Lina Bo Bardi: Together
May 12–July 29, 2016
Italian-born Lina Bo Bardi (1914–1992) has been called the “most Brazilian” of Brazil’s twentieth-century architects. A foreigner in the country she called home, Lina (as she is affectionately called) absorbed the cultural traditions of her adoptive Brazil and championed the past as an alive, historical present. Her criticism of European-imported modernism could not have been more different from the attitudes of Brazilian architectural titans Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa, planners of the utopian, but deathly antiseptic capital city of Brasília.
By the time Lina moved to Brazil after World War II with her husband Pietro Maria Bardi, she had been deputy director of Domus magazine and had taken part in efforts to reconstruct war-torn Italy. Between 1958 and 1964, she lived in Salvador de Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, which was regarded as a poor, underdeveloped part of the country. There she encountered an unindustrialized culture with a strong presence of African descendants and learned “a lesson of popular experience, not as a folkloric romanticism but as an experiment in simplification.” In her design for Solar do Unhão (1959), in Salvador, she used local building materials as well as construction techniques learned from local craftsmen to convert a former sugar mill into Bahia’s art and craft museum.
Less a survey of Lina’s work and more a tribute to its context and impact, Lina Bo Bardi: Together features works mostly made by others. The exhibition, curated by Noemí Blager, includes a film installation by Tapio Snellman, an art installation by Madelon Vriesendorp, objects from the markets of Salvador de Bahia, and Ioana Marinescu’s photographs of Lina’s Glass House in Morumbi, outside São Paulo. All these elements are exhibited together, without hierarchy, embodying the fluidity of Lina’s polymathic practice and her seamless embrace of both traditional culture and modernism. A time line tracks Lina’s achievements alongside major political, cultural, and architectural events in Brazil and Italy. Three of Lina’s famous Bowl Chairs casually dot the exhibition.
These disparate reflections on Lina’s work are poetic rather than explanatory, drawing out the soul of her practice rather than its forms. Snellman’s seven-part film installation documents Lina’s architectural projects, particularly her SESC Pompéia (1982), a huge recreational complex on the outskirts of São Paulo. The film focuses on the people in and around the building—their movements and energy—to show they are Lina’s partners in both the concept and life of the building.
Vriesendorp’s multipart installation includes objects made by local residents and children at workshops the artist conducted at Solar do Unhão. These objects, based on traditional artifacts, and Vriesendorp’s own cardboard figures of Exu, an Afro-Brazilian deity, are placed throughout the exhibition. Vriesendorp’s contribution also includes paper hands that point to small cards featuring quotes by Lina. Many of these words come from her abundant theoretical writings that argue for an architecture free from cultural, political, and aesthetic boundaries. Displays of simple toys and ceremonial objects refer to Lina’s commitment to children and the exhibitions about Brazilian popular culture she curated at SESC Pompéia.
Public architecture, the exhibition reminds us, never exists outside the realm of community. In speaking about SESC Pompéia, Lina remarked, “Architecture for me is to see an old man or child with a full plate of food walking elegantly across our restaurant, looking for a place to sit at a communal table.”