Tropical modernism: Lina Bo Bardi inspires new art show

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Brazilian modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi is now the subject of a new show, “Tropical Modernism: Lina Bo Bardi” at Santa Monica’s Christopher Grimes Gallery.

Lina Bo Bardi in Kamakura, Japan (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

If you happen to be in Brazil for the Summer Olympics and want to take time out from watching the sporting events, you should check out the Modernist buildings of Rio and Sao Paolo.

Art critic Jason Farago says Brazil “has projected its character to the world through modern architecture.”

That includes the government buildings and housing projects of Brasília, the skyscrapers along São Paulo’s broad Avenida Paulista, the pleasure palaces of Rio’s Sambódromo and the Maracanã stadium that will be one of the main Olympic venues.

For all the beauty of Copacabana and the Amazon, says Farago, Brazil is a built environment, one where International Style modernism was souped up with plunging curves, organic detailing, and lush greenery.

Big names include Oscar Niemeyer, Lúcio Costa and Roberto Burle Marx.

But one of the most important – and often forgotten – Brazilian modernist architects is Lina Bo Bardi. She found her voice setting modern works in the rainforest, starting with Casa de Vidro (Glass House) in the then-suburban Sao Paolo neighborhood of Morumbi. Next came her most important commission: the São Paulo Museum of Art. She’s also celebrated for the SESC Pompéia building in São Paulo, a social and cultural center.

Achillina Bo was an Italian-born architect who left her home country of Italy with her husband Pietro Maria Bardi soon after WWII and ended up in Brazil. Besides her work as an architect, she was also a set designer, editor, illustrator, furniture designer and curator.

Casa de Vidro, designed by Lina Bo Bardi
Casa de Vidro, designed by Lina Bo Bardi (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Bo Bardi is now the subject of a new show, Tropical Modernism: Lina Bo Bardi at Santa Monica’s Christopher Grimes Gallery. DnA caught up with the artist behind it, Veronika Kellndorfer. She created silkscreened photos of Bardi’s work on highly reflective glass panels, a process she developed in the early 1990s. This series pairs details of Bo Bardi’s SESC Pompéia with plants found in the Royal Botanic Garden in Rio de Janeiro.

“I think she anticipated so much of what’s now a big theme in modern architecture,” Kellndorfer says, such as a focus on vernacular architecture and building on existing structures.

Kellndorfer had a 2015 solo exhibition at the Casa de Vidro in São Paulo. But her interest in modernism precedes her discovery of Bo Bardi’s architecture. A previous body of work focused on Los Angeles modernist architects Rudolf Schindler, John Lautner and the Case Study houses.

Bo Bardi is having a revival right now. The traveling exhibition “Lina Bo Bardi: Together” pays tribute to her career and vision. And Kellndorfer’s work is also bringing attention to her work. But the question is why Bo Bardi was forgotten for so long.

“I think she was forgotten because she was a woman, and all the male macho architects neglected her,” Kellndorfer says.

She adds that her architecture “was not rigid. She was modernist and making brutalist architecture. But then she brought in organic forms and that, combined with the surroundings and the landscape,” illustrated her respect for “existing things (while) still having a style of her own.”

Watch a video about the exhibition “Lina Bo Bardi: Together”: