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Living statue, Feira de Antiguidades MASP

At the Museu de Arte Sao Paulo (MASP) every Sunday, scores of antiques traders set up their stalls for the buying public. (For more on what happens at MASP, see .) They have been doing so for more than 25 years, and the public come in their thousands. The stalls take up all the cobbled space under the museum. A craft market has sprung up over the road in front of the Trianon park, which boasts its own antique, the last remaining shred of the original Sao Paulo flora, the Mata Atlantica.

Italian 1920s statue of bandeirante pioneer outside Parque Trianon

The market is organised by the Association of Antiquaries of Sao Paulo state (AAESP), and the antiques are of high quality. It’s noticeable that the stock has Brasilian characteristics. Some objects – spectacle frames, knives of all kinds, religious artefacts, fine art glass, optical goods, watches and fountain pens – stand out for their plentiful supply. Naturally the more usual jewellery, antique prints, silver, porcelain, fine fabrics, and coins, and ‘classic’ modern objects like telephones and tin toys, also make an appearance. This market is more ‘fine art’ than the Saturday market at Praca Benedicto Calixto, though a good number of traders sell at both.

At both markets, the fine art objects are often European – English and German silver, porcelain and cutlery, French bronzes and glass – while Italians feature in Brasilian public sculpture and church mosaics. Popular and nostalgic objects – vinyl and CD music, books and posters, toys, a little furniture – are  mostly Brasilian, as are the crafts.

French bronze torchere, from an estate or fazenda in Sao Paulo state

We are of course seeing the past. It sheds light on how Lula, Brasil’s previous president, made such an impact when he encouraged Brasilians to be proud of their own country, and how it might be politically possible to sustain the high duty and tariff barriers for imported goods. In Australia we used to have what was called the ‘cultural cringe’, with reference to the UK. That’s long gone, and it isn’t much in evidence in Brasil with reference to Europe, except perhaps in these traces of the past.

On a recent visit to Sao Paulo, New York artist Deb Berman mounted her piece Human Canvas outside the Museu de Arte Sao Paulo (‘MASP-y’). It’s an invitation for passers-by to paint on her white clothes, and on her skin. She was concerned that they might not participate; little chance of that!

Underneath the MASP arches

MASP is suspended on two huge red right-angled arches. The cobbled open space beneath is a natural venue for public art. Street traders sell ethnic bracelets, artists show and sell their work, and buskers play, the building acting as their sound shell. A little dog wanders around, the occasional eccentric shouts and dances to the music. The space swallows it all.

Afternoon traffic streams by on Avenida Paulista

Avenida Paulista is at the heart of Sao Paulo’s business district, so there are plenty of passers-by. They gather in knots of ten or twenty to watch, and to pick up a brush. Most are travellers and tourists; the businessmen are still in their escritorios. People pose beside their handiwork, smiling and giving the camera the thumbs-up. Almost everyone joins in.

Eyes on the human canvas

More photos at

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