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Limitless Museum: P. M. Bardi's Aesthetic Reeducation

© 2019 Johns Hopkins University Press

“The task of a museum,” wrote Italian critic and curator Pietro Maria Bardi in 1951, “should be to make resound, to interpret with perspicacity and appropriate technique, those monuments that sing: thus will be avoided the risk of useless sentimentalities, dangerous neutralities, hybrid educations, and eclecticism.”[1] Bardi’s proclamation was rooted in a line from Paul Valéry’s “Eupalinos, or the Architect” (1921), a Socratic dialogue in which the ancient Greek architect Eupalinos is said to have distinguished three types of buildings: those that sing, because they are created by master architects; those functional but unremarkable buildings that merely speak; and mute structures, so lacking in aesthetic vigor that they are inferior even to the amusing “accidental order” found in heaps of rubble “vomited” by the wagons of contractors.[2] In his previous life, as a curator and architectural critic with links to the government of Benito Mussolini, Bardi might have deployed Valéry's dialogue to support the sweeping architectural refashioning of Italian cities by radical young architects, as the master builders of fascism's new social and political order. But by 1951, Bardi’s vision had narrowed. The fascist regime had fallen, and Bardi had emigrated from Italy to Brazil, where he found work as the director of a newly-founded art museum. Rather than advocating the creation of public works whose grandness would defy Neptune himself, Bardi arranged paintings. Even so, he retained the heroic rhetoric he had developed in fascist Italy, calling upon the museum to make its monuments sing.[3]

In postwar Italy, Bardi had seen that any future work would likely be circumscribed by the shadow of his activities during the recently-deposed fascist regime. Thus in 1946 he and his wife, architect Lina Bo Bardi, left Italy for Brazil.[4] Almost immediately, the two were drawn into the orbit of media magnate Assis Chateaubriand, who enlisted the couple to work as director and architect, respectively, for his new art museum, the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) (fig. 1). Beginning with the opening of MASP in 1947, the Bardis used innovative exhibition designs as a way to spur the museum's involvement in social life beyond the space of the gallery. Best known are MASP's “crystal easels,” freestanding sheets of glass on which paintings were mounted throughout a large expanse of open gallery space (fig. 2).[5] These crystal easels were first installed at MASP in the late 1960s, and they have long been understood as an antiteleological mode of display that disrupted canonical art histories, thus democratizing art viewing. But already in the late 1940s, two decades prior to the crystal easels, the Bardis’ exhibition practices began pushing the sensibility of the Brazilian art world from the salão (salon) of aristocratic or bourgeois sociability to the public museum sala (hall). With installations of artworks on industrial metal structures rather than within beaux-arts interiors, classes and pedagogical displays that mixed original artworks and reproductions, and the presence of contemporary design and commercial culture in the gallery, the Bardis sought to expand the range of social classes welcome at the museum.

Lina Bo Bardi, Provisional entrance, Guilherme Guinle building.
Fig. 1. Lina Bo Bardi, Provisional entrance, Guilherme Guinle building (Diários Associados headquarters), São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), 1947. Photograph by Peter Scheier, 1949. Acervo do Centro de Pesquisa do Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand. Courtesy of the Instituto Moreira Salles.
Pinacoteca’s “crystal easels"
Fig. 2. Lina Bo Bardi designed both the Pinacoteca’s “crystal easels” and the São Paulo Museum of Art’s new building on Paulista Avenue, inaugurated in 1969, São Paulo Museum of Art, 1957–1968. Courtesy of Acervo do Centro de Pesquisa do Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand.

As in interwar Italy, there was a political undercurrent to these new aesthetic practices, one inflected by Brazil's Cold War tensions. In a historical development that paralleled the end of Italian fascism, Brazil had also recently cast off a populist-cum-authoritarian regime, that of President Getúlio Vargas. Occurring in the years 1945 to 1946, this transition pushed questions of democratic rule to the fore in Brazil, while at the same time elites viewed the rising political power of Brazil's working classes with trepidation; the museum was viewed as an ideal place to cultivate agreeable new modes of interclass sociability. Yet accounts of MASP’s exhibition designs have typically viewed the ideology of its 1940–50s displays through the retrospective lens of the 1960s, downplaying or ignoring the ways that the Bardis’ prior careers in Italy might have made their aesthetic work amenable to these political currents in postwar Brazil. Lina Bo Bardi's position has been privileged, since her Gramscian take on popular culture is more appealing than P. M. Bardi's unabashed cultural elitism and—at least earlier in his career—explicitly fascist sympathies.[6] In such readings, MASP’s increasingly “democratic” museum displays dovetailed with Bo Bardi's progressive 1960s projects to valorize the vernacular cultural production of Brazil's impoverished northeast, particularly by Afro-Brazilians.[7] Although Bo Bardi’s solo writings and curatorship of the 1960s may cast 1940–50s MASP in a favorable light, it is not easy to disentangle her earlier aesthetic innovations and theoretical justifications from those of her husband. Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, the Bardis worked together on museum displays at MASP, coedited the museum’s journal, Habitat, and even coauthored articles in Habitat under a collective pseudonym. While the handful of solo-authored writings from this period are potential points of hermeneutic disagreement on the ideology of display, the following accords both Bardis equal authorship for visual displays at MASP, and foregrounds the ways that these displays built upon precedents of Italian fascist exhibitions of the 1930s—with which both Bardis were familiar. This article thus reinterprets MASP’s displays of the 1940s and 1950s in light of writings by the lesser-known P. M. Bardi, highlighting the ways that exhibition designs developed in fascist Italy were easily turned to a new task, that of the edifying role of culture for elevating the Brazilian people (o povo).

Art historical accounts of the postwar period have tended to privilege cultural commentary from the left, by thinkers such as Theodor Adorno and Clement Greenberg. Yet many of these leftist positions were broached from a point of retreat, with Adorno bemoaning the political impotency of aesthetic experience, and Greenberg retreating from Marxist politics to vaguer formalist critiques of political economy. In contrast, the Bardis’ approaches to museum display retained a sense of the political potency of art and architecture in the context of modernizing Brazil. For both Bardis, this was a politics centered on the educational potential of the museum. What remains unresolvable, however, is the extent to which one can understand the visual displays themselves as embedded with a particular ideology. Removed from Italy to Brazil, could modes of display first cultivated for fascist exhibitions serve new political aims? The genealogy of MASP's displays must be understood as a field of competing aims for the museum’s status as a zone of cultural edification, caught between efforts to pacify or to rouse “the people.”

The intertwined trajectories of P. M. Bardi and Lina Bo Bardi furthermore complicate a common narrative of postwar art history, one in which the radicality of the interwar avant-gardes gives way to postwar accommodations of politics and commerce. Art historian Benjamin Buchloh, for example, has drawn on Adorno to trace a seamless bleed between the avant-garde, fascist politics, and the postwar “culture industry”:

[A]t the cross-section of politically emancipatory productivist aesthetics and the transformation of modernist montage aesthetics into an instrument of mass education and enlightenment, we find not only its imminent transformation into totalitarian propaganda, but also its successful adaptation for the needs of the ideological apparatus of the culture industry of Western capitalism.[8]

In this account, the modernist aesthetics in question are, at first, intent upon political emancipation, and only later twisted to nefarious ends under totalitarianism and capitalism. In contrast, Lina Bo Bardi offers a seductive counternarrative to Buchloh’s account, since her avant-garde sensibilities were incubated under fascism, then came to fruition as part of a leftist political project of exhibiting vernacular cultural production in 1960s and 1970s Brazil. MASP’s architecture and exhibition designs are often, then, viewed as an emancipatory project. Yet even as Bo Bardi’s socially-conscious architectural practice seems to transcend the nefarious alignment of aesthetics, industry, and propaganda in interwar Italy, MASP’s visual program demonstrates formal continuities between 1930s Italy and postwar Brazil. Rather than regarding MASP’s displays of the 1940s and 1950s as pointing the way forward to Bo Bardi’s 1960s work as architect and curator, this article thus looks back to the roots of these exhibition designs, in 1930s Italy, and P. M. Bardi’s approach to aesthetics is thus treated as a major intellectual development in its own right. This is not to advance an apology for his political proclivities, but to propose an intellectual history of his thinking—and its repercussions for Brazilian art and architecture—as an alternative strand of the postwar continuation of the interwar avant-gardes, one originating in an unstable alliance between the political right and vanguard aesthetics.[9]

From the Tyrannical Intellect of the Architect to the Good Taste of the Industrial Designer

As a curator and architecture critic in 1930s Italy, P. M. Bardi advocated a radical Rationalist architectural aesthetic for the new fascist metropolis, the emergent fascist nation. The Italian Movement for Rationalist Architecture (MIAR) was a variation of International Style in the vein of Le Corbusier and the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM).[10] Rejecting the ornamentation and use of traditional materials—e.g., marble—that characterized eclecticism and neoclassicism, Italy’s Rationalist architects favored clean geometries, industrial materials such as glass and concrete, and functionalist principles. Throughout the 1930s, Bardi argued for the alliance of Rationalist architecture and fascist politics in the pages of the Milan newspaper L’Ambrosiano, in the architecture journal Quadrante (which he cofounded in 1933 and edited until 1936), and in the Rome newspaper Meridiano.[11] However, Bardi’s justifications for the marriage of Rationalism and fascism underwent some shifts throughout this period. At first, the revolutionary aesthetic character of Rationalism was seen as wholly consonant with the revolutionary political character of Italian fascism.[12] In the early 1930s, Bardi’s writings adopted a militaristic tone in order to advance this rapport:

