Authorities seek shut-down of renowned Sao Paulo art museum

One of South America's top museums, Brazil's Sao Paulo Museum of Art, could be temporarily closed after a high-profile robbery revealed major flaws at the institution.

One of South America's top museums, Brazil's Sao Paulo Museum of Art, could be temporarily closed after a high-profile robbery revealed major flaws at the institution.

Sao Paulo state authorities have filed a court request calling for the museum to be shut down because it has been operating over the past 40 years without formal permission from the city, police and fire services.
The Sao Paulo Museum of Art could be shut down because state authorities say the fire system doesn't work and exits aren't clearly marked. ((Andre Penner/Associated Press))

"There is an imminent risk to the life and health of museum visitors, as well as to the priceless historic and cultural heritage that the institution's collection represents," a state official in charge of health and safety, Mariza Schiavo Tucunduva, said.

Earlier this month police recovered Portrait of Suzanne Bloch by Pablo Picasso and The Coffee Worker by Brazil's Candido Portinari, which were stolen in a brazen robbery just before Christmas.

Both works are back on display, but the robbery revealed the lack of security at the museum as well as the lack of insurance.

An inspection of the building by city officials, a consequence of the robbery, showed the fire system was not operating, extinguishers were missing and exits were not clearly marked.
Pablo Picasso's Portrait of Suzanne Bloch, worth millons, was one of two paintings stolen with ease from the museum in December. Both have been recovered and are back on display. ((Sao Paulo Museum of Art/Associated Press))

The museum's management has responded by calling it "the safest museum in the country."

The Sao Paulo Museum of Art, which opened in 1947, is considered Latin America's top museum for western modern and contemporary art.

Yet on Dec. 20, a gang of thieves, using only a car jack and a crowbar, broke into the building and stole the two paintings, reportedly worth more than $50 million US in total.

The building has no alarm and was relying on unarmed guards who patrol inside 24 hours a day.