Happy Birthday Lina Bo Bardi


What a fitting celebration. I could barely tell that the elaborate and whimsical installation at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in SoHo was not designed expressly to celebrate what would have been the 99th birthday of noted Italo-Brazilian Modern architect, Lina Bo Bardi, who died in 1992. In fact, the vibrant orange walls textured with plastic, hanging sculpture, and generous, plush seating was displayed as part of Storefront’s retrospective exhibition, Being (on view October 12 - January 18, 2014) designed by Bittertang. Perhaps that was what made the event such a perfect homage, it was proof that her spirit has found heirs in Storefront curators Eva Franch i Gilabert and Carlos Minguez Carrasco. The elements of the event, co-hosted with PIN-UP Magazine, that did represent Lina and Lina alone were in fact quite basic, and not altogether noteworthy on their own. A table displayed and sold a recent monograph of her work, introduced by Barry Bergdoll, and three separate projectors showed a mesmerizing loop of animated Bo Bardi drawings and digital models of her work from a recent short film, The New World of Lina Bo Bardi by Ouida Angelica Biddle and Nicolau Vergueiro. But, what brought the gallery to life, in an intensely celebratory and distinctly Brazilian way was the blend of cachaca and luscious Brazilian jams spun by DJ Hishaam Bharoocha that enhanced rather than competed with Lina's work there. It was casual, personal and alive. It was colorful and full of flavor, of joy. In typical Storefront fashion, the event "honoured thy mother" without holding onto any sacred or heroic status that architects typically bestow on their forebearers. (Although perhaps the video booth that allowed visitors to speak directly to LIna may suggest otherwise.)

As a woman and artist of the "global south," Bo Bardi inevitably is a side-show in the architectural history told by the white Euro- and male-centric figures that dominate discourse. And yet, I argue, she is also engrained as one of the field's "greats", having produced seminal works and inspired some of the top talent both within and beyond Brazil.

What I loved about the event was what also made me a bit uncomfortable. I appreciated that the event celebrated a much-loved and admired woman – “our favorite Italian-Brazilian architect and Modernist iconoclast” Storefront proclaims – with all of the pizazz that befits her personality and sets apart her fanciful drawings and buildings. And yet, where I felt conflicted was that although the celebration did embody the spirit of Lina, I questioned whether such an event simultaneously did not take her work as seriously as it certainly deserves to be taken.  I’m all for a good celebration, but I couldn’t help but question, is that the normal protocol for remembering a great architect? “Happy Birthday Lina Bo Bardi” reminds us to humanize our architectural heros, and that some heroes have yet to receive their full due.

Photos from Storefront are below:

The New World of Lina Bo Bardi projected the architects’ sketches and fly-by’s through her buildings throughout the gallery.