Bearing the flag of zealotry we say, then, that which Mussolini has said, a few weeks ago, that the Revolution is only just beginning; and therefore, in the days of revolution there is also a place for polemics against the incompetent architects of the academies, the rehashers and professors in general, who do not live the precariousness of creation, but take refuge in the comfortable wellbeing of the already created.[13]

At the time Bardi wrote this text, “Architecture, Art of the State” (“Architettura, arte di stato”), the regime displayed a pluralistic approach to architectural commissions, and it seemed possible that Mussolini's state would choose to officially patronize Bardi’s preferred Rationalism to the exclusion of other styles. Indeed, the first venue for the Second Exhibition of Rationalist Architecture in 1931 was Bardi’s Galleria d’Arte di Roma, which received funding from the state. Mussolini himself attended the exhibition preview (fig. 3).[14] In polemical texts throughout the early 1930s, Bardi thus addressed Mussolini directly, imploring the dictator to adopt Rationalism and insisting on the crucial role of modern architecture for the fascist state.[15]

The new [meaning Rationalist] architects will aim to identify, in the city of Mussolini, the contemporary predilections of national life, defined by a rigorous military education, by an objective of primacy over the world, by an absolute obedience to il Duce. . . . [A] vast and magnificent fascist ideal is stirring, that can be defined as the ideal builder.[16]

Bardi’s text was written in a bellicose manner that literalized the relationship between Rationalist architecture and the fascist state. To construct the new society envisioned by Mussolini, architects must work in a new style; put another way, it is only this new, i.e. Rationalist, architecture that can fulfill the visionary aspirations of il Duce. Here as well, Bardi’s debt to Valéry is clear. In explaining the character of buildings that sing, Valéry’s “Eupalinos” was most impressed by masterpieces due entirely to the work of a single man, for “That which is beautiful is necessarily tyrannical” (“Eupalinos,” 95).[17] Buildings that sing would be the result of a singular intellect, one which achieved a measure of self-control and a unity of purpose.

P. M. Bardi showing the Tavolo degli orrori photomontage to Benito Mussolini.
Fig. 3. P. M. Bardi showing the Tavolo degli orrori photomontage to Benito Mussolini and others at the exhibition of Rationalist architecture, Galleria d’Arte di Roma, March 1931. Courtesy of Istituto Luce Cinecittà.

Aesthetically, Bardi decried the “faux antique” and “recreation of old buildings” in the style of ancient Rome or the Baroque, and insisted instead upon a “modern architecture . . . horizontal and powerfully in the Mediterranean tradition” (“Architettura,” 2). Bardi expressed palpable frustration with building commissions across Italy, which were ignoring, rejecting, or requiring retrograde alterations to Rationalist designs, e.g. demanding oval windows for an otherwise right-angled modern residential building, or ruining a “daring skeleton of reinforced concrete” by insisting on an ornate entrance that resembled the Baroque Palazzo Barberini (1). Pragmatically, Bardi’s polemic targeted local housing commissions and building regulations, instead advocating a “single body responsible for the new face of Italian cities” (2). Even while fascism had realized that “the principle of lawmaking by the many constituted much damage to public affairs,” architecture had unfortunately not yet moved beyond “builders interested in satisfying the foolish preferences of our uneducated public” (1). In contrast to the ignorant and retrograde work approved by Italian building commissions, Bardi's “Architecture, Art of the State” thus praised the singular vision of an “intransigent” architect.

Bardi was explicit about the antidemocratic character of this move to “revise the laws of bureaucracy that torment architecture,” and his text displayed a savvy deployment of corporatist logic in line with fascist principles (2).[18] Bardi explained that the state had thus far treated architecture in a “complacently democratic and neutral” manner, taking no action even as dilettantish building commissions enabled the continuation of mercantilistic, monopolistic, and even profiteering commercial practices (2). But just as fascist Italy had seen a transition from councils to singular mayors (podestàs) for local government, so, too the building commissions should give way to a single regulatory body (1). The new architectural consciousness of the Rationalists would then find voice under Bardi’s proposed national building commission, which would bring about “a new victory of the state, triumphant over particular interests for the general good” (2). This new national building commission would even, Bardi claimed, be a powerful engine of new jobs. In “Architecture, Art of the State,” Bardi thus strategically aligned the Rationalist project with the economic lineaments of the corporatist state.

Bardi also recognized that those in positions of power might not intuitively see the parallels of Rationalist aesthetics and the fascist state. He stopped short, then, of advocating a state architect, perhaps already sensing the growing power of architect Marcello Piacentini, who would reign over state commissions throughout the 1930s as head of the National Syndicate of Fascist Architects, and whose sympathies lay with the stile littorio rather than Rationalism.[19] Certainly, Bardi explained, the state had “every interest in controlling the delicate question of architecture, according to a dictatorial and unifying criterion” (“Architettura,” 1–2). At the same time, “those who espouse this concept do not demand a state architect, but at least a State that articulates defined and mandatory rules in the case of architecture, standards that would easily express the perceived morality of Fascism” (2). Bardi thus spent few words justifying Rationalist aesthetics, and instead emphasized the politics of these “new”—meaning Rationalist—architects, describing their “spiritual search” rooted in the “greatness and faith” of fascism (2). Rationalist architecture would be synonymous with the fascist state, not necessarily through direct formal sympathies, but due to the singular will of the architect—as opposed to the eclectic or pandering classical-esque aesthetics produced by committee.

Bardi’s aesthetic defense of Rationalism would come not in words but through images. Two months after “Architecture, Art of the State,” was published in L’Ambrosiano, the MIAR exhibition of Rationalist architecture opened at Bardi’s Galleria d’Arte di Roma. Bardi’s contribution to the exhibition was his famed Tavolo degli orrori, which constituted the “polemical” section of the 1931 exhibition of Rationalist architecture (fig. 4).[20] The Tavolo was a large-scale, polemical collage crowded with advertisements, démodé fashion clippings, and newspaper headlines overlapping recent examples of state-sponsored architecture that Bardi found retrograde. Bardi intended the Tavolo to be displayed horizontally (rather than hung vertically on the wall), and architectural historian David Rifkind thus aligns the work with El Lissitzky’s cartographic or blueprint-like Proun paintings (Rifkind, “Quadrante,” 53). Formally, however, the Tavolo’s dense field of fragments more closely resemble Lissitzky’s designs for the Soviet Pavilion at the 1928 Pressa Exhibition in Cologne and—the most likely source—Lissitzky's photomontage ridiculing the outré architecture of the 1923 Soviet Agricultural Exhibition.[21] For Buchloh, the composition of Bardi's Tavolo helped pave the way for architect Giuseppe Terragni's famed room-sized photomontage mural at the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista, which turned vanguard photomontage aesthetics to the task of bolstering Italian Fascism.[22] Already with Bardi's Tavolo, albeit on a small scale, one can see the use of exhibition design explicitly in the service of ideology.

P. M. Bardi, Tavolo degli orrori, 1931.
Fig. 4. P. M. Bardi, Tavolo degli orrori, 1931. Reproduced in Quadrante 2 (June 1933). Photograph by author. Courtesy of Instituto Bardi.

Shortly after Bardi helped usher in a montage aesthetic for fascist exhibition design, however, he himself shifted gears. Bardi’s second visual polemic on architecture was the frankly boosterish “Italian Architecture Today” (“Architettura italiana d’oggi”), exhibited in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in late 1933 through early 1934, and then in Alexandria, Egypt, both locations with substantial Italian émigré communities.[23] Perhaps under the influence of the Milan Triennal V in early 1933, where he could have seen the Deutscher Werkbund’s restrained panels or CIA’s gridded display of architecture, Bardi designed 36 “tavole” for the exhibition, each comprising photographs, sketches, or models of recent works in Italian architecture (many were, in fact, more commonly understood as engineering or urbanism).[24] Visually, instead of the Tavolo degli orrori’s chaotic all-over hodgepodge of images, these thirty-six tavole were soberly designed, composed primarily of orderly juxtapositions of straight photography, with the occasional Bauhaus-inflected bird’s-eye or worm’s-eye view of a building. In Buenos Aires, the panels were hung singly, as if each tavola were a painting, while photographs of the exhibition at the Casa del Fascio in Alexandria show a continuous line of tavole lining a wall, unornamented save for the motto “Order, Authority, Justice” (figs. 5–6).[25] The transition from the more artistic or museum-like display in Buenos Aires to the magazine-like display in Alexandria may also have resulted from Bardi’s absorption in developing layouts for the publication Quadrante. Bardi’s design for exhibiting Rationalist architecture was, during the early 1930s, shifting away from art museum conventions and towards more contemporary modes of display, informed by the visual tropes of mass media.

Architettura italiana d’oggi exhibition, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1933–1934.
Fig. 5. P. M. Bardi, Architettura italiana d’oggi exhibition, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1933–1934. Reproduced Quadrante 10 (February 1934). Photograph by author. Courtesy of Instituto Bardi.
P. M. Bardi, Architettura italiana d’oggi exhibition, Alexandria, Egypt, 1934.
Fig. 6. P. M. Bardi, Architettura italiana d’oggi exhibition, Alexandria, Egypt, 1934. Reproduced in Quadrante 21 (January 1935). Photograph by author. Courtesy of Instituto Bardi.

