Culture, Listings, Visual Arts

The genius everyone thought was a madman

The Victoria and Albert Museum is dedicating a commemorative exhibition to Arthur Bispo do Rosário. He was considered a madman during his lifetime, and lived in an asylum for fifty years.


When the Brazilian artist Arthur Bispo do Rosário (Brazil, 1909-1989) said that he had seen Jesus Christ coming down the stairs in his house, he was institutionalised in the Colonia Giuliano Moreira asylum in Rio de Janeiro.

He spent his life there, entering the asylum when he was 29 years old, and when he had the opportunity to leave he no longer wanted to.

He created sculptures, collages and paintings using the most insubstantial of objects, with the ultimate aim of presenting them to God on judgement day.

The conceptual artist, who at that time created all his works on the margins of the artistic system, and was treated by everyone as mentally disturbed.

But today is considered a genius by the majority of critics, and is one of the most renowned Brazilian artists in the world.

He was born in Japaratuba-Sergipe, a descendant of African slaves, and was a sailor in his youth. He started to have hallucinations and to claim he was sent from God, given the responsibility to judge the living and the dead. He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was hospitalised for more than 50 years.

His work, celebrated for his imaginative skill in transforming any object into art, shows his fascination for the reworking of elements including buttons, bottles, papers, cards and bed covers, that he manipulated and turned into sculptures.

Bispo do Rosário’s presence has intensified the debate about the limits between madness and art, both in Brazil and abroad. His avant-garde and Dadaist work has been compared with artist Marcel Duchamp.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is holding a commemorative exhibition, in which 80 of his works are displayed, including sculptures, flags and hand-embroidered articles of clothing.

The exhibition can be seen in rooms 17 and 18 of the museum from the 13th of August until the 28th of October. It is open between 10am and 5:45pm in Cromwell Rd, London, SW27 2RL.

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(Translated by Sarah Watson)

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