Artist of the Week: Oscar Niemeyer

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Artist of the Week
Oscar Niemeyer
b.December 15, 1907 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
d.December 5, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro
Oscar Niemeyer may not be considered an artist in the original sense that has been conveyed through all the artists the Culture Ministry has touched on so far, as he was mainly an architect and not much of a painter. However, as a gem of the New World, many of his buildings designed have been considered by many to be works of art on their own. Personally, he is my favorite architect; his designs are really fascinating to gaze at.
Oscar Niemeyer was born in 1907 in Rio. As a youth, he was not too interested in academics and was said to excel more in football than any of his other subjects. In 1928 he dropped out and married his first wife Annita Baldo, daughter of Italian immigrants from Padua. He soon attended the Escola Nacional de Belas Artes (National School of Fine Arts) in Rio, where he earned a BA in architecture in 1934.

After graduating, he went to work for architects Lucio Costa and Carlos Leao. Though he often worked for little to no pay, Niemeyer proved himself to the two with his works eventually being complimented by Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier had been asked to come to Brazil for a time to help Costa and his team of consultants, including Niemeyer, to design the new Ministry of Education and Health building, which was completed in 1943 under Niemeyer's gradually progressing leadership.
[+] Ministry of Education and Health in Rio, 1943
The building that would house the regulatory office of Brazilian cultural affairs has been said to successfully fuse all of the influences from Brazilian architectural history:
  • The front windows are shaded by bries-soleil; essentially they are adjustable metallic blinds that reflect sunlight and reduce inside temperature.
  • The lobby was decorated by paintings known as azulejos; they are similar to frescoes and hail from Portuguese tradition.
  • The outside gardens and lawn were designed by well-known landscaper Roberto Burle Marx, who employed Royal Palms to allude to Brazil's tropical landscape.
All of these would come together over the next years to become "Brazilian modernism", of which Niemeyer would add to in order to invent the style he would use for the rest of his buildings.

In 1940, Niemeyer met future president of Brazil Juscelino Kubitschek, then current mayor of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, along with M.G.'s governor Benedito Valedares to design a new suburb in the north of the city: Pampulha. Its buildings, designed by Oscar around an artificial lake, included a yacht club, a church, a lakeside promenade whose course and accompanying marquise curved seamlessy with the shore of the lake. Again, Mr. Niemeyer employed the help of landscaper Marx to design the grounds. The project was completed in 1943 and Marx would accompany Niemeyer for many more years. Despite the approval of the government, the Church refused to consecrate the site's chapel until 1959, citing the unorthodox design of the structure and the realistically human depiction of St. Francis in the altarpiece as opposed to the idealized depiction of morally unblemished saints up to that point.
[+] Church of Saint Francis of Assisi at Pampulha
[+] Lakeside Marquise at the Pampulha Dancehall

It is here that Niemeyer tends to cite as the place he developed his brand of "Brazilian modernism", with all of its curves, which are seen in the Boavista Bank in Belo Horizonte, which managed to appear lively by monolithic-high-rise-bank standards while preserving the traditional look of the buildings surrounding it. By the end of the 1940s, Niemeyer had become so well known that his design for today's U.N. Headquarters in New York was picked for the final construction; while Niemeyer was the main creator, he allowed his old friend Le Corbusier back to input some suggestions.

Despite his international fame, he was unable to design more buildings for the U.S. due to his affiliation to the Communist Party which prevented him from getting a stable visa. Meanwhile, back in Brazil, Niemeyer continued to design and moved into the field of crafting prints for high-rise apartments; among his most famous is the Copan Building in Sao Paulo with his by-now famous sleek curves and use of horizontal lines that this time contrasted against the traditional vertically oriented buildings surrounding it.

Aside from multi-story residencies, he also built some single-family homes such as the Cavanelas House (1954) and a greater known masterpiece of his, the Canoas House which he built for himself and his family.
[+] Cavanelas
The Cavanelas House, designed by Niemeyer, was another project in which he employed the help of Marx to shape the landscape to fit the house and surrounding environment.
[+] A tour of Canoas

For a time during this period, Niemeyer's reputation was tarnished by critics, however that would not last long...
Remember our friend, Mayor Kubitschek? Well, in 1956, he had finally assumed the Brazilian presidency. He came to visit Mr. Niemeyer at Canoas shortly after the inauguration and asked him to help him build a new capital for the nation. "Oscar, this time, we are going to build the capital of Brazil!"

Lucio Costa won the contest for the layout of the city, which, as one can see, was soon complimented by the futuristic building designs that would make up the city.
[+] Brasilia
Upper Left: National Congress of the Federative Republic of Brazil
Upper Right: Juscelino Kubitschek bridge
Middle: Monumental Axis (central grounds where the wings and body of the city converge)
Lower Left: Palácio da Alvorada (Brazilian presidential palace)
Lower Right: Cathedral of Brasília
The "Pilot Plan" made by Lucio Costa
More on Brasilia can be found here.

In 1964, Oscar Niemeyer was invited to Israel and came back to find Brazil under one of many Western-backed military dictatorships that would thrive during the Cold War; obviously Communism was not to be tolerated by the new regime as was custom of other South American governments of the 60s and 70s, and notoriety would not save Niemeyer from having to go into exile.

Despite the circumstances, Niemeyer found opportunity to open an office in Paris, where he accepted to design such projects as the French Communist Party Headquarters (c. 1967-1981) and even, across the Mediterranean, the University of Science and Technology-Houari Boumediene (1974) in Algeria.
[+] University of Science and Technology
[+] Communist Party HQ

The regime faded by 1985 under president Joao Figueiredo, allowing Niemeyer to return to his homeland by the end of the decade. Among his later projects were the J.K. Memorial in Brasilia (1980), the Brazilian Pantheon (1985), and Latin America Memorial (1987). Oscar Niemeyer even assumed the leadership of the Brazilian Communist Party during the 1990s; at this time he recieved many international awards for his work.
[+] JK Memorial
[+] Brazilian Pantheon
[+] Latin America Memorial
The hand seen in the center of the park is considered a striking centerpiece of the memorial:

Some of Niemeyer's last great works include the Niteroi Art Museum (1996, designed at the age of 89) and the Cultural Complex (inaugurated 2011) at Asturias, Spain. Some critics that as he grew older, his works may have decreased in quality. However, you may decide for yourself:
[+] Niteroi
[+] Asturias

Unfortunately, after reaching 100, Niemeyer was constantly in need of hospitalization for respiratory problems and grew increasingly lonely and bored with each visit. His only daughter, Anna Maria* , had died only a few months earlier when he suffered a cardiopulmonary incident and passed away on December 5, 2012 at the Hospital Samaritano in Rio, just days before his 105th birthday. He had been a chronic smoker for years leading up to his last health crises.

Have another artist you want to learn more about or that you know and want mentioned on the next weekly thread? Telegram, Discord message, or reply below to get in touch!

*To one certain reader, it turns out your name is quite popular; small world isn't it?.
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