In the late 1930s, as Rationalism’s international character ran up against the increasing nationalism of the fascist state, Bardi took a slightly different stance on architecture’s relationship to collectivity. Bardi’s publication Quadrante had long published engineering projects as commensurate with architecture.[26] The journal’s emphasis on engineering affirmed the productive, technological character of Rationalism, refusing an idea of architecture as an impotent intellectual or artistic pursuit. In the late 1930s, Bardi explicitly foregrounded the role of the engineer within this transforming civilization: engineers were “individuals who, merged into the anonymous masses, produce but a single piece of machinery”; as Jeffrey Schnapp explains, the engineer was “a peculiar hybrid of mass man and heroic individual.”[27] This, too, is a rhetoric steeped in the political and economic exigencies of fascist Italy. By the mid-1930s, following a decade in power, the fascists’ revolutionary character had given way to a growing bureaucratization domestically and to colonial expansion in East Africa. From around 1937, the Italian state’s visual program thus turned from aesthetic pluralism to a more explicitly imperial visual program, including more grandiose, monumental, and classicizing statements in architecture and exhibition design.[28] Economically, the state’s policy of self-sufficiency resulted in reduced imports amidst an emphasis on building national industry. This inward economic turn reduced the availability of steel required for most Rationalist structures, sparking a renewed interest in vernacular building styles and classicizing marble constructions. Explicit mimicry of Augustus’s imperial Rome or the Baroque popes was often in terms of the stile littorio, which the Rationalists abhorred.[29] On the one hand, Bardi's emphasis on the engineer seems to draw upon the state’s promotion of national industry, with the poetic image of the engineer as part of a collective working in the service of a singular machinery, the fascist state. At the same time, Bardi’s foregrounding of machinery can be seen as redemptive with regards to the fragile status of Rationalism, an internationally-oriented and technological architectural mode, in these years of national chauvinism. As his beloved Rationalism was falling from favor, Bardi insisted that Italy needed not the bombast of an imperial architect, i.e. a Piacentini, but the selfless collectivism of the engineer within corporatism.

Little more than a decade later in Brazil, Bardi would again promote the union of industry and aesthetics, but this time the industrial designer would replace the engineer as a figure uniquely placed between elites and the masses. In 1950, the São Paulo Museum of Art embarked upon an ambitious project to establish a Bauhaus-inspired school of design called the Institute of Contemporary Art (IAC). The IAC was directed by P. M. Bardi and Lina Bo Bardi, and the school’s instructors included painter Lasar Segall, architects Rino Levi and Jacob Ruchti, designer Roberto Sambonet, and designer and concretist artist Leopold Haar; nearly all the school’s faculty had studied art, architecture, or design in interwar Europe. The aim of the IAC was to train young Brazilians in “industrial art” such that they would “capable of designing objects whose taste (gusto) and rationalization of forms would correspond to contemporary mentality.”[30] The IAC was furthermore intended to foreground the social function of design; in collaboration with industry, the IAC would break the boundaries of the ivory tower (torre de marfim) of aesthetics (Instituto, Pamphlet, n.p.). A sort of wish list of designers found in the IAC archives reveals the desired aesthetic orientation of the school, as well as its aims to achieve market success: figures such as Alvar Aalto, Charles Eames, and Herman Miller all exemplified an apolitical popularization of modernist aesthetics that achieved commercial success in their home countries.[31] Likewise, the Bardis hoped that young IAC students would cut their teeth at the institute, then be hired by local industry, where they would modernize the design of everyday objects.[32] These objects would in turn be consumed by a public presumably educated by repeated trips to MASP’s didactic exhibitions, with these functional designs accessible to a public even larger than the museum audience. Meanwhile, contemporary journalistic accounts of the IAC followed the museum’s self-promotion closely. In newspaper articles, the IAC was positioned as means of distributing good taste widely, through industrial mass production guided by workers well-trained in aesthetics: “The Institute [of Contemporary Art] will extend its action into the field of industry so that objects produced on a large scale will also serve to spread good taste and better characterize the spirit of our age.”[33] For MASP, the IAC would promote the museum’s broader goals of cultural uplift by disseminating aesthetic ideas throughout society, via the consumption of common household goods produced through industrial production.[34] As in interwar Italy, the limited reach of art as such would be balanced by attention to an expert class of designers (paralleling Bardi’s earlier emphasis on engineers) whose aesthetic training would benefit society at large.

The IAC was not, however, successful in creating a new class of Brazilian industrial designers, much less those steeped in modernist aesthetics. From the start, P. M. Bardi expressed frustration that many of the students gravitated towards the school’s painting and fine arts courses rather than pursuing industrial design, and, presumably, finding positions at the industrial firms that museum hoped would help underwrite the institute.[35] While MASP was able to procure some financing from the city of São Paulo for the IAC, the school was never directly supported by industry as the organizers had hoped, and was chronically underfunded.[36] After just two years, the IAC folded. Just as in 1930s Italy, Bardi’s modernist aesthetic vision struggled to find concrete implementation in the world outside the museum.

Brazil’s Cold War Museology

At the same time, postwar Brazilian elites were broadly sympathetic to the Bardis’ larger program of edification, especially the version espoused in texts by P. M. Bardi. Throughout the late 1940s and 1950s, Bardi repeatedly explained that one of the primary goals of the museum was to be an educational institution, to provide an aesthetic education that would transcend the gallery space to better society more broadly. In 1947 he penned a text outlining his vision of art in the service of social unity:

Humanity is not destined to deepen the dualism between the dominant and dominated classes, between aristocracy and rabble, between elite and mass; humanity must aim to the formation of a single and large aristocracy. . . . Art operates the strongest modification of nature by the deepest action, the most perfect and human experiment that can be realized.[37]

In fact, this idea of a singular aristocracy, an “aristocracy of the popular,” echoes Mussolini’s “aristocracy of the trenches” (trinceroerazia) and “aristocracy of the workers” (aristocrazia del lavoro): “True nobility belongs to the man who works, true nobility belongs to the man who produces, who carries a stone, even a modest one, to the edifice of the country.”[38] Here, Bardi’s fascist-era rhetoric has been assimilated to a new project, one of elevating and improving restive urbanites in postwar Brazil.

This aspiration can be understood within the framework of the so-called cultural Cold War. MASP founder and media magnate Chateaubriand, for example, was explicit in envisioning MASP as a bulwark against Communism, and he was said to propel donations to his new museum by imploring fellow businessmen to support “the strengthening of bourgeois cells. One of the ways of strengthening them is to donate Renoirs, Cezannes and El Grecos to the Museum of Art. Which means that confronting Bolshevism may cost each of you gentlemen a modest fifty thousand dollars.”[39] Following the demise of the authoritarian and avowedly anti-Communist Estado Novo regime in 1945, the Brazilian Communist Party had enjoyed a resurgence, before being outlawed again in 1947, the same year Chateaubriand founded MASP.[40] Chateaubriand’s overblown rhetoric thus found purchase due to anxiety over the rising political power of emergent middle and working classes in a newly democratic Brazil.

Even beyond explicitly anti-Communist rhetoric, discourse surrounding the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM-SP), the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Modern Art (MAM-Rio), and the São Paulo Bienal was infused with language about the role of cultural enterprises for political and economic cooperation, and the importance of the art museum in appealing to and educating a broad public. Giving a speech at the MAM-Rio in 1952, national education minister Ernesto Simões Filho spoke of the museum as “no longer a mausoleum”—a phrasing which perhaps drew on Bardi's writings—but an “educational agency, alive, creator of patterns of aesthetic judgment, perfecter of artistic taste [gosto artístico], not of a group of ‘Happy Few,’ but of the mass [a massa] of the population.”[41] Similarly, in 1949, Léon Degand, MAM-SP curator and former art critic for the French Communist Party-affiliated paper Les Lettres françaises, insisted that one of the primary tasks of the museum was education, even enlightenment, of the public, understood not as “a dwindling elite,” but an expansive field.[42] Reporting on the MAM-Rio de Janeiro, Diário Carioca art critic Antônio Bento criticized those who would subordinate the issue of artistic education of the people (o povo) to other interests; he criticized the idea of museums as centers for the bourgeoisie and aristocracy and cited the historical precedent of the Louvre, which became a public institution following the French Revolution.[43] Meanwhile, the aesthetically conservative São Paulo Association of Fine Arts (APBA) called for the state government to crack down on the 1951 São Paulo Bienal’s inculcation of false good taste (falso bom gusto) in the form of an “anti-Christian, anti-Latin and anti-Brazilian” aesthetic credo and “spectacular artistic weakness.”[44] Bienal organizers countered by insisting that “the power of the government, such that it seeks to guide artistic creation and shape the taste of the people [o gosto do povo], will be reproducing that criminal task that only totalitarians are not ashamed to carry out.”[45] On the left, Communist architect João Batista Vilanova Artigas skewered the 1951 Bienal as simply an upper-class social event, criticized the subordinate role of working artists vis-à-vis the wealthy American and European collectors who loaned many of the exhibition’s artworks, and rejected the predominance of abstraction at the Bienal, promoting instead artistic styles more relevant to the struggles of o povo.[46] As these statements demonstrate, Chateaubriand’s anti-Bolshevik call to arms was only one of many political stances. There was, however, consensus on one point, across a range of ideological positions: the art museum was no longer assumed to be a site for elite contemplation, and was instead a site for cultivating the taste of o povo.

