As the architectural style the city arguably does best, Modernism regularly amazes visitors to São Paulo in the form of its most emblematic buildings, from the squat art box MASP and the pyramidal FIESP, both neighbours on Avenida Paulista, to the curving Copan building and the red-tongued concert hall, Auditório Ibirapuera, the latter two by the late architect Oscar Niemeyer.
But chances to examine the style up close in its domestic form are rarer – which makes an exhibition being held in April and May 2013 at the former home of Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992), one of the city’s defining architects, a don’t-miss opportunity.
Widely regarded as the seminal Bo Bardi creation, the 1951 Casa de Vidro (‘Glass House’) was home to Bo Bardi and her husband Pietro Maria Bardi. It’s a stunning glass-walled house in the leafy neighbourhood of Morumbi that appears to rise above, yet remain deliriously entangled within the surrounding rainforest.
The paradox is deliberate, embodying a dialogue between European Modernism and the lush strains of its Brazilian counterpart, and it’s this kind of interplay that recurs in all of Bo Bardi’s best work, from the floating monolith of MASP (1968) to the SESC Pompeia (1982) arts and leisure centre – a utopian space built from the remains of an old factory complex.
With the exhibition at Casa de Vidro, ‘The Insides are on the Outside’, Hans Ulrich Obrist, the director of London’s Serpentine Gallery, has created a show intended to stimulate yet more interaction – this time between Bo Bardi’s work and the artists who have drawn inspiration from it.
|Lina Bo Bardi|
The concept is simple: Obrist gives a set of invited artists freedom to respond to any aspect of the Casa de Vidro, and the resulting site-specific artworks transform the house into a gesamtkunstwerk, or ‘total artwork’. The ensuing ‘complex organic system’ will, Obrist believes, reveal hitherto invisible aspects of the house and confirm its status as ‘a box of tools for the continued practice of art and architecture’.
So far, so conceptual. But here’s the thing: it works. Following on from similar interventions at the houses of the Mexico City architect Luis Barragán and the Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca, the current show was also preceded by ‘Prelude’ – a one-day, invite-only premiere of several of the artists’ works at the Casa de Vidro held during the opening week of the 2012 São Paulo Bienal.
Happily for us, the works unveiled that day remain incorporated in the house for this leg of the show. Look out, then, for Gilbert & George’s photographic record of their moment as living sculptures inside the house, and listen out for the recording made by the Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle of a 10-piece ensemble performing a polyphonic collage of music from Lina and Pietro’s record collection – a vinyl recording of which has been put back into the original collection.
|Cinthia Marcelle and her ensemble|
In a multisensory installation by the veteran conceptual artist Cildo Meireles, the smell of coffee combines with an archive recording of Pietro Bardi asking his radical socialist wife to make a coffee, recreating the moments when Pietro sought to defuse (or possibly inflame) a looming political argument with a request for refreshments.
For this final phase of the show, similar highlights include new work by Olafur Eliasson, conceptual art by Paulo Nazareth, found (or seemingly found) objects by Jonathas de Andrade, and the subtly mind-bending architectural interventions of Renata Lucas.
Meanwhile, at the more spacious SESC Pompeia, installations by Ernesto Neto and Dan Graham feature alongside a set of video artworks: don’t miss the spellbinding Feitiço – the name means ‘spell’ – by Pedro Barateiro, which meshes found footage of theatre productions in São Paulo and Lisbon with images of the Casa de Vidro.
If you’ve been hankering for a look inside the Casa itself, our advice would be to seize the moment, because once this show closes, the house reverts to admission by prior arrangement only. You’ll still need a little patience: during the exhibition, limited space means visitors are restricted to ten inside at any time. Still, these are small prices to pay for a chance to see the worlds of art, architecture and urbanism laid one over the other until they become as translucent as Bo Bardi’s panes of glass, flooded with light.