When the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP) opened the doors of its new home in 1969, visitors were shocked to find over 100 paintings hovering in the main gallery, with each work hanging from a glass panel rather than a wall. In the 1990s, this unprecedented project, designed by modernist building architect Lina Bo Bardi, fell out of favor and the space was carved out with standard partitions. Like much of the growing fan club of Italian-Brazilian talent, I had to content myself with experiencing its radical hook-up through ghostly black and white photographs, those vintage images recording the feel of grabbing an entire collection. at a glance. But last December, Bo Bardi’s original scheme was recreated – and it’s as surprising today as it was half a century ago.
Prior to immigrating to Brazil in 1946, Bo Bardi had witnessed the exhibition of unorthodox art in historic buildings through the work of Franco Albini, who placed paintings on free-standing metal rods in his reimagined galleries at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan. On the other side of the Atlantic, Bo Bardi experiments with daring, reconsidering museums as places of exploration of “ways of showing” while “creating an atmosphere” to induce active encounters rather than simple contemplation. reverent.
Located on Avenida Paulista de São Paulo, facing a dense urban park, the MASP site offered a view of the horizon even as it plunged into a ravine. A mandate to preserve the view inspired Bo Bardi to divide the museum into two structures – one nestled in the hill, its roof terrace at street level, the other a two-story glazed box held aloft. . In this raised volume, she lets her imagination fly, displaying pictures on staggered glass easels like aligned sentries. A canvas was to be experienced as if it were still in the artist’s studio, caught in the moment of creativity rather than embalmed on a museum wall. On either side, expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass framed a sweeping view of the treetops and the city.
When I visited MASP last July, the easels, stabilized with concrete blocks and wooden wedges, had been recreated by the local company Metro Arquitetos. The frames of each painting are screwed to the glass, with labels on the back of the glass so that reading can never interfere with viewing. The works are to be understood one by one, not as belonging to a movement or to a period. (Although, unless you literally have your nose on the canvas, the peripheral views of so many other rooms can be awkward.) Interestingly, what was originally an exit on the other end of the gallery in relation to the entrance is now reserved for emergencies, which means that visitors have the strange and unintentional experience of retracing their steps, looking at the rear of the collection, a retreating army. It’s a sight I never envisioned looking longingly at those old photographs, and it adds a whole new dimension to Lina Bo Bardi’s experience – an experience that has rarely been considered, in which, behind the scenes , the framing materials are as visible as the works themselves.