One can compare these Brazilian conversations to polemics in the United States, in which “good taste” was something to be avoided, as it smacked of lowbrow pandering rather than edification. Art critic Greenberg, for example, decried the “banal good taste” prevalent in late-1940s New York as resulting from the pernicious influence of the 57th Street commercial galleries: “The Museum of Modern Art [in New York] . . . the principal impresario of modern art in America, is the chief exponent of this new good taste, substituting for [Alfred] Stieglitz’s messianism a chicté [sic] that in the long run is almost an equal liability.”[47] Bardi had imagined the art museum elevating the people, in part by adapting museum displays and pedagogical tactics to meet people at their current level of cultural erudition. For Greenberg, however, museums’ responsiveness to contemporaneity, to fashion and chicness, contributed to the worsening of taste. Paralleling the discussion in Brazil, Greenberg indeed asserted that “Art has become another way of educating the new middle class” (“Present Prospects,” 22). However, for Greenberg the “cash demands” of this middle class “enforce a general levelling out of culture that, in raising the lowest standards of consumption, brings the highest down to meet them” (22). Instead of understanding aesthetic education as creating a new aristocracy of the people by inculcating good taste, Greenberg saw the arts museum as bowing to the demands of a new middle-class consumer. Greenberg’s pessimistic vision was less explicitly political than his earlier, fiercely Marxist (or Trotskyist, as the case may be) writings of the 1930s.[48] Instead, he more elliptically drew attention to the art market’s effects on the museum, and the (deleterious) effects that art market suffered due to the “new middle class.”[49] In contrast, Chateaubriand and Francisco Matarazzo (owner of MAM-SP) saw their museums as tastemakers, as caretakers and perpetuators of Western high culture, and as educational institutions intent on drawing the attention of o povo from revolution to middle class sociability. For Greenberg, museums were shaped by the middle class, while in Brazil museums could create one.

Pragmatically, one prong of this project consisted of efforts to broaden the audiences coming to the São Paulo Museum of Art. These efforts were bolstered by sympathetic media coverage in the newspapers, magazine, and radio shows of Diários Associados, the media empire of Chateaubriand. An unattributed A Noite article with the telling title “Democratization of Art” explained that the opening of MASP “signif[ied] a new phase in the cultural and aesthetic formation of our people.”[50] As the title of the article suggests, increased accessibility of art was perceived as a positive development, and art was simultaneously presented as a way to shape its viewers: it is good for people to have the opportunity to look at art precisely because art viewing can shape people’s characters. But how would this social formation work upon people once inside the museum? Drafts of a 1947 Rádio Tupi advertisement for MASP made explicit one of the ways that the museum could effect such developments. The drafts were written to address, variously, engineers, students, religious listeners, and those whose previous experience of museums consisted of “dark, stifling halls filled with masses of paintings and the dull voice of a uniformed guide explanations learned by heart years ago.”[51] It would no longer be enough, then, simply to place artworks in a museum for people to encounter; in place of dimly-lit halls and droning docents, museum architecture, exhibition design, and innovative didactic displays were necessary to both entice and to form the museum’s new public.

Architecture, Mother of the Arts

The architectural interventions and exhibition designs that the Bardis introduced at MASP coincided with a self-consciously modernizing postwar museology boom, both in Brazil and internationally. After the end of World War II, UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, took over the publication Mouseion from the League of Nations’ cultural arm, redubbed it Museum, and dedicated a number of issues to new modes of display and emergent educational programs.[52] Between 1948 and 1954, P. M. Bardi published two articles on the São Paulo Museum of Art in Museum, demonstrating the sense that its exhibition practices and didactic programming were considered to operate at the forefront of contemporary developments.[53] Bardi also represented MASP at a number of conferences held by UNESCO's International Council on Museums (ICOM) to disseminate local innovations in museum practices to the international field.[54] Perhaps the most fecund area for such innovations was Italy, where the late 1940s and 1950s saw many of the Bardis’ former architect colleagues renovating historical palazzos and clerical buildings in order to house new art museums and galleries. Many of these Italian designers built upon Rationalist precedents to generate new modes of displaying artworks, such as the use of gridded mounting structures, the insertion of theatrical black or white backdrops in Renaissance buildings and—perhaps most dramatically—technological contrivances such as a moveable pneumatic piston for the display of medieval sculpture.[55] In one sense, the Brazilian work of Lina Bo Bardi and P. M. Bardi can be viewed as part of this broader Italian intellectual scene; the São Paulo Museum of Art was even recognized in the Italian journal Metron in 1948 under the heading “Italian architects and art critics in Brazil.”[56] Like their interlocutors in Italy, the Bardis’ museological thinking was shaped by interwar theories on the synthesis of the arts, as well as the visual praxis of fascist-era expositions. Yet the Bardis were working not in a Europe undergoing reconstruction after a devastating war, but an emergent economic power in the Western hemisphere; they were not subject to the same postwar imperative to write a revisionist architectural history, to recuperate Rationalist aesthetics, as their colleagues in Italy. While the Bardis aligned their work with the latest in Italian museology, P. M. Bardi was thus able to more explicitly draw upon interwar theoretical precedents, including his own writings, to discuss the relationship of architecture to the other arts.

In 1931, Bardi proclaimed architecture’s role as the unifying force for the disparate arts: “Painting and sculpture are auxiliary arts of architecture. . . . They are affected by the decay of the latter. . . . A sculpture and a painting for their own sake, unrelated to architectural needs, represent two limbs lost, and eyes blinded” (“Architettura,” 1). In this, Bardi was again following Valéry, specifically Valéry’s lament that “Painting and sculpture . . . are both foundlings. Their mother, Architecture, is dead. As long as she lived she gave them their place, their function and discipline. They had no freedom to stray. They had their exact allotted space and given light, their subjects, and their relationship.”[57] However, despite this parallel with Valéry’s nostalgic view, Bardi’s interest in artistic synthesis was wholly contemporary. Bardi did not seek to insert past artworks within historically appropriate settings, but to reposition architecture as the dominant art—“prima delle arte”—whose aesthetic advances could drive future developments in painting and sculpture.[58]

Bardi’s vision of artistic unity was also paradigmatically different from ideas surrounding the synthesis of arts prevalent among visual artists in 1930s Italy. As art historian Romy Golan has chronicled, this period saw a “new enthusiasm for the mural.”[59] Novecento painter Mario Sironi, for example, penned a “Manifesto of Mural Painting” (1933), in which he asserted that, “In the Fascist state art acquires a social function: an educative function,” and “mural painting is social painting par excellence.”[60] Bardi would likely have agreed with the former premise, but of course his preference was for artworks to subsume themselves to an architectural vision, rather than for painting to “inspir[e] the lesser arts,” as Sironi proposed (“Manifesto,” 239). Writing in 1933 as well, Bardi affirmed architecture as “social art” in terms of the corporatist reformation of labor: “We begin with a new architecture guaranteed by this element of first order which is our worker. He has achieved his position in the corporate state, he is truly sensible of his ranks in the Nation, he has inherited his place, in the foreground. Here is an aspect of the affirmation ‘architecture, social art’” (Belvedere, 6). For Bardi the social did not, or did not only, result from the public address of the mural, but from the reorganization of labor in the fascist state.

In mid-1930s, as many Rationalist architects themselves became engaged in exhibition design, Bardi began to theorize the relationship of architecture to other media through the medium of the exhibition. In fascist Italy, the decade of roughly 1932 through 1942 was a golden era for large-scale expositions, as many Rationalist architects shut out of building commissions became prolific exhibition designers.[61] Bardi’s own writings paralleled this shift by including increased attention to exhibition designs, though still with an emphasis on the primacy of architecture and industry. With the essay “Project for an Exhibition Building,” cowritten with Guido Fiorini, a futurist-leaning engineer, (paper) architect, and cinematic art director, one can see the secondary status of painting, for example.[62] The exhibition space that Bardi and Fiorini proposed was, at least with regards to painting, surprisingly uninnovative, with paintings hung on the walls in an upper-floor gallery space. Bardi and Fiorini were more concerned with providing a “functional” space—not the “monumental palace” of previous eras, but a “rational and utilitarian building”—that could accommodate not only paintings on walls, but sculpture in open air (all’aperto), flowers in greenhouse spaces, fashion models on stage, and even large-size products such as airplanes, in a hangar-like ground floor space (“Progetto,” 31). Bardi’s attention to exhibition design thus took into account the variety of industrial and decorative objects and materials that formed the bulk of Italian expositions under fascism. When the fine arts such as painting and sculpture were present in such exhibitions, they were often embedded in Gesamtkunstwerk-like immersive displays that blurred hierarchies among fine arts, industry, and design. In a proposal for the Milan Triennal VI’s Sala della Vittoria in 1936 by Edoardo Persico, Giancarlo Palanti, and Marcello Nizzoli, for example, artist Lucio Fontana’s sculptures were considered as one fragment of a totalizing visual program.[63] With muralist Sironi as part of the committee of directors during the 1930s, the Milan Trienniale would downplay discrete works of painting and sculpture in favor of the unity of the arts.[64]

Indeed, one of the through lines in Bardi’s thought over the two decades between “Architecture, Art of the State” (1931) and “Museums without Limits” (1951) was an attention to the status of architecture vis-à-vis the other arts. In fact, Bardi’s postwar discussions share some language with certain Euro-American conceptions of medium specificity. In “Museums without Limits,” Bardi described a “violent divorce established today among the various arts—each folded in and closed in on itself, jealously, as inside a watertight compartment,” which reads surprisingly like US critic Greenberg’s 1940 account of the arts having been “hunted back to their mediums, [where] they have been isolated, concentrated and defined” (“Museés,” 50). Yet while Greenberg’s account was intended as “historical justification” for “the present superiority of abstract art,” Bardi was diagnosing an aesthetic and social crisis.[65] For Bardi, museums were culpable in a pernicious separation of the arts, which prevented them from fulfilling their role in the “moral education of every citizen” (“Museés,” 50). The time had come to reform museums, to remake them such that they “serve the people, [and] lead the formation of the people's taste” (50). Bardi’s proposed solution to this frayed unity of the arts was, precisely, architecture: “A museum, as we understand it, provides above all . . . an architecture systematized in such a way as to make possible the organic development of a pedagogy whose rules are found in good taste, in love for art and in knowledge of history, participation in work [travail], in the precision of sensibilities” (50). When Bardi wrote in 1951, this architecture was no longer on the scale of cities, as in 1930s Italy, but an architecture of museum interiors intended to incubate a desired mode of social participation.

