Five cutting-edge art spaces in Sao Paulo

Catherine Balston
20 May 2014

São Paulo's historic centre has been sliding into decay for decades. Now a new wave of bold art ventures is breathing new life into some of Centro's oldest and most interesting buildings, says Catherine Balston

1. Red Bull Station
It might have a big-name brand behind it, but on the ground Red Bull Station is pure artistic endeavour, bringing a state-of-the-art recording studio, six art ateliers and a handful of spaces that host gigs and exhibitions under the roof of one of the most interesting buildings in town — an electrical substation built in 1926 and out of use since 2004. Speaking of roofs, you can sit back on this one's terrace, beer in hand, and watch the hustle and flow of downtown São Paulo below. The venue opened to the public in October 2013 and hosts three art residencies, each with six artists, per year. Nose around its third-floor ateliers to see the next exhibition coming together.
Praça da Bandeira, 137, Centro, São Paulo

2. Pivô
Pivô is one of the city's most interesting new art spaces, both for the calibre of the art on display as for the chance to poke around inside one of São Paulo's most iconic buildings, the almighty, curved Edifício Copan designed by the late Oscar Niemeyer. Pivô is set on the first and second floors of one end of the building, in a vast 3,500-square-metre space that had been empty for 20 years before its transformation in 2012. Yards of bare concrete and industrial-sized pipes in dark corners lend it a raw, work-in-progress feel. Local artist Lais Myrrha is currently creating a ‘large mini-model' of the Niemeyer-designed building that was one of Brazil's worst civil construction disasters in 1971 (until 2 August 2014).
Edifício Copan, Block A, Unit 54, Avenida Ipiranga 200, Centro, São Paulo (+55 (0)11 3255 8703)

3. Casa do Povo
The glass and concrete façade of Casa do Povo stands out from its nondescript neighbours in Bom Retiro, the heart of the city's textile industry. Meaning ‘House of the People', Casa do Povo is a five-storey Modernist gem that was established as an avant garde community centre by Jewish Eastern European immigrants in 1953. It was home to a school, theatre and library and published a newspaper, Nossa Voz, — the voice of the city's Jewish left — which was shut down by the military dictatorship in 1964. Nossa Voz was relaunched in May this year as part of a revival of Casa do Povo that, over the last two years, has seen the centre come back to life, hosting contemporary art exhibitions, theatre residencies and experimental dance performances.
Rua Três Rio 252, Bom Retiro, São Paulo

4. Estúdio Lâmina and Ouvidor 63
On the edgier end of downtown's art initiatives, Estúdio Lâmina is an art-space-cum-residence for an ever-growing collective of unconventional artists. Opened at the end of 2011, it's set in a decadent apartment in one of Centro's rundown 1940s buildings, and resembles a blend of theatre set and squat. Climb up four flights of stairs (both elevators were broken on our visit) and be ready to rub shoulders with a young, alternative crowd and — if you time it right — witness their mix of performance art, circus, poetry, dance and music. The collective also occupied an abandoned building — all eleven broken-windowed floors of it — in May this year. Just a few blocks away, the new space was dubbed Ouvidor 63 and looks set to become an even bigger and bolder creative outlet.
Estúdio Lâmina, Avenida São João 108 (fourth floor), Centro, São Paulo (+55 (0)11 3228 6815), Ouvidor 63, Rua do Ouvidor 63, Centro, São Paulo

5. Phosphorous
Just twenty steps from the Jesuit church and school (the Pátio do Colégio) where the city was founded in 1554, Phosphorous occupies what was once the offices of São Paulo's first notary public, an ornate colonial building dating back to 1890. Open since late 2011, Phosphorous is a space for experimentation, with a succession of small rooms painted white for its changing roster of exhibitions. Poke your head into internal courtyards or down the spiral staircase at the back — which on our visit plunged into darkness save for a faintly-lit record-player sound-installation — in what feels like a building packed full of surprises. The space is also shared with Casa Juisi, a vintage clothing store and archive (the latter has over 30,000 items hired out by production companies and theatres) and Sé, a one-room commercial art gallery that opened on the top floor in April this year. 
Rua Roberto Simonsen 108, Centro, São Paulo