By Elka Okawa
The Sao Paulo Museum of Art Assis Chateubriant (MASP) is the most important museum of Western art not only in Brazil but also in Latin America. The museum’s permanent exhibition has more than 8,000 artworks with innumerous works by some of the best known artists in the European canon – mostly Italian and French including Rafael, Mantegna, Botticelli, Delacroix, Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, Modigliani, Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Matisse, Chagall, Diego Rivera, Cândido Portinari, Di Cavalcanti, Anita Malfatti and Almeida Junior. It is possible to also appreciate photographs, drawings and sculptures by Degas, Rodin, Ernesto di Fior, Victor Brecheret. MASP is a member of the Musée D’Orsay’s 19th-century club and in 1982 it was named a heritage site by the Historical Asset Defence Council of the state. This important museum was the first Brazilian museum to be recognised for the great historical importance of its collection. MASP’s founder Pietro Maria Bardi managed it for many years, and only left the management post in 1996, three years before his death.
In addition to being an important tourist destination, for both national and international visitors, MASP is also a cultural centre offering different activities. These include the art school, the atelier, dance and music festivals, theatres, debates, lectures and courses for art teachers. It is the most visited museum in Sao Paulo with an average of 50,000 visitors per month (Folha de Sao Paulo, April 5, 2009).
However, in the last decade, the museum has faced some serious management problems that are directly affecting its financial situation. In 2004, a major Sao Paulo newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo, released the first article to the wider public calling attention to the museum’s situation.
Although MASP assets are valuated in US$1 billion, just the labour debt is more than US$2 million (…) MASP is facing a serious financial crisis.
How can an important museum like MASP be facing financial problems? Is nobody looking after the museum’s interest? It is not a small art institution where people can pretend as though nothing is happening. It is the biggest museum in Latin America! There are many successful museums all over the world and those who are managing them have no secrets. A comparison of MASP with other museums brings to light the value of this important Brazilian institution.
The Sao Paulo Museum of Art Assis Chateubriant
Sao Paulo is the fourth biggest city in the world and the largest in South Hemisphere with 1,530 km² and more than 11 million people (CENSUS, 2010). As in all big cities, the metropolitan area also includes another 39 cities and more than 20 million people.
At the beginning of the 20th Century Sao Paulo experienced a massive population growth due to immigration, the development of industry and the improvement of the coffee economy. The need for leisure and free spaces immediately increased. As a result, parks, picnic areas, leisure societies, cinemas and theatres emerged (PIRES, 2001). The city has created various cultural spaces including the Sao Paulo Museum of Art Assis Chateubriand (MASP), the Sao Paulo Town Hall, the Museum of the Portuguese Language, the State Art Gallery, the Brazilian Art Museum, the Afro-Brazilian Museum, the Cultural Centre and the Modern Art Museum. In 1922, Sao Paulo hosted Modern Art Week, which featured important local artists such as Anita Malfatti, Mario de Andrade, Oswald de Andrade. At that time, it was not well understood by the population, but it was this event that afterwards raised cultural consciousness in the country and ultimately led to the creation of MASP. 18 years later, in 1940, journalist Assis Chateaubriand collaborated with art critic Pietro Maria Bardi to create an art museum with a brief of being revolutionary. The intention was to create not only a space to appreciate art, but also a centre to disseminate culture and art by teaching and by offering courses to the audience. Chateaubriand’s intention was to create “a house of painting and sculpture to constitute the interest of our (Brazilian) people in arts” (BARDI, 1992). MASP was founded in this context, and opened on October 2nd 1947.
In 1983 a convention called First City and Culture was hosted in Sao Paulo to discuss the future of cultural spaces, as well as their fundraising issues. At that time MASP did not attend the forum for it was self-funded. The quality of its permanent collection meant that works rented to other countries, including Japan, were enough to maintain the institution. Unfortunately, the museum situation has since changed.
In 1995, the architect Julio Neves was elected the new president of MASP. His controversial management style included a US$12 million reform of the building from March 1996 to September 2001. In the first years of his management, he organised big exhibitions that attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and inserted Brazil in the mega-exhibition circuit. The museum exhibited The Italian Art in Brazilian Collection in 1996, Monet and Michelangelo in Italian Art History in 1997 and Egypt – Gods’ Land in 2001, which featured more than 120 pieces from Louvre’s collection. This was the turning point.
The management of the museum did not realise that they were constructing a model that tended to concentrate on a visiting public and consequently began to only receive sponsorship for these blockbuster events. With no funds to compete with other institutions, there was a drop in the number of visitors. In 2004, Retrato de Camões, a painting from Portuguese artist José de Guimarães, was deaccessioned to pay a debt of US$1.8 millions. In 2006 the museum had its electricity cut due to another US$2 million debt — this time with the state electricity company. The museum crisis was growing and becoming a big problem with a difficult solution. In 2007, their debt was estimated to be US$6 million.
As with any private company, it is essential for museums to define strategies and products to be offered to customers. For Silberberg (1994), product quality perception, originality, customer service, sustainability, product perception, facilities, community engagement and support and management compromise are key factors to attracting visitors to museums or cultural attractions.