Bardi was not alone in foregrounding the social role of museums in the postwar period. There were, of course, a number of efforts underway in reconstruction Europe, with an emphasis on rebuilding mangled monuments as well as locating and conserving artworks. But there were also growing concerns with museums as a disciplinary space, particularly as the wake of World War II saw national narratives contested anew, with older ideas on aesthetics and education again a topic of fierce debate.[66] As a newly arrived transplant from Italy, P. M. Bardi, in his 1951 polemic about the state of museums, was thus taking aim less at Brazil’s moribund art salon culture than at the sepulchral museums of Europe.[67] Flagrantly misquoting a 1938 text by Ernst Jünger, Bardi’s 1951 essay characterized European museums as “anxiety-inducing and oppressive,” particularly condemning the regressive nature of museum architecture (“Museés,” 50).[68] In Europe, Bardi complained, museums were housed in historical buildings, and even when new museum buildings were constructed, they displayed “a rehashing of old architectures with the sadistic intention of creating a building, stillborn, in which to conserve dead things” (50). While this stance bears some resemblance to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's condemnation of museums—“Museums: cemeteries!”—Bardi was in no way sympathetic to futurist calls to abolish the museum.[69]

Instead, Bardi’s formulation anticipates Adorno’s well-known characterization of the museum as sepulchral in his essay “Valéry Proust Museum”:

The German word museal [museum-like] has unpleasant overtones. It describes objects to which the observer no longer has a vital relationship and which are in the process of dying. They owe their preservation more to historical respect than to the needs of the present. Museum and mausoleum are connected by more than phonetic association. Museums are like the family sepulchres of works of art. (Adorno, “Valéry,” 175)[70]

With this, Adorno opened his 1953 meditation on two vying modes of arranging and experiencing art in the museum, broached by Valéry in his 1923 essay, “Le problème des musées,” and by novelist Marcel Proust in A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (1919).

Adorno’s text distilled postwar debates on museology in the figures of these two authors.[71] Valéry and Proust subscribed neither to the nineteenth-century model of the “bric-a-brac museum” or “museum/Salon,” with its indiscriminate inclusion, nor to the taxonomic and often teleological organization of the more recent “museum/encyclopedia” model.[72] Valéry exhibited a particular antipathy towards the “democratic barbarism” of the former mode of display.[73] Amidst the “cold confusion” of sculptures in the museum, the “tumult of frozen creatures, each of which demands the nonexistence of the other, disorder strangely organized,” that Adorno claimed was “obviously directed against the confusing over-abundance of the Louvre,” Valéry found himself hopelessly lost (“Valéry,” 176). “Fatigue and barbarism converge,” overwhelming one’s aesthetic nerves or, worse, producing a superficial and instrumentalizing approach to art wherein “Venus becomes a document” (177). Adorno thus identified in Valéry an implicit “critique of political economy,” since Valéry’s horror at the overaccumulation of artworks in the museum demonstrates an intuitive reaction to the “accumulation of excessive and therefore unusable capital” (177). P. M. Bardi’s postwar invocations of Valéry, however, took this critique of overaccumulation in a quite different direction: “The things to say, to point out, in a museum are not numerous but simple. We must help man in his enormous effort to grasp simple things, to free him from complication and chaos; he must be put at ease in his search for the measure, the truth” (“Museés,” 50). For Bardi, overaccumulation was not simply a problem because it provoked shallow engagement with artworks, but because it encouraged political pluralism. The visual heterogeneity of the bric-a-brac museum would instill “dangerous” hybridities and eclecticisms rather than “the truth.”

Yet despite this point of agreement with Valéry, in practice Bardi’s museum ultimately more closely resembled that favored by Proust. As Adorno described Proust’s position, since the museum plucked artworks from their former settings, these works of art became “part of the life of the person who observes them,” with emphasis shifting from “the thing itself” to “the observing subject” (“Valéry,” 181, 183). For Adorno, this opened up Proust for critique: “the primacy Proust assigns the flux of experience and his refusal to tolerate anything fixed and determinate have a sinister aspect—conformity, the ready adjustment to changing situations” (183). Similarly, Bardi emphasized the museum’s relevance in the contemporary life of art viewers, but rather than Adorno’s critique of aimless sampling, Bardi highlighted the potential for artworks to serve as potent tools in instilling some desired set of values: “The extraordinary set of teachings contained in art—both of the past and still developing—should be able to play a leading role in the moral education of every citizen” (“Museés,” 50). In Proust’s emphasis on subjective experience rather than historical verisimilitude, Adorno criticized “the subject's infatuation with itself” (“Valéry,” 183). But for Bardi, this subjective experience could be turned to a broader social and political project.

What, then, of art’s surroundings, of the museum architecture that so concerned Bardi? Adorno’s essay left unresolved the implicit debate about museum architecture and exhibit design. He cited Valéry’s claim that architecture gives painting and sculpture “their place, their definition . . . their clearly defined lighting, their materials,” but regarded this emphasis on authentic architectural period settings as “romantic” and that of “the radical cultural conservative” (177–78). In contrast, as Adorno paraphrased, Proust ridiculed displays of paintings “in the midst of furniture, small art objects, and curtains ‘of the epoch,’ in a trivial decorative display produced by the hitherto ignorant lady of the house” (179). Instead, Proust preferred the “enivrante joie”—which Adorno rephrases as Kunstgenuss—of encountering such a work in a museum, “where the rooms, in their sober abstinence from all decorative detail, far better symbolize the inner spaces into which the artist withdraws in order to create the work” (179).[74] Adorno shared with Proust a disgust for the period room and the costume piece, but he remained suspicious of Proust’s politically ambivalent pluralism, and Adorno thus failed to draw out the implications of this claim to an ostensibly neutral gallery space, leaving the question of museum architecture tantalizingly untheorized. Writing in late 1940s and early 1950s Brazil, P. M. Bardi was much more specific in discussing a range of architectural interventions that could overcome this pernicious nineteenth-century museology, which continued to linger, at least in Europe. Yet in answering Valéry’s call for architecture to again enfold its foundling children, Bardi did not promote a return to period rooms or other historically “accurate” settings for artworks. Nor did Bardi seek a “neutral” setting that would allow the free play of an individual’s subjective experiences. Instead, Bardi proposed surroundings that would activate viewers towards fruitful engagement with art, an architecture and aesthetics of display that borrowed the most efficacious techniques from fascist exhibitions.

Limitless Museum

As P. M. Bardi describes it in “Museums without Limits,” the ideal museum would:

provide an architecture capable of accommodating its multiple activities. A systemized architecture designed in such a way as to make possible the organic development of a pedagogy in which the laws are still, implicitly, good taste [bon gout], love of art and knowledge of history, participation in work, in precision of sensibility. Not architecture-as-prison, but free architecture, with mobile interiors; automatic walls; floorboards, lighting and acoustics suitable for a pleasant stay. In this anti-museum, [a display on] the history of painting, for example, may have the same interest as the exhibition itself. (“Museés,” 50)

Bardi’s immediate reference was New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), a model for “bold gestures” of which Europe seemed incapable, but which were possible in the Americas (50).[75] Lina Bo’s early sketches for a new Diários Associados building demonstrate her familiarity with MoMA’s 1939 building, a bland interpretation of International Style designed by Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone.[76] Meanwhile, P. M. Bardi’s text promoted a range of modern display strategies featured at MoMA and other museums in the United States, including temporary walls, new developments in building materials, and improved lighting and electrical.[77] A 1939 MoMA press release, for example, touted the new building’s “innovations in architecture, interior design and equipment,” such as large expanses of exterior glass, “demountable interior gallery walls,” and “toggle-bolted” lighting fixtures in which lights could be “‘buttoned’ on and off the ceiling in different locations as desired.”[78] In his 1951 text, Bardi adopted the breathless futurity of much reportage on MoMA’s building, but Bardi’s text further explicated the potential relationship between this newly built environment and the visitor experience. Newfangled technical developments such as moveable interior walls and adaptable lighting were valued as tools for shaping viewers’ comportment and social lives.

Pragmatically, this emphasis on adaptable architecture was a natural response to the constraints upon Brazil’s new arts institutions in their early years, when they were housed in temporary settings. Beginning with its opening exhibition in 1947, MASP occupied several floors of the headquarters of Chateaubriand's Diários Associados media empire, in what would be later called the Guilherme Guinle building in the center of São Paulo. The building was still under construction when the Bardis began preparations to install MASP inside, and they were therefore able to dictate several structural changes to the building’s architect, Jacques Pilon. The Bardis insisted upon the removal of a dome and indoor fountain that Pilon had envisioned centered in the gallery space. “The ornament was eliminated,” explained P. M. Bardi, “as were several walls, so that the space conformed to a strictly functional environment,” echoing the call for a “functional” exhibition space he had already proposed in 1935.[79] But there was only so much that could be done with the preexisting architectural setting, especially prior to 1950, when Lina Bo Bardi and fellow Italian immigrant Giancarlo Palanti undertook a more aggressive architectural adaptation of the Guilherme Guinle space. As Bo Bardi explained in 1950, “The Museum of Art . . . has nothing to do with external architecture, since it occupies two floors of the Diários Associados building, and the architectural problem has remained limited to the presentation of an internal character.”[80] Where P. M. Bardi’s writings in MASP’s early years emphasize the potential for museum architecture to enact a visionary reformation of Brazilian society, Lina Bo Bardi—who was largely responsible for designing and executing the pair’s architectonic vision—balanced the social aspirations of the museum with explicit accounts of the material constraints.

