Oscar Niemeyer (1907 - 2012)


Ink on translucent paper
height: 70cm
width: 100cm

Donated by Edward Sullivan 2008


Three of the sketches on this page are shapes against a horizon line, suggesting ideas for free-standing buildings in a landscape. At the top the form is that of the cross-section of a mushroom, a sort of inversion of the famous chalice-shaped museum of contemporary art on the edge of the sea at Niteroi built a few years before this drawing, in 1996. The construction centre right is again set against the horizon line, its sweeping curve a classic Niemeyer motif for a public venue as for example in the Acoustic Shell of the military parade ground in Brasilia of 1972, as well as in the much more recent auditorium of Ravello in Southern Italy, which was completed in 2010. The sketch below could be a version of the museum in Curitiba. Popularly known as The Eye, but officially designated the Oscar Niemeyer Museum, this was only completed in 2002 so could have been at a preliminary design stage in 2000. The forms to the lower left are harder to interpret but considering these sketches were generated as part of a conversation about an exhibition in the Guggenheim Museum, they could be echoes of Frank Lloyd Wright’s magnificent building in New York – an inverted cone with a spiral interior ramp.

About the donation

Niemeyer’s drawings are so spontaneous, so casual, they often seem more like doodles than the beginnings of buildings, but they were his way of thinking, of translating thoughts into images on paper, ideas into buildings. In conversation, when asked about his architecture he used to say he did not like talking about architecture very much: instead of using words he preferred to draw, or to draw and talk simultaneously. The two pages of drawings in ESCALA are examples of Niemeyer’s visual-verbal type of conversation. In the year 2000 Professor Edward Sullivan of New York University visited Niemeyer in Rio de Janeiro to discuss a possible architectural contribution to the Brazil Body and Soul exhibition Sullivan was planning for the Guggenheim Museum for 2001 about the art of Brazil. These sketches were among many that Niemeyer produced during their discussions: they are his visualised thoughts, and in particular his thoughts about the curve. For Niemeyer, the curve was central to his practice. He translated the curves of his native Rio, of hills and shore-lines, of clouds and waves, of birds and flowers and women’s bodies into curvaceous architectural ideas: these ideas then took visible form, first as fluent sketches, and then as more detailed drawings; some of these would then be developed, usually by assistants, into fully worked-up plans and eventually, in some cases, into buildings. Meanwhile Niemeyer himself never stopped sketching, and in his visual-verbal conversations he would revisit older themes alongside new possibilities. This is what is happening in the ESCALA examples.

Valerie Fraser, 2012

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