"Caleidoscópio" (1999), Amelia Toledo (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)
Public art

Underground collection: art in São Paulo subway

24 Jan 2020, 2:38 pm

There is an art exhibition in São Paulo that, daily, is seen more often than all the museums, galleries and institutions in the city combined. This collection is available to the public from Monday to Sunday, from 4:40am until shortly after midnight. You still haven’t guessed which collection this is? It is worth taking a better look at the São Paulo metro stations, almost a public and underground museum themselves.

It all started with the installation of a sculpture park in Praça da Sé, redeveloped for the inauguration of Sé station in 1978, four years after the operations of the first span of the North-South axis. The initiative has inspired the occupation of platforms, mezzanines and subway tickets since then. Previously approved by an art consultancy commission, there are now 91 works spread over 37 stations. The works vary in scale, technique, themes, and some were designed specifically for each architectural or urban context.

Find out a little more about some of the most emblematic works, which strongly contribute to the São Paulo imaginary, and get inspired to perceive the presence of Brazilian art in the most unexpected corners and moments.

Regardless of your route, SP-Arte wishes you a great journey!

"Garatuja" (1978), Marcello Nitsche (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)

"Garatuja" (1978), Marcello Nitsche (Photo courtesy of: Metrô de São Paulo)


According to art critic Mario Schenberg, Marcello Nitsche (1942-2017) was the most pop of Brazilian artists. Known mainly for his works inspired by the language of comics, the São Paulo artist also produced sculptures, some inflatable, that reach large scales and suggest gestural elements of painting. This is the case of “Garatuja”, a word that means scribble, one of his most famous works, which has been installed at Estação Sé for over forty years – thus, one of the pioneers of the subway collection. The work, made of iron and steel, weighs three tons and is quite striking inside the station, as it is in front of the gates, on the mezzanine, and can be seen by passers-by in the city’s ground zero that is Sé square.

"Caleidoscópio" (1999), Amelia Toledo (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)

"Caleidoscópio" (1999), Amelia Toledo (Photo courtesy of: Metrô de São Paulo)


Modifying landscapes has always been one of Amelia Toledo‘s intentions (1926-2017). Her works explore the sensorial powers of natural and industrial materials, provoking experiences in the spaces where they are installed, whether in the open or in galleries and museums. In 1999’s “Kaleidoscope”, two-meter curved stainless steel sheets with different treatments, such as polishing and painting, create a different atmosphere in the large circulation hall on the first floor of Estação Brás. The work coexists with the intense hustle and bustle of one of the main stations of the subway network, in addition to gaining other meanings in relation to the context of the neighborhood in the central area of São Paulo.

"Momento antropofágico com Oswald de Andrade" (1990), Antonio Peticov (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)

"Momento antropofágico com Oswald de Andrade" (1990), Antonio Peticov (Photo courtesy of: Metrô de São Paulo)


Antonio Peticov (1946) develops his artistic research combining concepts of optics and geometry with his spirituality. In 1990, the artist installed the mural “Momento Antropofágico com Oswald de Andrade” [Anthropophagic Moment with Oswald de Andrade] at República Station to honor the writer’s centenary. The figures on the panel were inspired by elements from three books by Andrade: ““O Perfeito Cozinheiro das Almas deste Mundo” [The Perfect Cook for the Souls of this World], “Manifesto Antropofágico” [Anthropophagic Manifesto] and “O Homem do Povo” [The Man of the People]. Sixteen meters wide, the mezzanine work, next to the exits to Praça da República, combines concepts of anamorphosis and oppositions of positive and negative: in an oblique perspective, passengers can see Oswald’s features materialize.

"Quatro estações" (1998), Tomie Ohtake (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)
"Quatro estações" (1998), Tomie Ohtake (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)

"Quatro estações" (1998), Tomie Ohtake (Photo courtesy of: Metrô de São Paulo)

"Quatro estações" (1998), Tomie Ohtake (Photo courtesy of: Metrô de São Paulo)

"Quatro estações" (1998), Tomie Ohtake (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)

"Quatro estações" (1998), Tomie Ohtake (Photo courtesy of: Metrô de São Paulo)


Tomie Ohtake (1913-2015) had one of the longest running careers in Brazilian art. The mastery with which she balanced the colors in paintings and sculptures, almost always by way of abstraction, influenced a whole generation of Brazilian and Japanese-Brazilian artists. Ohtake also dedicated herself to public works in places like Avenida 23 de Maio, the Memorial da América Latina and the Ibirapuera Auditorium. At Consolação Station, the artist’s panels, in front of the platform towards Vila Prudente, depict the seasons – spring, summer, winter and autumn – using four main colors: green, yellow, blue and red. This is one of the few works by Tomie Ohtake using the mosaic technique, with glass tiles.

Sem título (1998), Alex Flemming (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)

Sem título (1998), Alex Flemming (Photo courtesy of: Metrô de São Paulo)


The best known work of the artist Alex Flemming (1954) is also one of the most iconic in the subway collection and the very cityscape of São Paulo. The work, from 1998, connects with the exterior of the platforms at Sumaré Station, which is entirely visible from the avenue of the same name, in the West Zone of São Paulo. There are 44 portraits of ordinary people glued to the glass walls of the station, alluding to questions of identity and respect for differences. The panels contain a striking feature of Flemming’s works: the application of words printed on different supports. In this case, poems by Brazilian authors, typed freely and without alignment.

"Figuras" (1992), Lygia Reinach (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)

"Figuras" (1992), Lygia Reinach (Photo courtesy of: Metrô de São Paulo)


The ceramic pieces that make up the work “Figuras”, 1992, by Lygia Reinach (1933), have a special connection with the metro that goes beyond its installation at Ana Rosa station: the clay of its making, burned at ºC 1.260, came from the underground craters themselves. One of the interpretations of the spectators reported by the artist is that the work – a set of eighty pieces about 1.70m in height – represents the passengers of the Metro. Reinach has always worked with sculpture in a serial way, and has another important public work, called “Colar”, installed in Parque da Luz, composed of four hundred ceramic balls.

"Construção de São Paulo" (1998), Maria Bonomi (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)
"Construção de São Paulo" (1998), Maria Bonomi (Foto: Metrô de São Paulo)

"Construção de São Paulo" (1998), Maria Bonomi (Photo courtesy of: Metrô de São Paulo)

"Construção de São Paulo" (1998), Maria Bonomi (Photo courtesy of: Metrô de São Paulo)


The work “Construção de São Paulo”, 1998, by the Italian-Brazilian artist Maria Bonomi (1935), consists of two cubes: the first portrays the landscape layout of the city, while the second transmits the result of these transformations by means of juxtaposed concrete and geometric cutouts. At Luz Station, specifically in the connection between Line 1-Blue and CPTM train line, it is possible to find “Epopeia Paulista”, another panel by Bonomi. The artist experimented with various techniques throughout her career, but was mainly recognized for her work as costume designer and set designer for plays and theatrical troupes throughout the 1960s, being a great partner of director Antunes Filho.

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