Sign Up for Our Daily Newsletter
Upon landing in Sao Paulo, I was greeted with an infectious smile by my driver, who handed me a slew of pamphlets to review. Reading through them, I learned that Sao Paulo is home to more than 250 museums and galleries as well as host of Sao Paulo Art Biennial — the most important after the Venice Biennale — and SP Arte, the best art fair in Latin America.
Luckily, my private guide, Flavia Liz Di Paolo, a vivacious human encyclopedia well-versed in all things art and architecture, honed in on my interests and provided a personalized tour of Sao Paulo’s extensive art scene.
Our first stop was to Galeria Mapa for an opening that featured illustrations, cartoons and sketches from Brazilian greats such as Roberto Burle Marx, Ivan Serpa and famed New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg. Walking through the gallery, owner Marcelo Pallotta shared his desire to promote modern art to the youth collector.
“It’s a bit more affordable, and it tends to carry more of the cultural values together in one piece,” Pallotta said.
With Di Paolo’s meticulous scheduling of my tour, I was also able to meet famed street artist Biofa, view his private gallery and see a video presentation about his works and artistic philosophy. The talented graffiti artist walked us through the creation of his alphabet, a signature element of graffiti style, while showing us some photos of his work.
“The main purpose of my work is for those passing by to react to indifference and for the space to become useful,” Biofa said. “I want to touch people.”
After showing us more of his work, including a commission for the World Cup in 2014 and a set of collectors’ cups for a Brazilian beer company, he took us to his studio. Here I discovered a piece for a science-loving, Ph.D.-collector client back in California: a periodic table drawn in Biofa’s graffiti alphabet.
Di Paolo’s knowledge of art, history and its unique intersection in Sao Paul is matched by her unparalleled access to the vast city. In the same day that she took me to Fashion Week, we also ventured inside a favela to visit some artists. This was key because it is not recommended to visit favelas, or ghetto neighborhoods of Brazil, without a guide.
When Di Paolo escorted me into the home of Estevao Silva da Conceicao, also known as the “Brazilian Gaudi,” I had no idea what to expect, and immediately felt like I was in another world.
“You’ll have to leave your phone with me so that you can use both hands to climb,” she told me.
As I ducked under small arches made of Silva da Conceicao’s unique clay mixture embedded with broken china and teacups, I followed his wife through small caves and caverns that eventually led me to the top of this astonishing artwork. I felt like Alice in Wonderland.
Sao Paulo, Brazil, has a thriving and diverse art scene; pictured is the work of graffiti artist Biofa. // © 2017 Biofa
Biofa describes how he created his graffiti alphabet, a signature style in all his work. // © 2017 Sarah Taylor
Illustrations by Tomas Santa Rosa featured at an opening held at Galeria Mapa // © 2017 Sarah Taylor
A collection of rare items once owned by poet Octavio Paz at independent gallery Desape // © 2017 Sarah Taylor
The work of Estevao Silva da Conceicao, who is known as the “Brazilian Gaudi” // © 2017 Sarah Taylor
Looking over the skyline of Sao Paulo in the distance, I welled up with tears, thinking of the painstaking care that Silva da Conceicao has poured into his work. Built over 25 years, his home, which he shares with his wife and daughter, consists of old, recycled dishes, jewelry, bicycle parts and other oddities was the subject of a Spanish documentary and has been featured in many art publications. It’s something you need to see and experience with all your senses.
For the true collector, a visit to Desape is also worth scheduling. Di Paolo arranged a private visit to this independent gallery owned and operated by Rita Mourao Barbosa. Aptly named for the Brazilian word to “uncollect,” Desape features a collection with rarities such as a valise once owned by poet Octavio Paz that holds prints of Marcel Duchamp’s works, as well as never-delivered invitations to an exhibition of troubled American photographer Francesca Woodman. As I studied Woodman’s dark, yet revealing photos, I listened to Mourao Barbosa eagerly discuss her recent acquisition that would be debuted at SP Arte: a political art book inspired by the impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff.
As my diverse teaser of Sao Paulo’s art offerings came to an end, I thought of one of my favorite quotes by Picasso: “Everything you can imagine is real.”
He was probably talking about Di Paolo and her artful planning.
Sarah Taylor is a travel advisor at All Set Concierge who specializes in trips to Brazil. She always entrusts her clients heading to Sao Paulo to award-winning Flavia Liz Di Paolo, who runs a personalized tour company in the city. The next Bienal Sao Paulo takes place in September 2018.
All Set Conciergewww.allsetconcierge.com
Flavia Liz Di Paolowww.flavializ.com