Lonely Planet Writer

See Rio de Janeiro's new public art celebrating the 2016 Olympics

It’s not only Rio de Janeiro’s public infrastructure that has been made-over for the 2016 Summer Olympics – the city’s public art scene is receiving a major facelift as well.

People walk in front of portraits produced by artist JR for his inside out project (L) on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The artist JR has unveiled numerous art installations across Rio de Janiero celebrateing olympic athletes.
People walk in front of portraits produced by artist JR for his inside out project (L) on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The artist JR has unveiled numerous art installations across Rio de Janiero celebrateing olympic athletes. Image by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

For the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, three artists-in-residence have been invited to paint the town during the games, leaving behind dramatic artistic impressions on the Cidade Maravilhosa. French contemporary artist JG has constructed three massive black-and-white photo installations around the city. With a nod to high-jumpers, swimmers and divers, his creations, which are supported within large-scale scaffolds, can be seen in the Flamengo, Barra da Tijuca and Botafogo areas of Rio de Janeiro, the former a stunning rendition of a high-jumper careening over the top of a residential skyscraper with Rio’s famous Christ the Redeemer status as a backdrop.

In the neighbourhood of Flamengo, French artist JR has installed a huge image of a high jumper.
In the neighbourhood of Flamengo, French artist JR has installed a huge image of a high jumper. Image by IOC

American digital artist Gerald Andal is on board as well, canvassing the city in an effort to tell the story of the Olympics through Vine, the short-form social media video sharing service (166,500 or so folks were following his vibrant account at time of writing). In similar fashion, award-winning German writer Tilman Spengler is there, but rather than spending his time posting to social media, he is scouring the city for inspiration for a forthcoming graphic novel.

The contemporary artwork is located opposite historic Candelária church in central Rio
The contemporary artwork is located opposite historic Candelária church in central Rio, during the Olympics. Image by Rio 2016/Alex Ferro

Elsewhere, American sculptor Anthony Howe has created an artistic windmill of sorts to house the Olympic flame opposite the 19th century neoclassical church of Candelária. The kinetic sculpture, 12m in diameter, spins elegantly in the wind and is particularly cinematic at sunset, when the retreating sunlight shifts and shines amid a kaleidoscope of glittering light.

A man walks past a section of a mural depicting indigenous faces being created by Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra and assistants in the revamped Port District on July 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 32,000-square-foot mural, titled 'We Are All One', is being painted to represent cultural diversity across continents and will be completed shortly before the start of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 5.
A man walks past a section of a mural depicting indigenous faces being created by Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra for the Olympics. Image by Mario Tama/Getty Images

And let’s not forget world-famous Brazilian graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra, who wasn’t going for gold at these Olympic Games but rather Guinness. His 2945-sq-m, 190-metre-long mural Etnias, which features five indigenous faces from five continents, is aiming to set a new Guinness World Record for the largest mural created by one artist. Kobra is one of 13 artists who designed official Olympic posters for the Rio Games. Etnias can be viewed in the rejuvenated port area.

Escadaria Selarón, also known as the 'Selaron Steps', famous steps in Centro created by Jorge Salaron.
Escadaria Selarón, also known as the ‘Selaron Steps’, famous steps in Centro created by Jorge Salaron. Image by Pintai Suchachaisri

Of course, all of these new art installations will go along quite nicely with Rio’s most famous public art installation, Escadaria Selarón, the emblematic  staircase connecting the neighborhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa. The work, which features 215 steps plastered with colorful artistic tiles from around the world, was the lifetime work of Chilean-born artist Selarón, who passed away in 2013.

For those seeking to dig deeper into Rio’s public art scene, there are street art tours in the city, including a four-hour tour from Brazil Expedition, which runs during the work week (or for groups on weekends).