Art in the house of glass

Lina Bo Bardi and her house of glass — essential reference points in the modernity of Latin America — are the inspiration behind Hans Ulrich Obrist's show at the Casa de Vidro, reuniting works by thirty artists and architects.

 

Art / Isabel Martínez Abascal

In 1946 Lina Bo Bardi, who was working at the time for Domus magazine, immigrated to Brazil with her husband, Pietro Maria Bardi. Five years later she became a naturalised Brazilian citizen and completed her first architectural project, a house in an outlying neighbourhood of São Paulo. The synchronicity of these two events is remarkable. Lina became South American without giving up being European and her Casa de Vidro ["House of Glass"] emerged as a building that was international while also tropical.

These two iconic points of reference in the modernity of Latin America, Lina and her place of residence, inspired curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, a great proponent of the exhibitive capacity of domestic spaces, to come up with a show at the Casa de Vidro. This is the latest in a line of similar initiatives at Federico García Lorca's house in Granada, the house of Luis Barragán in Mexico City, the Sir John Soane Museum in London and the Nietzsche Haus in Sils Maria, Switzerland.

The insides are on the outside (a title dreamt up by Douglas Gordon), exhibits works by over thirty artists and architects, grouped into three phases. The first of these, The Prelude, opened to the public on 5 September.

These works, which share a sense of homage to Bo Bardi's work, are laid out against the controversially intimate backdrop of her garden, study and house, where the architect's rationalist education and her heightened sensitivity to the beauty of the vernacular make for a well-articulated project.

Exterior view of Lina Bo Bardi's Casa de Vidro. Photo by Henrique Luz

Rooted to the ground by its massive rooms, the main volume graciously takes off the ground, with a large living room resting on delicate pilotis. Through panes of sliding glass, the house seeks out the views from the top of the hill, enabling an extreme, up-close relationship with nature that Bo Bardi strived for. Although the composition is conditioned by the overriding way in which society was organised at that time, with segregated spaces for servants, it does suggest the idea of dialogue between this society, which still owes much to colonialism, and modernity.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Tu pisavas nos astros distraída ["You stepped over stars, distraught"] 2012

Bo Bardi's fascination for the country that welcomed her can be seen clearly in her words: "I wasn't born here. I chose to live in this place. That's why Brazil is my country twice over". Brazilian artists have made it clear that this admiration was reciprocal: in the exhibition, Paulo Mendes da Rocha's piece refers to the sharp eye of the architect, while Waltercio Caldas offers an installation of mutually reflecting mirrors in the couple's bedroom.

 
Bo Bardi's fascination for the country that welcomed her can be seen clearly; Brazilian artists make it clear it is reciprocal
 

SANAA's installation of architecture models in the library space

The subtlety of both Cildo Meireles and Cinthia Marcelle's works attempts to recreate something of a lively atmosphere that began to fade when the house ceased to exist as a home (Pietro Maria Bardi himself donated it in 1995 as the headquarters of the Lina Bo and P.M. Bardi Institute). Meireles, himself responsible for having introduced Hans Ulrich Obrist to Bo Bardi's work, creates a sensory experience. While going up the iron and granite staircase below the large living room, the visitor is intoxicated by the strong smell of coffee. As one wanders through the space, an authoritative male voice booms out, Lina, va fare un caffé ["Lina, go and make a coffee"]. Almost amusing, this phrase encapsulates the complicated relationship "between man/woman and between fascism/communism", recreating the moments when, just as a political discussion was about to get underway, Pietro Maria Bardi would send his wife to the kitchen to make coffee.

SANAA's installation of architecture models in the library space

The reconstruction of this phrase meant trawling through old recordings, a piece of research similar to that done by Marcelle with the couple's collection of vinyl records. The artist has rescued a selection including songs by Vinicius de Moraes, Duke Ellington and Bach, as well as the hymn of the proletariat, The Internationale. In this new version of the performance, the 11 musicians in Audição ["Audition"] take to the stage one by one, their melodies gradually intermingling and superimposing, one over the next.

Alexander Calder's caricatures of the Bardi couple

The Prelude also contains two Alexander Calder caricatures depicting Bardi and his wife, as well as recent photographs by Gilbert & George, in which the artists pose next to the fireplace or before the glass façade. The SANAA studio, with dozens of working scale models that can be seen in situ, was invited to redesign the library. The space where the couple worked initially had metal furniture with glass-fronted shelves, but because of their fragility these had to be replaced by Sejima & Nishizawa, who produced new, extremely lightweight and durable furniture in carbon fibre.

Gilbert & George standing, and posing next to Lina Bo Bardi's fireplace, 2012

The next phases of the exhibition will include work by Arto Lindsay, Dan Graham, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, José Celso Martínez Correa — who at the age of 75 is the director of the Bo Bardi-designed Teatro Oficina —, Koo Jeong-A, Madelon Vriesendorp, Olafur Eliasson, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Rivane Neuenschwander, Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster, among others.

It is impossible not to highlight the importance of Bo Bardi's writing work, or to note that the articles she published in Domus throughout the 1940s already heralded the interests that would be developed in the design of the house. Three examples of these articles are: Architettura e natura, la casa nel paesaggio; Alla ricerca di una architettura vivente, about the modern Californian architecture of Albert Frey;and Sistemazione degli interni. All you need do is to paraphrase Domus' subheader from 1929 to 1943 — L'arte nella casa ["Art in the house"] — to see that The Prelude could not be more literal. Isabel Martínez Abascal

Interior view of the Casa de Vidro. Photo by Henrique Luz

The insides are on the outside: The Prelude
Casa de Vidro
São Paulo, Brazil

Cinthia Marcelle, Audição, 2012