In October 2017 I was fortunate to visit the Museu de Arte do Rio with some of my colleagues from the museums in Oxford as we explored museums in other parts of the world to see what we could learn and bring back to our own museums in the UK.
An impressive architectural artwork in its own right, the museum is an amalgam of three different buildings with very different architectural features. The architects connected the Palace Dom Joao VI, a heritage listed building, and a former police building and bus station. The new ‘mega’ building houses both the museum’s displays, and the Escholar do Olhar, which developes public education programmes. The museum opened on the rejuvenated Praca Maua in 2013 ahead of the Olympics and is dedicated to international modern and contemporary art.
Upon arrival, we stopped to view a display outside the museum developed by Project Morrinho. This was a social and cultural project developed in local favelas by a local youth, working with other youths living in the favela to create a model of the favela from bricks and other recycled materials. It began as an escape from the challenges of living in the community. The art work on display at the museum, which is only a small part of the greater project, is extremely powerful in the way it offers an image of how the young people in these communities live.
The museum is home to an inspiring collection of modern art and photography that you could get lost in.
The current temporary exhibition was Dja Guata Pora and focussed on indigenous communities. Curators and researchers engaged with local indigenous communities and developed a display of videos, photographs, objects and art works that communicate both the history and current lives of indigenous communities.
While in this section of the museum, we observed some school education sessions. Anyone who has seen a school education session in a museum will know that it is difficult to keep a large number of pupils engaged: the pupils have different interests, it is difficult for all the students to engage at the same time, they distract each other, and they are distracted by the excitement of being out of the classroom. The educators we observed did an amazing job keeping all the students engaged. One of the educators had his young primary students jog between the displays they were working on, keeping the kids engaged and active.
The museum’s displays of contemporary art and photography were extremely engaging, and I felt like I could have wandered the galleries for hours, just dipping into the items that caught my attention.
A tiny highlight, just near the staircase, was a small panel on the wall that showed the ‘stratigraphy’ of the museum’s walls over the year from an ‘excavation’ trying to determine the original design of the walls.
The museum’s shop was also very impressive, carrying items developed by local artists and communities. A highlight for me was natural history themed cardboard models – something we would definitely like to see in our natural history museum.