Lina Bo Bardi’s Iconic Midcentury in São Paulo Just Reopened With a New Art Exhibition

Lina Bo Bardi’s Iconic Midcentury in São Paulo Just Reopened With a New Art Exhibition

After closing at the beginning of the pandemic, Casa de Vidro is once again welcoming visitors with a display of wooden works by furniture designer and artist Rodrigo Silveira.

For 70 years now Casa de Vidro has shone through the thicket of São Paulo’s rainforest as one of the world’s most expressive examples of modernism. Yet more impressive is that it was Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi’s first project, created in 1951 as a residence for herself and her husband, Pietro Maria Bardi. There, the couple hosted symposia for international academics, artists, and thinkers, the glass-encased home as venue, and the surrounding forest a verdant backdrop.

Today, the residence is home to Instituto Bardi, an organization that is building on the Bardis’ tradition of promoting artistic and cultural discourse. Their latest effort? A new exhibition by furniture designer and artist Rodrigo Silveira that creates a poetic dialogue with the iconic home.

Casa de Vidro, completed in 1951, features glass walls that wrap around the first floor on three sides. Since this photo was taken, the rainforest has regrown around the home, creating a new dialogue between the architecture and the surrounding landscape.

"The couple were tremendously active in the cultural world, and Lina Bo Bardi used to say that her house was a living space that welcomed all kinds of expressions," says Waldick Jatobá, president of Instituto Bardi and Casa de Vidro. "When I started managing the house, my idea was to bring this thought to life as well—and it’s my intention to let this space live rather than be like a mausoleum."

Lina Bo Bardi stands on a landing that leads to ground level.

"Usually, I try to identify a connection between the work of an artist and Lina Bo Bardi’s work or thoughts," says Waldick Jatobá, president of Instituto Bardi and Casa de Vidro. "The materiality of Rodrigo Silveira’s work, the way he cares about wood, and his respect for the manual process are also things that Lina Bo Bardi cared about."

With Tipologia de uma Segunda Vida (Typology of a Second Life), Rodrigo Silveira aims to raise awareness of the relationship between the environment and the objects that humans create and desire. There are twelve works in the exhibition, six of which weave a narrative that tells the story of how a tree becomes furniture.

Furniture designer and artist Rodrigo Silveira brings ideas to life in his workshop.

Six of the pieces in Silveira’s show represent the transformation of a raw timber plank into a chair, poetically showing the effort and suffering involved in the process. "She was a powerful being in the forest, and has become a subservient being in our homes," says the designer, referring to a tree.

"The main axis of the exhibition is a metaphor of a tree that has been chopped down and is trying to get up," explains Silveira. "When it does, it [becomes] a piece of furniture." The artist built representations of each moment in between—or what Silveira calls "movements"—which together show the transformation of a powerful being into a subservient object, he says. 

Each "movement" has been finely crafted by Silveira in his workshop, with precise lines and angles echoing the architectural finesse of Casa de Vidro. While each piece is a celebration of the workmanship, it’s also a critical commentary that allows viewers to reflect on the environmental impact of the objects themselves. 

The exhibition begins with a raw timber plank that represents a fallen tree. This piece leads viewers into the rest of the exhibition, which is located in the main hall of Casa de Vidro.  With its powerful connection to the rainforest, Casa de Vidro is the perfect backdrop for Silveira’s show.

The exhibition is designed to draw attention to more sustainable ways of harvesting timber.

"In Amazonia, there is an almost hypocritical ignorance," says Silveira. "No one wants to see trees being cut down, but almost no one knows where the wood of the chair they are sitting on comes from." Ultimately, Silveira hopes people will make better decisions, or at least ask questions, when purchasing objects for their homes.

Rodrigo Silveira’s favorite piece in the exhibition is the expressive movement before the tree becomes a chair. "It is one step away from becoming an object, and it has to fall again," he says. "I see fear and hesitation."

This piece is one of the most complex constructions in the exhibition. "I remain a woodworker obsessed with the craft," says Silveira. "This kind of difficult joinery is practically invisible." 

Two of the chairs in the exhibition have high backs that lead the viewer’s gaze upward, as if looking at a tree. One of these chairs is self-supporting, while the other needs to lean on another object or surface to stand upright.

Out of the other six works are five unique chairs, and a conceptual piece—what is meant as a tree—situated underneath the house that criticizes the act of greenwashing by corporations. "The tree is almost falling but is still standing," explains Silveira. "It is supported by two stakes that pierce it and hurt it. They keep it upright, but at what cost?"

One of the high-backed chairs needs to rest against another surface to stand upright. In the exhibition, it is supported by one of the columns in the main hall of Casa de Vidro, integrating the works on display with the architecture.

The exhibition is on for three weeks and will run until October 23, 2021. Silveira and educators from Casa de Vidro will host guided tours, and Silveira’s work will also be paired with a live performance of Bach’s "Goldberg Variations," allowing visitors to hear a live symphony while viewing the home and exhibition.

The conceptual piece beneath Casa de Vidro is distinctly different in appearance to the other works, but shares their conceptual concerns about the environment.

"When I received the invitation to do whatever I wanted with this space, I had no doubts about what I wanted to exhibit," recalls Silveira. "What I find most impressive is that it was not designed as an exhibition space, but the relationship between the exterior and interior of the house, at least for this work, was perfect."

For more information about Casa de Vidro and to learn about upcoming exhibitions, please visit Instituto Bardi’s website.

A study sketch of the living area of Casa de Vidro by Lina Bo Bardi.

A study sketch of the living area from a different perspective.



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