According to Places Journal, the first exhibition honoring Lina
Bo Bardi occurred in 1989 at the Universidade de São Paulo in Brazil. At that point she was 50 years
into her career, and was being recognized by the institution that denied her a
permanent teaching position three decades earlier. The event focused on her proposal
for urban renewal in Salvador, Brazil—the country which she called home after leaving her native
Italy following World War II. And although
praise for the 20th-century architect’s work came late, she is avidly remembered for fulfilling multiple roles: architect,
set designer, editor, illustrator, furniture designer, and curator.
A new exhibition makes up for lost time. Curated by Noemi Blager, who is both the advisor of the Lina Bo Bardi Fellowship and a consultant at the Italian furniture company Arper, and designed by London–based architecture and design firm Assemble, “Lina Bo Bardi: Together,” is the United States’ first exhibition focusing on the Italian-Brazilian designer. Running from April 25 to July 25 at the Graham Foundation’s Madlener House in Chicago, it marked the centennial of her birth when it opened in Europe last year.
The entire show emphasizes how Bo Bardi's work and writings have influenced contemporary architecture. Highlights include designs throughout Brazil for the Museum of Popular Art at Unhão, the SESC Pompéia, and The Glass House (or Casa de Vidro)—the residence she designed for herself and her husband in 1951. The exhibition also includes pieces by artists influenced by Bo Bardi's, including works by Madelon Vriesendorp, artist and co-founder of OMA, Tapio Snellman, a filmmaker and architect, and photographer Ioana Marinescu.
The first two floors of the exhibit contain an immersive installation by Vriesendorp, including photographs, films, and objects by the Dutch artist known for painting “Flagrant Delit,” which was the cover of Rem Koolhaas’, Hon. FAIA, "Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan" (Thames & Hudson, 1978). Vriesendorp’s portion includes a culmination of workshops she oversaw at the Solar do Unhão Folk Art Museum, a crafts center and industrial design school in Bo Bardi’s Museum of Popular Art at Unhão, built in 1959. Film projections by Snellman look into the textures, aesthetics, and social lives of her buildings. Exploring the intimacy of Bo Bardi’s Glass House, Marinescu’s photographs reveal the objects with which she decorated the São Paulo residence.
Another special addition to the show are three Bowl Chairs—each featuring a semi-spherical seat atop a metallic ring and supported by four legs—that she designed in 1951. Rather than conforming to a standard upright position, this design encourages a relaxed posture. To celebrate Bo Bardi’s centennial, Italian furniture maker Arper released a limited edition of 500 Bowl Chairs to support her institute and to finance the exhibition tour.
Achillina Bo was born in Rome in 1914. After
graduating from the Rome College of Architecture, she moved to Milan where she
worked in Italian architect Giò Ponti’s studio. She later opened her own, which was
subsequently destroyed in 1943 during a World War II bombing raid. This
event encouraged her to become an activist in the resistance movement, and contributed to her collaboration with several magazines as an illustrator and
journalist. At 25, Bo Bardi became the director of
the magazine "Domus," which Ponti
founded. At the height of the German occupation of Italy, the
then–Italian Socialist Republic suspended the magazine's publication. In the following years, she chronicled the war's destruction and
later founded the Milan-based weekly “A - Cultura della Vita,” which translates to “A - Culture of Life.”
In 1946, Bo Bardi moved to São Paulo, Brazil, where she lived for the remainder of her life with her husband Pietro Maria Bardi—a noted journalist, art critic, and gallery owner. There, she immersed herself in politics and culture, and expanded the scope of her creative work.
A key aspect of Bo Bardi's work is the inclusiveness of her designs, both socially and aesthetically. She created not only for the economically affluent southern region of Brazil, but also paid homage to the less well-off. From 1958 to 1964, she lived in Bahia, regarded as the poorest yet most culturally vibrant section of the country. When planning the Museum of Popular Art at Unhão, she used construction methods from local craftsmen. The Solar do Unhão Folk Art Museum, a museum-school, was also built to promote the country's artisanal traditions. Through these collaborations, the “most underrated architect of the twentieth century,” according to architecture critic Rowan Moore, integrated the popular culture of Brazil with the values of architecture's Modern Movement.
The last stretch of Bo Bardi's career was characterized by city planning projects and recovery work. In the 1960s and '70s, she focused on rejuvenation of dilapidated areas, such as the rural village of Camurupim, Brazil. Her most notable restoration project is the SESC Pompéia factory, an industrial facility that she transformed into a leisure center that currently houses a non-governmental branch that provides social services for workers in business and tourism.
No matter the task, it never took precedence over her biggest concern: the people who would inhabit her spaces.