Brasília – From Utopia to Capital

Visitors will learn about the ideas, characters and the history behind the creation of Brasília in 1960; the city’s transformation into a synthesis of Brazilian modernist thought. Conceived as a complete work of art, the New Capital represented a step towards the establishment of the presence of the State throughout the country. In ef-fect, abandoning the coastal settlement model traditionally adopted by architects and city-planners in the past.

This exhibition, curated by Danielle Athayde, displays a collection of approximately three-hundred works of art and documents, including models of iconic buildings designed by Oscar Niemeyer; drawings and a photographic model of Lucio Costa’s urban plan; sculptures by Maria Martins, Bruno Giorgi and Alfredo Ceschiatti; and photographs by Marcel Gautherot and Mario Fontenelle. These artworks come from public and private Brazilian collections, such as the Moreira Salles Institute, the Public Archive of the Federal District, and Domício and Izolete Pereira’s Brasília Collection.

A modernist epic

The Brazilian Government’s decision to move the capital from the Atlantic coast to the centre west of the country in the early 1960s aroused a sense of developmental euphoria in the Brazilian population. Ordinary people, mostly from the northeast, were moved by a desire to participate in the dream of building a new city, a new seat of government. Thus, they left the comfort of their homes and the company of their families and flocked towards the heart of the country. The Central Plateau, land of the Brazilian cerrado, with its infinite horizons and red dust, became a construction site of epic pro-portions. During the construction, which lasted three years and ten months, over thirty-thousand workers lived in Brasília’s precarious lodgings, such as the ones found in the Free City.

Fair-faced concrete

The people who actually built Brasília – most of them unskilled workers from all different trades – became known as ‘candangos’. In Brasília, they learned hands-on how to use and manipulate fair-faced concrete, a material that is very typical of Brazilian modernist architecture. Resonating with London’s brutalist architecture, fair-faced concrete does not admit mistakes or corrections. Looking at this work, we may be in awe of the beauty of Lucio Costa’s urban design, the ‘Pilot Plan’, and the harmony and perfection of Oscar Niemeyer’s curved lines. At the same time, we will be able to ad-mire the exceptional craftsmanship of those early candangos. This is particularly true in the pillars of Alvorada Palace, inspired by the hammocks that adorned farmhouse verandas in the colonial period, and the arches that support Itamaraty Palace, which will be displayed in this exhibition as models.

Pilot Plan

The effort of building Brasília, shared by civil servants, architects, artists and candangos, is clearly described in the historical documents displayed in Brasília – From Utopia to Capital. One of these documents is the ‘Pilot Plan’ submitted by Lucio Costa.

With a total area of 21 x 17 km, Brasília is bordered on the south by JK International Airport; on the north, by the recently built Digital TV Tower; on the east, by the Paranoá Lake Dam; and on the west by the Interstate Bus Terminal. The ‘Pilot Plan’ model was specially designed for this exhibition using high resolution satellite images, measuring 6 x 4.8 metres, at a scale of 1:3,500.

A comprehensive artistic effort

The construction of the new Brazilian capital had to keep to a tight schedule. Steel rebars and scaffolds mutated into unique new forms as they were gradually covered by concrete. All these steps were rec-orded from beautiful geometric angles by photographers Peter Scheier, Marcel Gautherot, Jean Man-zon, Mario Fontenelle and Jesco Puttkamer.

As a complete work of art, Brasília displays all the characteristics of an open-air museum. Thus, a prestigious group of artists were invited to participate in the project, including: Athos Bulcão, designer of the façades, paintings and tiles that add colour to Brasília’s concrete and merge with its architecture, such as the façade of the National Theatre and the murals at the National Congress and at the Church of Our Lady of Fatima, known as Igrejinha; Marianne Peretti, creator of the stained-glass panels at the Metropolitan Cathedral; Alfredo Ceschiatti, sculptor of the angels in the Cathedral; and Roberto Burle Marx, the landscape artist who designed Brasília’s main public gardens, such as the City Park, Itamaraty Palace, the ‘Pilot Plan”s residential blocks (superquadras), squares and boulevards, and who also created art pieces for several of its buildings.

Some of these pieces and their studies will be displayed in London for the first time. This is the case, for example, for the study for O Rito do Ritmo [The Rhythmic Rite], which belongs to Domício e Izolete Pereira’s Brasília Collection. It was the first public sculpture of the capital, created by Maria Martins at the invitation of Oscar Niemeyer and installed in the internal gardens of Alvorada Palace, the official residence of the President of the Republic. The same can be said of works by Bruno Gior-gi, such as Os Guerreiros [The Warriors], which represents the candangos and symbolises artistic occupation in the capital.

Brasília Collection

The collection put together by Izolete and Domício Pereira is a unique case. Having moved to the new capital in 1959, these two pioneers held positions in the Federal Government and at NOVACAP (the company responsible for the construction of the city). They collected a rare set of works signed by Niemeyer and Costa, as well as by the artists commissioned to create art pieces for Brasília. Docu-ments and objects are a wonderful representation of the visual arts and the modernist aesthetic that established itself in Brazil in the 1950s-60s.


In addition to gathering architectural elements that help to build an image of Brasília’s identity, curator Danielle Athayde proposes an analysis of Brazil’s artistic production at the time, as well as a look into the contemporary representation of the Brazilian capital. She therefore commissioned works by artists Alex Flemming, who alludes to the architecture of the Cathedral, and Naura Timm, who presents a series of sculptures inspired by the cerrado, the biome in which the city was built.

The exhibition Brasília – From Utopia to Capital is the result of extensive research developed by Danielle Athayde at the Ortega y Gasset Foundation in Madrid, Spain. It has already been seen in ten capitals around the world, including Paris, Berlin, and more recently, Moscow.


A bilingual catalogue (292 pages, English and Portuguese) containing texts, images and extensive documentary material will be available for purchase.


Brasília – From Utopia to Capital is brought to you by Artetude Produções e assessorial de Mar-keting LTDA.