Back in Rio de Janeiro and still on a mission to see the tourist hotspots before the Olympics, I headed across the bay to Niemeyer's Museu do Arte Contemporânea (MAC). I know, I know... it's late Niemeyer. But the building is stunning in person.
Completed in 1996, MAC is perched on a promontory, wedged between the road and the sea. I was immediately struck by the building's connection to the water, something that I never fully understood from photos (though I have tried to convey this in mine). There is a pool of water at the building's base that casts shimmering reflections onto the underside of the building. Beyond the pool is the sea. The overall shape of the building foils the mountains of Rio in the distance.
Ramps lead to the first level of the building, housing the museum lobby, restrooms, and gift shop. Aside from being tiny ("object building" over practicality here), the circulation makes sense for a museum. A ramp leads back outside and up another level into the gallery space. The red color of the ramp casts a pink glow on the white exterior walls of the museum, giving the threshold of the museum a unique character.
The first level of galleries truly showcases the surrounding environment with 360-degree views back to Niterói, nearby islands, and Rio. There are beaches on the horizon and beaches right below the building; windows at a 40-degree slant allow for vertiginous views of waves lapping the shore. A low bench provides informal seating at the edge of the galleries. Ilha da Boa Viagem is in view to the north, just across the water. A path winds up the side of the rocky outcrop -- a comparison to Niemeyer's snaking ramps is unavoidable.
The gallery space is divided into two levels, but it actually feels much more like one continuous space upon reaching the upper level. Here one is granted a fuller understand of the building as a whole: a couple small windows and a wide balcony provide points of visual connection between upper and lower levels. The lack of windows on the upper level focuses one's attention downward and makes the whole space feel rather womb-like. When I visited, the music and dance of performance artist Ana Sanovi enlivened the space even more.