The Bardis were not alone in facing restrictions on implementing new museum models. The strictures of Brazil’s ersatz museum architecture meant that some older museological traditions remained, at least at first. From 1947 through 1950, temporary walls at MASP were covered with cloth draperies, though this was emphatically not a nod to the bourgeois interior in the manner of many other Brazilian exhibition spaces.[81] In the 1940s, the handful of Brazilian art institutions exhibiting recent art resembled parlors of the wealthy. The Seção de Arte at the São Paulo Municipal Library exhibited recent paintings in overwrought frames stacked salon-style on the walls. Galeria Prestes Maia, then São Paulo's most prominent private gallery, had walls painted in dark colors and heavy beaux-arts tables and chairs placed throughout the gallery space. At the Guilherme Guinle building, though, the Bardis mitigated the retrograde drapery aesthetic with modern visual strategies borrowed from Italian Rationalist exhibition design: the metal tube and the grid.

Prior to the 1950 alterations, paintings from MASP’s collection were mounted on one or more metal tubes extending from floor to ceiling (fig. 7). Near the rooms’ edges, the metal tubes stood in front of cloth-covered walls.[82] Other paintings were attached to freestanding metal tubes near rectangular columns in the center of the room. The slim metal tubes were visually unobtrusive, yet staked out floor space, asserting each artwork’s physical presence in the gallery. The suspension of works away from the walls also gave rise to sight lines in which several works at different distances were visible for comparison. Sometimes the backs of canvases were on view, although the paintings’ fronts were clearly privileged. Sculptures were secondary to paintings, but their plinths, too, were positioned just in front of walls. Rather than an architectural space intended as a neutral backdrop for artworks, the artworks’ simultaneous separation from and doubling of the walls and pillars called viewers’ attention to the architectonic forms around them.

The MASP’s early didactic exhibitions, such as the Panorama of Art (1947), offered a different type of interaction between viewer and artwork. These didactic exhibitions were formed primarily of reproductions of artworks along with textual supplements that explained artistic movements and historical contexts.[83] Like the hanging of the permanent collection, these didactic exhibitions were mounted on aluminum tubes stretching from floor to ceiling (fig. 8). However, while the visual effect of the paintings was somewhat irregular—paintings of different sizes were arranged at varying proximities from one another, skirting columns at distances that mimicked the stances that might be taken by a human body—the didactic exhibitions were arranged in strict rows of juxtaposed panels, filled from edge to edge with photographs, drawings, and texts (fig. 9). Here, the effect was less that of bodies milling about in the gallery space than of a magazine layout lifted vertical and transferred to the halls of the museum.[84]

São Paulo Museum of Art, Pinacoteca, 1947.
Fig. 7. São Paulo Museum of Art, Pinacoteca, 1947. Courtesy of Acervo do Centro de Pesquisa do Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand.
Installation of didactic exhibition, 1947.
Fig. 8. São Paulo Museum of Art, installation of didactic exhibition, 1947. Courtesy of Acervo do Centro de Pesquisa do Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand.
São Paulo Museum of Art, didactic exhibition, 1947.
Fig. 9. São Paulo Museum of Art, didactic exhibition, 1947. Courtesy of Acervo do Centro de Pesquisa do Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand.

Both of these designs borrow from Rationalist exhibitions, but with a key distinction.[85] In both cases, the metal tube structures are linked to Rationalist aesthetic strategies in their use of unadorned, industrial material, but the resulting spatial character is quite different. For the display of paintings, metal tubes disappeared into MASP’s ceiling and floor without ornamentation or trim, a neat architectural detail in keeping with Rationalist functionalism. But these tubular supports were also rooted in the more traditionalist exhibition practices Bardi honed at his galleries in Milan and Rome. At the Galleria Bardi in Milan in the late 1920s, many paintings were attached to elegantly carved wooden posts set in decorative wooden plinths (fig. 10), presaging the crystal easels for which MASP would become famous beginning in the late 1960s.[86] Bardi would use a less polished version of these easel-like stands to hang paintings at his Galleria d’Arte di Roma in the 1930s, and again for paintings at his Studio d’Arte Palma in Rome during 1944–46.[87] For his first curatorial effort in Brazil, an exhibition of Italian painting at Brazil’s Ministry of Education and Public Health (MES) building in Rio de Janeiro in 1946, Bardi used rougher wooden posts in boxes, an ersatz version of the beaux-arts easel stands from Galleria Bardi in 1928 (fig. 11). In the case of the Bardis’ Italian galleries, the use of freestanding easels mitigated limited wall space in response to financial demands to maximize the number of paintings displays—and thus maximize sales. Even without economic necessity, architectural exigency could propel a similar tactic. In the case of the MES building, much of the building’s public space was lined by windows or featured wall murals, leading Bardi to install paintings on wooden poles on boxes encircling a central circular staircase. Here is a clear precedent for the Bardis’ installations at MASP, presaging not only the installation of paintings on tubes in 1947, but also the “crystal easels” of the late 1960s. Even with the shift from artisanal carved wood to mass produced metal, the aesthetic effect remains one of isolating masterpieces, rather than inserting them into the discursive space of the magazine layout.[88] And rather than architectural space as a supposedly neutral backdrop for artworks, the artworks' simultaneous separation from and doubling of walls and pillars compelled viewers’ attention to architectonic forms around them.

In contrast, most Italian Rationalist designs reshaped one's experience of the space by imposing a regular grid upon the space of display. Italian designers were not totally unresponsive to architectural settings. For a propaganda display commemorating the 1934 plebiscite, installed in the grand nineteenth-century Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan, architects Persico and Nizzoli created a three-dimensional grid of steel tube scaffolding echoing the barrel vaults of the ceiling (Curtis, Patio, 32).[89] However, with Italian Rationalist exhibition designs, no matter the size and shape of the interior space, the grid predominated, neutralizing or overwriting the narratives of the historical spaces it inhabits.[90] MASP’s late-1940s didactic exhibitions thus resemble the Rationalist exhibition not only in the materiality of their metal tubes, but also in their use of the spatiality of the grid.

Galleria Bardi, Milan, ca. 1927.
Fig. 10. Galleria Bardi, Milan, ca. 1927. Photograph by Dino Zani. Acervo do Centro de Pesquisa do Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand. Courtesy of Corrado, Uberto, and Erika Zani.
Exhibition of Italian painting, Ministry of Education and Public Health (MES) building, Rio de Janeiro, 1946.
Fig. 11. P. M. Bardi, exhibition of Italian painting, Ministry of Education and Public Health (MES) building, Rio de Janeiro, 1946. Photograph by Sascha Harnisch. Acervo do Centro de Pesquisa do Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand. Courtesy of Alexander Harnisch.

Following the 1950 renovation of MASP’s galleries by Bo Bardi and Palanti, the irregularly-spaced metal poles were replaced by half-height gallery walls painted a light, neutral shade and arranged in parallel rows, expanding this spatial regularity to the whole of the permanent collection.[91] Meanwhile, the 2-D didactic exhibitions were made secondary to the new “Vitrine of Forms,” which juxtaposed industrial design objects, small 3-D artworks (e.g., antique vases, Renaissance glassware), and handicrafts (fig. 12). Physically, “Vitrine” was formed of an unbroken line of glass cases, seeming to quote the hovering glass cubes in white iron frames created by Franco Albini and Giovanni Romano to show antique goldwork at the Milan Triennal VI in 1936 (fig. 13).[92] While the Bo Bardi and Palanti renovation returned paintings to a more conventional hanging style, on the parallel half-height walls, the museum continued using Rationalist-style grids selectively, typically for questionably artistic media such as architecture, landscape design, advertising, and product design. The layout of architect Le Corbusier's 1951 exhibition (fig. 14), for example, echoed the white grid structures created by Persico and Nizzoli to display photographs, maps, and documents in the Gold Medal Hall of the 1934 Aeronautic Exposition in Milan (fig. 15). The Le Corbusier exhibition may also have been referencing the white latticework of the BBPR group’s Monument to the Fallen of the Nazi Concentration Camps, inaugurated in 1946 just before the Bardis left Italy.[93] Similarly, in 1951, the MASP exhibition “Exhibition of Industrial Arts: Vitrines and Photographs” by Leopold and Zygmunt Haar employed glass vitrines and black and white latticework pedestals. In 1952, paintings by landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx were hung on MASP’s half-height walls, while live plants and photographs of his landscape designs were set on a white fence-like structure rooted in Rationalist designs (fig. 16). Assuming this criterion of the grid as equating to non-arts, a 1951 Geraldo de Barros exhibition perhaps affirms the status of photography as art, since Barros’ photographs were mounted singly on metal poles as paintings were, rather than on/in a grid (Fig. 17). In the other cases, the Rationalist grid dominated and reordered the space, distinct from the more organic arrangement of MASP’s early installation of paintings and sculptures, resembling instead the orderly rows of MASP’s didactic exhibitions. Thus even as the Bardis continued tropes of Rationalist exhibition designs, these installations tapered off rather quickly with regards to traditional beaux arts of painting and sculpture. The more radical exhibition designs would remain implicitly designated for the “minor” or industrial arts, at least until paintings were hung on the crystal easels when MASP’s new building—designed by Lina Bo Bardi—allowed for a complete remaking of the museum’s interior gallery space in the late 1960s.

