Lina Bo Bardi was not a conventional architect. She had been involved with the design of exhibitions long before she conceived of the cultural institutions that gave her work visibility, such as the Museum of Art of São Paulo, the Museum of Popular Art in Salvador, and SESC Pompeia Leisure Center highlighted in this lecture.
Lina Bo Bardi was not a conventional curator, either. An exhibition, to her, was more than the display of iconic objects to convey prestige or to please the eyes. It was a learning experience. It was an invitation to wonder about artistic creation with no preconceptions of origin and meaning.
Her early involvement in exhibitions started with her participation in the efforts of Italian designers to educate the taste of a growing middle class in a fast-industrializing country after the end of World War II. Her collaboration with her husband, the contentious gallery owner and journalist Pietro Maria Bardi, whom she followed in an adventurous commercial and cultural move to Brazil, allowed her close involvement with museum projects. Aside from Bardi’s historical and educational interest in wide-ranging assemblages and cabinets of curiosities, his confrontational imprint added a sense of controversy to her curatorial experience and discourse.
After this formative period in Italy and Brazil in the 1940s and 1950s, her pedagogical approach to exhibitions gradually expanded toward political concerns as she developed an independent career in Bahia in the early 1960s. During this period, she became involved in exhibition and theater productions in collaboration with the director of the Drama School in Salvador, who opened her eyes to the continuity between displaying and staging tactics and between artistic and ethnographic narratives. In the meantime, she also engaged with the emerging artistic avant-garde that aspired to the socialization of culture in Brazil.
In the following decade, during the harshest years of the authoritarian regime in Brazil, Bo Bardi radicalized her design practice by becoming involved in experimental theater productions. In her maturity, she was able to consolidate her desire for a synthesis of architecture as the place for the staging of everyday life in the projects she designed for several cultural facilities and large exhibitions that eliminated superfluous effects and called for reflection.
In hindsight, many of the shows she helped organize throughout her career had ethical implications. Like her scenic projects that placed spectators in direct contact with performers, they intended to usher viewers into action. And by doing so, they nurtured a relevant pedagogical and political purpose much beyond the desire for visual delight.
Lina Bo Bardi saw no distinction between the cultural relevance of a masterpiece of Western painting and of a quilt crafted anonymously from old rags. To her, they were both the labor of human creation.