museum’s main building set the structure apart from the other domino-like office buildings along the street, a sculpture in itself. Inside, the permanent collection includes paintings and sculptures by international artists such as Renoir, Gauguin, and Gainesborough alongside masterpieces by Latin American greats like Diego Rivera, Candido Portinari, and Anita Malfatti.
Museu de Arte Moderna (MAM)
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Situated within the heart of the verdant urban oasis that is Ibirapuera Park, the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art occupies one of several low-rise, but sprawling buildings designed by prolific Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. Dominating the museum is one of the iconic, two-meter-tall, bronze mama-spiders by artist Louise Bourgeois. MAM’s permanent collection of over 5,500 pieces includes paintings and sketches by Brazilian and international artists produced after 1945.
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A cultural and educational space for children to learn about science and social issues, Catavento Cultural, located in Parque Dom Pedro II, is even more notable for its unique headquarters: the hundred-year-old Palace of Industry. Reminiscent of Mrs. Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, the Palace of Industry houses Catavento’s four scientific subject areas—the universe, life, ingenuity, and society. These areas include incredibly interactive exhibits and presentations that engage kids and parents alike, like exciting chemistry experiments, gigantic dioramas of the Solar System, an immense meteorite collection, kinetic activities, demonstrations of how the human body works, safety demonstrations, games, lectures, and tours in English. Be sure to check out the museum’s antique DC-3 prop plane perched just outside the entrance.
Some of the more recent temporary presentations include the Dancing Museum (Museu Dançante) project, in which forty works from the permanent collection—paintings, sculptures, and photographs—related to dance and movement were displayed alongside interpretive dance sessions by members of the São Paulo Companhia de Dança.
Museu Afro Brasil
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The museum’s collection traces the history of Brazil, with a particular focus on the African element to the country’s much-touted cultural mix, showcasing paintings of Afro-Brazilian artisans, sculptures by the descendents of slaves in northeast region of the country, elaborate costumes from Carnival and other festivals, recordings of Afro-Brazilian samba musicians, and works by contemporary black Brazilian artists.
Museu de Arte Contemporânea (MAC)
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Also located within the green zone of Ibirapuera Park, the University of São Paulo’s Museum of Contemporary Art has over 8,000 works of art from around the world, and all from the 20th and 21st centuries. From sketches and portraits to sculptures and photographs, the MAC’s permanent collection houses artwork from every major era of the past century, including pieces from the earliest stirrings of the Art Deco and Modernist movements. Recent temporary exhibitions have included a series of Italian paintings from the interwar years and “Distant Neighbors” (“Vizinhos Distantes”), a collection of art from around Latin America.
The largest museum of its kind in the world, the brilliant Museu Afro Brasil covers over five centuries of cultural contact and mixing between and within Africa and the Americas. With over 6,000 artefacts and works of art squeezed into a Niemeyer-designed structure in Ibirapuera Park, there’s almost too much to see in only one visit, which may just be the idea of the museum’s curator, scholar and artist Emanoel Araujo.
Museu da Imagem e do Som (MIS)
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One of the first of its kind in Latin America, the Museum of Image and Sound dedicates itself to exactly that: image and sound. Situated in the leafy Jardim Europa district, the MIS has over 200,000 items in its collection, including still and moving images, film, video and audio recordings, visual art installations, television broadcasts, web series, and anything you can think of having to do with audio-visual artistry. The museum offers plenty of interactive and engaging activities, including a horror retrospective, live music performances, and the very popular, fun, and flirty sunset dance party held every month.