View of MASP on 7 de Abril street.
Fig. 12. View of MASP on 7 de Abril street. In foreground, the exhibition Homage to Le Corbusier; in middle ground the exhibition Vitrine das Formas, with São Paulo Museum of Art collection in background. Exhibition design by Lina Bo Bardi, 1950. Photograph by Peter Scheier. Acervo do Centro de Pesquisa do Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand. Courtesy of the Instituto Moreira Salles.
Franco Albini and Giovanni Romano, exhibition design for antique goldwork.
Fig. 13. Franco Albini and Giovanni Romano, exhibition design for antique goldwork at the Milan Triennal VI, 1936. Courtesy of La Triennale di Milano, Archivio Fotografico.
São Paulo Museum of Art, Le Corbusier exhibition, 1950.
Fig. 14. São Paulo Museum of Art, Le Corbusier exhibition, 1950. Courtesy of Acervo do Centro de Pesquisa do Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand.
Edoardo Persico & Marcello Nizzoli, exhibition design for Gold Medal Hall, Aeronautic Exposition, Milan, 1934.
Fig. 15. Edoardo Persico & Marcello Nizzoli, exhibition design for Gold Medal Hall, Aeronautic Exposition, Milan, 1934. Courtesy of La Triennale di Milano, Archivio Fotografico.
São Paulo Museum of Art, Roberto Burle Marx exhibition, 1952.
Fig. 16. São Paulo Museum of Art, Roberto Burle Marx exhibition, 1952. Courtesy of Acervo do Centro de Pesquisa do Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand.
São Paulo Museum of Art, Geraldo de Barros exhibition, 1951.
Fig. 17. São Paulo Museum of Art, Geraldo de Barros exhibition, 1951. Geraldo de Barros/Instituto Moreira Salles Collection.

The Bardi-Bo Coefficient

“From an architectural point of view,” read an unsigned article in the Italian architecture journal Metron in 1948, “Lina Bo has closely followed the path taken by the Milanese school (“Architetti e critici,” 35). The text accompanied a series of photographs of the São Paulo Museum of Art in its first year, extolling the institution’s cultivation of Italian aesthetic precedents in the fertile—if callow—ground of Brazil.

But in Brazil [Lina Bo] found an environment ready to welcome the figurative themes of rationalism. From the distant journey of Le Corbusier, the modern wave prevailed in that country with the famed constructions of public buildings, collective dwellings, domestic buildings. Rationalist architecture that repeats the European themes on a larger scale, which very often appears as the enlargement of the original schemes. Much courage, little personality, sometimes little taste. The injection of the Bardi-Bo coefficient into Brazilian culture can only be positive. Bardi will give the historical substrate, the moral and intellectual thrust; Lina Bo will be able to create that element of precision, of exactitude, of poétique mathématique without which the conclusive path of the rationalist theme fails to vibrate. (35)

As the Metron article makes clear, the Bardis’ work in Brazil was seen as a continuation of interwar Rationalist trends in architecture and design. What went unspoken in this article, however, was the intense historical revisionism taking place within Italian architectural circles at the time, in order to cleanse Rationalism of its fascist-era political affiliations. By characterizing Rationalist architects as heroic rebels against the fascist state, a handful of postwar architectural historians enabled Rationalism to serve as a guiding aesthetic for postwar Italian architecture and design.[94] Of course if Rationalism was able to be recast as a newly neutral aesthetic in postwar Italy, wouldn't Rationalist-inflected exhibition designs be even less tainted by ideology when doubly removed—temporally and geographically—to postwar Brazil? The Bardis’ postwar museum work shared techniques—shared a mode of address—with visual exhortations prominent under Italian fascism. What is avant-garde about the Bardis’ work is its invocation of the visual conventions of mass media in the space of elite contemplation, working in the service of broadening audiences by offering them a convincing (visual) narrative. Whether that narrative is a history of art or political propaganda, it may behoove viewers to retain a healthy skepticism towards such persuasive modes of display, no matter their sympathy to the associated message. Of course, there can be no utterly neutral mode of display, but these exhibition designs foreground a Proustian presentness—the vagaries of contemporary ideological imperatives—rather than something immanent to artworks themselves. This was precisely the goal of didactic exhibitions at MASP, whose very purpose was to guide the viewers’ eyes through an array of visual information in the informational mode of a magazine layout rather than the auratic experience of aesthetic contemplation. If Buchloh’s account of the “transformation of montage aesthetics” still matters, it is due to its very ambivalence, its inability to convincingly explain how “an instrument of mass education and enlightenment,” can be rehabilitated after being turned to nefarious ends by repressive political regimes and the culture industry (“Faktura,” 118). “Education and enlightenment” were goals for fascist exhibitions in 1930s Italy as well as Lina Bo Bardi's engagement with popular culture in the 1960s, when she explained her recent curatorial work at the Bahia Museum of Modern Art by asserting that, “True democracy cannot dispense with ‘popular enlightenment’ [esclarecimento-popular].”[95] The 1940–50s exhibition designs at MASP are a pivot between fascist Italy and a shakily democratic Brazil, with their formal and rhetorical methods linked both to pernicious attempts at social control as well as democratizing efforts to promote widespread aesthetic literacy in Brazil. In any case, mere months after Bo Bardi asserted in the same interview that “popular enlightenment” necessitated “giving the people [dar ao povo] the capacity, the ‘tools’ [instrumentos] to participate actively in the struggle for national culture,” Brazil would descend once more into autocracy.[96]


[1] Pietro Maria Bardi, “Museés [sic] hors des limites,” Habitat (São Paulo), September 4, 1951, 50–51; this and subsequent translations from this essay are my own.

[2] Paul Valéry, “Eupalinos ou l’architecte,” in Œuvres, ed. Jean Hytier (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), 2:79–147, 93; this and subsequent translations from this essay are my own.

[3] Here, I read Bardi’s monumentos in the sense of masterpieces, i.e., monuments of Western painting. For an alternative interpretation of monumentos in relation to the postwar concerns for a “new monumentality” in architecture and urbanism, see Adriano Canas, “MASP: Museu Laboratório. Projeto de museu para a cidade: 1947–1957” (MA thesis, Faculdade de Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Universidade de São Paulo, 2010), 23–24.

[4] As architectural historian Zeuler Lima puts it, “There was little money in the European art market after the war and Pietro Maria Bardi wanted to find new markets for the works in his art gallery after having had his commercial authorization revoked in the post-war anti-fascist witch hunting” (Zeuler Lima, “Lina Bo Bardi, entre margens e centros/Lina Bo Bardi, Between Margins and Centers,” ArqTexto 14 [2009]: 110–44, 127). See also Esther da Costa Meyer, “After the Flood: Lina Bo Bardi’s Glass House,” Harvard Design Magazine 16 (2002): 4–13. While Lina Bo had long been acquainted with P. M. Bardi’s activities through architecture circles, it was only in 1946 that the two met. They married in August 1946, following P. M. Bardi’s divorce from his first wife, and left for Brazil in October 1946.

[5] Lina Bo Bardi introduced the phrase “crystal easel” (cavalete de cristal) (Lina Bo Bardi, “Explicações sobre o Museu de Arte,” O Estado de São Paulo, April 5, 1970, quoted in Zeuler Lima, Lina Bo Bardi [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2013], 134).

[6] In her writings of the 1960s, Lina Bo Bardi espoused a Gramscian notion of the national-popular in rejection of the hegemony of bourgeois “high culture.” See Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Cultural Writings, ed. David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 102. But the depth and timing of her reading of Gramsci are a matter of much speculation, not always rooted in careful scholarship. Most convincing on this point are Silvana Barbosa Rubino, “Rotas da modernidade: trajetória, campo e história na atuação de Lina Bo Bardi, 1947–1968” (PhD diss., Universidade Estadual de Campinas, 2002), 89–91; Lima, “Lina,” 120, 137; Guilherme Wisnik, “Brutalismo e tropicalismo,” paper presented at Transnational Latin American Art from 1950 to the Present, 1st International Research Forum for Graduate Students and Emerging Scholars, University of Texas at Austin, November 6–8, 2009; and Lima, Lina Bo Bardi, 84–89, 97, 102, 118, 150.

[7] See, among others, Cathrine Veikos “To Enter the Work: Ambient Art,” Journal of Architectural Education 59, no. 4 (2006): 71–80; Roger M. Buergel, “‘This Exhibition Is an Accusation’: The Grammar of Display According to Lina Bo Bardi,” Afterall 26 (2011): 51–57; Martin Filler, “An Architecture of Perfect Imperfection,” The New York Review of Books, May 22, 2014; and Stephen M. Caffey and Gabriela Campagnol, “Dis/Solution: Lina Bo Bardi’s Museu de Arte de São Paulo,” Journal of Conservation and Museum Studies 13, no. 1 (2015): 1–13.

[8] Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “From Faktura to Factography,” October 30 (1984): 82–118, 118.