Analysing from Silberberg’s perspective, MASP situation is not bad. Despite the crisis and the fact that there are no new acquisitions, MASP holds Latin America’s biggest collection. The diversity of the works talk for themselves in terms of originality. Service to the client and the sustainability of the institution are points that can always be improved. Despite the problems that the museum is facing, the perception of the museum’s artworks has not changed. The Museum’s building was designed by Lina Bo Bardi, an Italian modernist architect. It is located in one of the city’s most important financial avenues and it is the only construction in the world where the main body rests in four lateral pillars over a 74 meters freestanding space. The MASP problem is clearly related to the quality of its management.
Some Solutions for MASP
The most important museum in Latin America is facing some management shortcoming and solutions will be proposed here.
Firstly, MASP should hire a professional manager.
Good management is about vision. However, museum management is unique. According to Timothy Ambrose, “museums are for people” (1993). Besides possessing the usual qualities of a good manager, a museum manager should always keep that point in mind. When Elizabeth Ann Macgregor took up the Directorship of the Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in 1999, she knew she had to take the museum’s work out to new audiences. She also knew that the MCA at that point was the only museum in Australia dedicated to contemporary art, so she used this knowledge to create a national profile for the space. Visitor attendance at the MCA increased to over 578,900 in 2010 and came out of a difficult financial position.
Tate Gallery in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) in New York and the Guggenheim are managed by specialists in the field, executives and professional cultural fundraisers. Besides that, those institutions publish a public balance sheet annually.
Secondly, the marketing and advertising strategy should improve.
The museum should have its own brand product. MASP’s souvenir shop only sells products with the exhibition content as notebooks, pencils and calendars. No products with the museum brand are sold. The Modern Museum of Art (MAM) has many MAM stores located in the biggest Shopping Malls of the city, selling designer and new artist works like necklaces, scarves and earrings.
Tourism has an important economic role in Sao Paulo. In 2009, 11.3 million people visited Sao Paulo, a 37.8% increase compared to 2004. Domestic tourists stay 3.3 days on average in the city and spend US$1,700 during that period. International tourists stay longer, 5.3 days and spend an average of US$2,400 in the same period. MASP is a major tourist point for both local and international visitors that stay in the city. Unfortunately, there are no incentive policies such as flyers or booklets in Portuguese, English or in any other language.
The museum could also think about making a cultural partnership or connections with other national or international institutions to promote art.
Thirdly, the museum should create groups to maintain the institution.
The Modern Museum of Art (MAM) has 1,000 members. The contribution varies from US$75 to US$5,000 per year and offers discounts in shops, restaurants and courses offered by the museum. In France there is a National Museum Group that manages funds for the acquisition and conservation of art collections at 34 museums and two exposition centres. This takes place under the supervision of the France Ministry of Culture. The tickets for the museums and the commercialisation of their brands guarantee the financial health of all institutions. In the United States, where the Government does not play such an important role in funding, the museums are maintained by the population. The MET in New York has more than 120,000 members that contribute from US$45 to US$20,000 per year. One successful case is Andrew Mellon from a banker’s family. He donated 900 artworks to create the National Gallery in the 1930s and also started a group with some of his wealthy friends to help the gallery. Interestingly, another group was created from this first one — their wives, otherwise known as bored ‘ladies who lunch’, started volunteering as museum guides. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the MET in New York have some of the oldest guide programs. The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW) in Sydney started theirs in 1972. In addition to guiding the public through the artworks, these ladies or their families may also become benefactors. Mollie Gowing, originally a guide, recently left a large bequest to AGNSW of almost 400 paintings, sculptures, photographs, ceramics and fibre works.
And lastly, MASP should be thought as a cultural space.
When it was founded, Chateaubriand’s ideal was to create an integrated art space. Plenty of people visited MASP because of the courses of art history, photography, music and cinema. In the latest years those activities were almost abandoned. The museum has a great space and is located in the heart of Sao Paulo’s commercial area and is currently not being cleverly used.
Again, none of the solutions proposed above are new. Being able to propose some viable solutions just emphasises that hiring the right professionals to manage the museum would improve this never ending nightmare. Despite all problems the museum is facing, in 2011, Indian Ambassador Fausto Godoy donated Asian art and crafts to MASP, placing the museum under the same category as the MET in New York. This might be the light in the end of the tunnel, or it might be an alert saying that such an important museum should not be facing such a sad situation.
Ambrose, Timothy, Museum basics, (Taylor & Francis, 1993)
Bardi, Pietro Maria, A História do MASP (Quadrante, 1992)
Bergamo, Marlene and Daniel Bergamasco, ‘Teto do MASP tem placas de alumínio quebradas, e museu culpa pássaros’, Folha de São Paulo, 19 June 2007
Boyayan, Miguel, ‘MASP pede socorro’, Veja São Paulo, 28 June 2004
Dumazeidier, Jofre, ‘Lazer e Cultura Popular’ (1979) FFLCH/ USP
Lamarca, ‘O Museu Paulista como Atrativo Turístico da cidade de Sao Paulo’ (2001) ECA/ USP
Pires, Mário J, Lazer e Turismo Cultural (Manole, 2nd ed, 2002)
Silberberg, Ted, ‘Cultural Tourism and Business Opportunities for Museums and Heritage Sites’ (1994) University of Victoria
TASSINARI, Alberto, Pequeno Guia Berlendis de Hitória da Arte – do Renascimento ao Impressionismo Através das Obras do MASP (Berlendis & Vertecchia, 1995)