São Paulo

Henrique Oliveira


Photo © Henrique Oliveira

Oscar Niemeyer was famous for his organic architecture. Now artist Henrique Oliveira takes the Brazilian architect's approach one step further at the Museum of Contemporary Art of the University of São Paulo, which is housed in Niemeyer's 1955 Palace of Agriculture in Ibirapuera Park. In an annex of the building, the artist created a sprawling 250-foot-long installation. Transarquitetônica is about the transformation of space, says Oliveira, as well as material, for which he looked to the city as his primary source, collecting discarded scraps of billboards and plywood. The result is a series of spaces that devolves from Niemeyer's modern long white gallery into brick-and-mud chambers evoking the rough interiors of a favela, and finally morph into an enveloping burrowlike environment covered in variegated strips of wood. “The lanky shape of the original room suggested the possibility of a spatial narrative,” says Oliveira. To build these organic caverns, Oliveira covered a skeleton of bentwood poles with thin pieces of plywood and a barklike veneer. By reconstituting these cast-off materials, the artist hopes to liberate them from their manufactured state; on the exterior, the work resembles a gnarled root system. It lies at the junctures between architecture and sculpture, the natural and man-made, the visible and invisible—an allegory of sorts for a frenetically changing São Paulo.