If art theft is a country in the world of crime, then the Pinacoteca do Estado was its capital in June 2008, when an armed heist resulted in the temporary disappearance of two Picassos.
At this state-owned museum, criminal activity is not quite the anathema it might seem: for more than 50 years, the Pinacoteca acted as the “Police Station of Order and Social Politics”. Now it houses exhibitions commemorating the prisoners who languished in its cells, as well as an extensive archive of engravings (2,000 are made available to the public) and an excellently curated collection of artwork by 19th and 20th century Brazilian artists.
The Pinacoteca aims to expose the connections between the old world and the new—a concept embodied, brilliantly, in its building. Built in 1905 and refurbished in 1977, it combines metal catwalks with ageing bricks, a glass ceiling and neoclassical corridors.
The sculpture garden in the park that stretches out behind the museum (the Praça da Luz) is also a treat, as is the terrace at the self-service Café Estação Pinacoteca. The best seats are beside an enormous fig tree, where autodidacts can study an architectural plan of London’s Tate Modern.