September 2019

A generation ago, Lina Bo Bardi’s name meant little to the rest of the world outside of Brazil.

The unsung heroine was a central figure of Latin American modernist architecture, noted editor, illustrator/curator and a seminal designer of the creative arts–ranging from furniture and jewellery to set design and costumes.

Thanks to a recent Bo Bardi revival, 2019 saw a mix of offbeat exhibitions: from London-based artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien’s A Marvellous Entanglement at Victoria Miro, New York’s Gladstone Gallery–in which Bo Bardi and Giancarlo Palanti’s rare designs went on show–to 100 of her drawings which took centre stage at Barcelona’s sublime Fundació Joan Miró.

Documenting her imaginative visions and creative processes in a series of sketches, using a variety of techniques–pencil, watercolour, gouache, felt pen and ink–Lina Bo Bardi revealed the extension of her thoughts that was ultimately her most genuine way of examining, feeling and relating to the world. Over six-thousand of these sketches and drawings from her personal archives are held today at the Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi (Casa de Vidro) in São Paulo, of which 100 showed at Barcelona’s Fondació Joan Miró. The exhibition invited visitors to discover the relevance of these drawings in Bo Bardi’s career, providing insight to her broad view of design and architecture, by understanding the connection between practice of drawing and the acts of everyday life.

Divided into four thematic areas: Plants, People, Seeing and Living, the exhibition begins in an area that focuses on the natural world as it is imagined in Bo Bardi’s sketches. Plants had been present in her drawings ever since her childhood, as a symbol of life cycles and nature. 

The exhibition moves on to focus on People, in which the human body appears not only as a physical object or reference, but as a way of being in the world. Her 1946 watercolour of Praça Getulio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro, depicts this very notion of life-in-motion; people hurrying through tropical rain with umbrellas aloft, weaving between childishly drawn cars and the manifestations of the city. The exhibition’s curator Rocha Lima notes on Bo Bardi’s drawings as “seldom associated with mainstream twentieth century architects. She pictured joy and humanness.” 

The final areas of the show (Seeing and Living) are dedicated to observing the objects and the minute realities of everyday life. Given Bo Bardi’s experience in publishing, she knew how to use images to promote values and generate innovative ways of seeing.

“When we design, even as a student, it is important that a building serves a purpose and that it has the connotation of use. It is necessary that the work does not fall from the sky over its inhabitants, but rather expresses a need.”

Bo Bardi spent her life promoting the social and cultural potential of art, architecture and design. A key belief was that buildings are only complete, and only come to life, when they are populated by things and by people. A visible example of this was her concept for The Museum of Art, Saõ Paulo (MASP), which sees the building supported above street-level on two concrete frames; serving as a canopy and allowing space beneath the structure for urban life to continue. This theme was carried through to the exhibition space itself. Here, Bo Bardi’s drawings represented objects in space, mounted on glass, scaffolding poles and freestanding rather than on the walls, allowing visitors to roam freely between the works unrestricted.

Lina Bo Bardi Drawing tells the story of a woman who viewed drawing as an everyday practice, who based her visual language on the principle of simplification–a principle which she happened to share with Joan Miró.

Photography courtesy of Fundació Joan Miró & Jules Villbrandt