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Bo Bardi in the Present
On architecture exhibitions and the approximation of cultures
Buildings and Spaces for Culture
A reflection on the reach of architecture exhibitions always brings us to a metalinguistic impasse: a spatial intervention about space is like a book about writing, or a music about harmony. As architects, we are invited to consider ways in which we may be able to conduct people through a spatial sequence with a heightened awareness of bodily presentness. Simultaneously, a retreat from the apprehension of this locale, towards the imagination of another space—exhibition content—revealed through drawings, models, photographs and other media is desirable. A lesson and challenge is hidden for the architect in the process of design: how can high architecture culture—usually trapped in the inner voices of architects or overly academic reflections—address itself to the everyday lives of universal audiences? A sense of empathy is the beginning of what draws interest into the architectural content displayed. The wish to inhabit an imagined space is at the heart of the experience.
We navigate times of excess, where the ability to apprehend content diminishes by the hour. Children and adults spend time in loops of constant content replacement. Our phones, computers, apps, messaging and many other digital habits, tend to decrease our ability to focus, listen or simply be present. Space can be understood as an antidote to this absence. The pandemic has heightened the value of presence. How much we hold on to these lessons, how much we transform our ways of being communal and defend, towards the future, the value of being-there, is part of a cultural challenge that architecture exhibitions must respond to.
Architecture exhibitions attempt to make legible what the architect enacts silently by simply building. The result of the architectural imagination is a portrait of an object: the photographed space after inhabitation. The legibility of design intent for universal audiences is not an easy accomplishment. In that sense, it’s expected that the ambiance of the exhibition can bring forth some of the aura of the architectural work presented. Continuity or withdrawal are two opposite design strategies that one may adopt. In the context of exhibitions, the first one could be understood as mimicking: simply adopting material references employed by the architecture displayed. Or as method: an abstract extraction of the architectural thinking in question. Withdrawal refers to the creation of a neutral, or even contrasting background, against which the exhibition content may be highlighted. This implies a light-handed approach, in which the designer silences the spatial intervention to enhance the connection to its content.
The exhibition Lina Bo Bardi 100: Brazil’s Alternative Path to Modernism at the Pinakothek der Moderne organized by the Architecture Museum of TU München can illustrate this search. It was the largest exhibition of original drawings by the architect, launched in 2014 in celebration of her centennial. The narrative envisioned by the curator Vera Simone Bader and director Andres Lepik was chronological. The design of the exhibition was understood as a challenge of cultural translation, as it aimed to approximate Lina Bo Bardi’s world—histories between Italy, and the north and south of Brazil—to the local audience of the Pinakothek in Munich.
The exhibition design employed local high-end printing technology and simple, raw building materials in contrast. Suspended paper walls presented the curatorial voice and photographic content. Thick, long and low Ytong walls carried original drawings by Bo Bardi, as well as photos, videos and texts.
A group of five art students—Elisabeth Bauer, Andreas Gallasch, Christin Kummerer and Kathrin Marx—led by the artist Juliane Kownatzki, wrote the curatorial text by hand on paper and stone. Mistakes were registered by a crossed horizontal line, which defied the cleanliness of most of the exhibitions so far executed in this space. The experience turned the exhibition setup into an art studio.
The exhibition design also engaged with sound through the work of the Brazilian sound artist Edson Secco. Edson recorded the sounds of SESC Pompéia and created audio ambiances for a few moments of the exhibition, such as the exhibition entrance, where Lina Bo Bardi’s Portuguese spoken with her thick Italian accent could be heard. A sound installation was also proposed along a passage which marked the architect’s transition from São Paulo to Bahia. The passage was a blank empty tunnel of paper to clear visual perception. Sounds of the city of São Paulo decreased into growing sounds of nature and Afro-Brazilian beats, where the projects in Salvador were presented.
The final experience of the exhibition was SESC Pompéia. The sound installation was placed at ear level of a visitor in a laid-down, horizontal position. A video still of its main congregation space was projected onto the ceiling. A model, drawings, photographs and objects of SESC Pompéia coexisted with the installation in that same space, which marked the end of the exhibition. The livelihood of the space, affected by a sense of informality and the soft horizontal surfaces, worked to bring the visitors closer to the architectural space portrayed.
The Lina Bo Bardi 100 exhibition, through both material and immaterial design strategies searched to create a sense of empathy between the architect’s work and the various audiences of the Pinakothek. In this sense, empathy may occur in two moments: when the exhibition designer is enchanted by the architecture to be displayed and when the visitor is drawn to its content as a participant.
Main image: Main gallery, “Lina Bo Bardi 100: Brazil’s Alternative Path to Modernism,” exhibition design Marina Correia, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich. Photo © Marina Correia