video excerpt
Excerpt from the video "The Clopen Door" that composes the work "Open Night" by Thiago Rocha Pitta. Photo: Reproduction/MAM Rio

En September 2, 2018, at 19:24 pm, the fire department was called to contain a fire in the National museum – UFRJ. Two years later, on the same day and time, a large projection occupies the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro (MAM Rio), giving life to a work in memory of the fire: opening night, by Thiago Rocha Pitta.

Composed of a sculpture and a video in projection, the creation begins the Interventions Program, which will occupy the external areas of MAM Rio with contemporary artistic manifestations curated by Fernanda Lopes and Fernando Cocchiarale.

Excerpt from the video “The Clopen Door” that composes the work “Open Night” by Thiago Rocha Pitta. Photo: Reproduction/MAM Rio

opening night

the work of Pitta consists of the junction of two artistic languages. In the opening of the museum, a sculpture can be seen by those who pass through the region. The piece is a bonfire ready to be lit and, at its top, a wooden door waits to be ignited. At night, the work is complemented by a film projected on the walls of MAM. Entitled The Clopen Door, he brings a bonfire like the one in the sculpture, but it burns continuously, until the total destruction of the door. Thanks to the architectural configuration of the place, the image reflects on the black granite floor and invades the internal and external areas of the museum through the glass walls, transforming the space into a large image fire. 

The Sculpture by Thiago Rocha Pitta that composes “Open Night” will be on display in the opening of MAM Rio. Photo: Fabio Souza

The sculpture will be on display continuously and the video will be shown nightly, with the museum closed.  “The name of the work, opening night, is already an irony, because the museum is not open when it happens”, explains Thiago Rocha Pitta.  


With this work, the artist questions the relationship between the internal and the external, the open and the closed, and relates directly to the principle that guides Fernanda Lopes and Fernando Cocchiarale for the Interventions Program. The curators seek encourage contemporary artists to create new projects for the outdoor area of ​​MAM Rio – from the open space, to the gable, through the gardens and any area that is outside a conventional exhibition room.

“The museum has always been on this boundary between inside and outside, tensioning this relationship. The architecture itself already does this a lot, with the glass walls, the free span, etc. In addition, it always had unpublished exhibitions, which were proposed on paper and the museum was committed to holding them. I think that this intervention program recovers a little of the identity that MAM Rio built in the 60s and 70s, of an experimental museum that works in partnership with the artist”, says Fernanda Lopes. Currently, the institution develops this partnership with Carmela Gross, which will participate in the program later this year. 

The non-opposition between inside and outside

With Thiago Rocha Pitta it was no different. The work could only be seen in its entirety after being assembled in the museum on August 31. “It was very interesting to see the work happen for the first time outside of paper, he takes on other dimensions. There were image echoes due to this glass film that separates the inside and outside of the museum, which made the work even more interesting”, shares the curator. 

The facade of MAM Rio, with its glass walls, on a conventional day. Photo: Fabio Souza

Em opening night, the artist starts from the anthropological notion of clopen (joining words closed e open in English, open and closed), in which the terms open and closed are not seen as opposites, but as complementary. With the walls and the glass door, the architecture of MAM Rio contributes to this idea, as Pitta explains: “The sculpture and the projection are aligned with the MAM door, which has become a kind of mirror. The MAM door is closed, but it is also open – because it is transparent”. 

But the concept takes place at several levels of the work, in addition to its location. “When we put a door on the fire, you already mentally project the wall around it, and when the door is burning, it is opening. But after it burns completely, the portal closes,” says Pita. 

between fires 

It is from these concepts and symbols that Thiago builds the idea of ​​passage and transformation, and it is at this point also that draws a parallel between the imagetic fire of The Clopen Door and the fire real of the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro. “That [which burned down the museum] is a destructive fire. My fire – which I use in my work – is a culinary fire. It is not a fire that kills, that destroys; it is a fire that transforms,” he says. 

The artist had a personal relationship with the burning space. A resident of Petrópolis, in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro, he used to visit the National Museum – UFRJ and even studied there for a semester. When tragedy struck, he realized he needed to work on something that would keep this story alive. 

The National Museum-UFRJ fire destroyed almost the entire collection of 20 million items. Photo: Tânia Rego/Agência Brasil

The work with the bonfire already existed, it started to burn doors in 2017. However, it was andm 2020 who filmed the intervention, creating the filmic piece. “The work was not designed for MAM, but the way it is configured for the museum brings a very specific reverberation”, he adds. In this way, the artist intends to resume not only the fire at the National Museum, but also that of MAM Rio itself in 1978 and the many that preceded and followed. For Fernanda Lopes, the work acquires a character of memory and a political dimension, of “recovering this idea and understanding the literal and metaphorical fires that people have been suffering in Brazil in several areas, including culture”.

“This fire has been lit for a long time – let's say, since the Portuguese arrived here. However, in recent years there has been a remarkable acceleration of this destructive, colonial and genocidal fire. I think the museum fire was an emblem of what is happening today. That was a horrible oracle of what we are experiencing today”, explains Pitta, to which Lopes adds: “Maybe this tribute tries to make us not forget what happened, why it happened, and how not to let it happen again ”. 

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