[9] Writing in the late 1960s, Brazilian critic Roberto Schwarz would masterfully diagnose Brazilian culture with a similarly uneasy condition: “Despite the existence of a right-wing dictatorship, the cultural hegemony of the left is virtually complete” (“Culture and Politics in Brazil, 1964–1969,” in Misplaced Ideas: Essays on Brazilian Culture, trans. John Gledson [New York: Verso, 1992], 126–69, 127). But for a different take on the role of the “active museum” model that emphasizes an emphatically antifascist mode of aesthetic education (and antifascist purges of museum bureaucracy) in postwar Italy, see Patricia Falguières, “Politics for the White Cube: The Italian Way,” trans. Natalie Dupêcher, Grey Room 64 (2016): 6–39. For Falguières, with the “museological innovation” that marked postwar Italy, architecture “became the paradigmatic means to accomplish one project that all could agree on: education through art. Here converged the doctrinal fundaments of antifascist resistance in all its variations (from the radical historicism of Benedetto Croce to the complex materialism of Antonio Gramsci) and the aggiornamento made possible by the demise of fascism. . . . [Art historian Giulio Carlo] Argan went on to designate the museum—an active museum, one filled with study and research—as a privileged space in which the thoughtful building up of collections would provide what he called ‘an education in forms,’ itself the condition of a political life” (“Politics,” 10–11). See also Giulio Carlo Argan, “Il Museo como scuola,” Comunità 3 (1949): 64–66.

[10] The founders of MIAR intended for it to serve as Italy’s CIAM chapter.

[11] On Quadrante, see David Rifkind, “Quadrante and the Politicization of Architectural Discourse in Fascist Italy” (PhD diss., Columbia University, 2007). From the late 1920s through the mid-1940s, Bardi also worked as a curator and gallery director in Milan and Rome, with a focus on Italian art from the Renaissance to the twentieth-century Escuola Romana.

[12] On this point, see Terry Kirk, The Architecture of Modern Italy: Visions of Utopia, 1900–Present (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005), 2:83.

[13] P. M. Bardi, “Architettura, arte di stato,” L’Ambrosiano, January 30, 1931, 1, 2; this and subsequent translations from this essay are my own. This text was reprinted in expanded form as Rapporto sull’architettura (per Mussolini) (Rome: Edizioni Critica Fascista, 1931), a pamphlet that accompanied the Second Exhibition of Rationalist Architecture in March 1931.

[14] Though the venue, Bardi’s Galleria d’Arte di Roma, received funds from the state, the Second Exhibition of Rationalist Architecture was not itself state sponsored (Rifkind, “Quadrante,” 33–34n63). Rifkind notes that Mussolini’s attendance was likely due to the efforts of the Undersecretary for Public Education, Emilio Bodrero, a supporter of the Rationalists (23–24). Mussolini had attended art exhibitions at the Galleria earlier in 1930.

[15] Expanded versions of Bardi’s 1931 “Architecture, Art of the State” were explicitly written to Mussolini. On the politics of Italian Rationalism, see also Diane Yvonne Ghirardo, “Architecture and the Fascist State, 1922–1943,” in Italy: Modern Architectures in History (London: Reaktion, 2013), 65–129; and Michelangelo Sabatino, “The Politics of Mediterraneità in Italian Modernist Architecture,” in Modern Architecture and the Mediterranean: Vernacular Dialogues and Contested Identities, ed. Jean-François Lejeune and Michelangelo Sabatino (London: Routledge, 2010), 41–63.

[16] P. M. Bardi, “Petizione a Mussolini per l’architettura razionale e regime fascista,” L’Ambrosiano, February 14, 1931, 1, my translation.

[17] Valéry’s insistence on this point would continue through the 1930s, as in his essay “L’Idée de dictature,” in which he discusses the aesthetic nature of authoritarianism: “There is something of the artist in the dictator and something aesthetic in his conceptions. He must fashion and work his human material and make it appropriate for his designs” (Paul Valéry, “’L’Idée de dictature,” in Regards sur le monde actuel [Paris: Gallimard, 1934], 93–102, 99–100, my translation). Of course, this idea is also taken up by Mussolini himself, in a much more violent way: “I feel the masses in my hands, when I stir their faith or when I mingle with them. . . . All the same there persists in me a certain feeling of aversion, like that which the poet feels against the matter he is molding. Does not the sculptor sometimes smash his block of marble into fragments because he cannot shape it to represent the vision he has conceived?” (Emil Ludwig, Mussolinis gespräche mit Emil Ludwig [Berlin: Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 1932], 129, translation modified from Emil Ludwig, Talks with Mussolini, trans. Eden and Cedar Paul [Boston: Little, Brown, 1933], 126–27).

[18] On corporatism and architecture, see Monika Poettinger, “The Travels of an Italian Engineer in Search of Prosperity in the Cruel Waters of Classist Economies,” paper presented at “Voyager dans les États autoritaires et totalitaires de l’Europe de l’entre-deux-guerres,” Université Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV, April 20–21, 2017. For another architect’s take on the relationship of exhibition design and the state, see Giuseppe Pagano, “Parliamo un po’ di esposizioni,” Casabella 159–60 (1941): 1–3, 30.

[19] On the Sindicato Nazionale Fascista Architetti, see Mia Fuller, Moderns Abroad: Architecture, Cities and Italian Imperialism (New York: Routledge, 2007), 92–93. Terry Kirk offers a more positive take on Piacentini and the opportunities available for Rationalist architects. For a pessimistic view from the vantage point of 1941, see Giuseppe Pagano, “Occasioni perdute,” Casabella-costruzioni 158 (1941): 7–23.

[20] On the development of the polemical section at the 1931 Rationalist exhibition, see Rifkind, “Quadrante,” 52–55. Da Costa Meyer claims that Giuseppe Pagano likely helped Bardi compose the Tavolo (“After,” 12–13n6).

[21] The accompanying text read: “This is not Dada. This is no excavation from the Roman Forum. Nor is it a reconstruction of Pompeii. This is the architecture of the First USSR Agricultural Exposition of 1923, created by degenerate students of Palladio and impotent architects” (El Lissitzky, “SSSR’s architektur,” Das Kunstblatt 9, no. 2 [1925]: 49–53, my translation). Lissitzky’s photomontage centered on the plan for the exhibition, which he surrounded with fragments of architectural details in retrograde styles such as Neoclassicism. The article was originally intended for L’Esprit Nouveau, and served as the core for Lissitzky’s book Russia: The Reconstruction of Architecture in the Soviet Union, which Bardi likely saw (El Lissitzky, Russland: Die Rekonstruktion der Architektur in der Sowjetunion [Vienna: Anton Schroll, 1930]). Bardi’s Tavolo also closely resembles the Dada collages of artists such as Hannah Höch, perhaps a purposeful reference since Bardi aimed precisely at provocation. The connection between Bardi's collage and Lissitzky’s photomontage of the 1923 Soviet Agricultural Exhibition is proposed in Herta Wescher, Collage, trans. Robert E. Wolf (New York: Henry N. Abrams, 1968), 75. See also Eddie Wolfram, History of Collage: An Anthology of Collage, Assemblage and Event Structures (New York: Macmillan, 1975), 65.

[22] Buchloh vilifies Terragni’s design as a nefarious repurposing of vanguard photomontage aesthetics in the service of fascist subjugation, which “unknowingly conveys . . . the subordination of the masses under the state apparatus in the service of the continued dominance of the political and economic interests of the industrial ruling class” (“Faktura,” 112).

[23] See P. M. Bardi, Belvedere dell’architettura italiana d’oggi: 36 tavole composte e commentate da P. M. Bardi (Rome: Edizioni Quadrante, 1933).

[24] As Bardi explained, “We consider architecture in the amplest [più spaziale] sense: when man modifies nature by laying a road, by blocking a river, by raising a tower, or by manufacturing an airplane or a ship, or when drawing from a tree a table, or from a mineral a jewel” (Belvedere, 1). This and subsequent translations from this essay are my own.

[25] See images in Quadrante 21 (1935): 7.

[26] Shortly before Quadrante began publication in 1933, Bardi met Le Corbusier. Both participated in an international architecture delegation traveling to Moscow in 1932 under the auspices of the French journal Architecture aujourd’hui. See Jean-Louis Cohen, Le Corbusier et la mystique de l’URSS: Théories et projets pour Moscou, 1928–1936 (Brussels: Pierre Mardaga, 1987), 260–62. See also P. M. Bardi, Un fascista al paese dei Soviet (Rome: Edizioni d’Italia, 1933).

[27] P. M. Bardi, “Missione degli ingegneri,” Meridiano di Roma, January 16, 1938, 3, quoted in Jeffrey T. Schnapp, Building Fascism, Communism, Liberal Democracy: Gaetano Ciocca: Architect, Inventor, Farmer, Writer, Engineer (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 5–6. Though Bardi had discussed the role of the engineer already in the early 1930s, the engineer took on an increasingly heroic role in the late 1930s, as a sort of surrogate for the—now demoralized—Rationalist architect. See P. M. Bardi, “Opere e idee degli ingegneri,” L’Ambrosiano, June 3, 1933, 3, quoted in Schnapp, Building, 5.

[28] See Jeffrey T. Schnapp, “Mostre,” in Kunst und Propaganda: Im Streit der Nationen 19301945, ed. Hans-Jörg Czech and Nikola Doll (Berlin: Sandstein, 2007), 78–85; and Kirk, Architecture, 117. On the periodization of these aesthetic shifts, as driven by the fascist “patron state,” see Marla Stone, The Patron State: Culture and Politics in Fascist Italy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998). See also Claudio Fogu, The Historic Imaginary: Politics of History in Fascist Italy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 184–87.

[29] See Kirk, Architecture, 117.

[30] See Instituto de Arte Contemporânea, Pamphlet, Arquivo do Museu de Arte de São Paulo, 1951—Instituto de Arte Contemporânea, box 1, folder 1, São Paulo, Brazil, my translation. See also Adele Nelson, “The Bauhaus in Brazil: Pedagogy and Practice,” ARTMargins 5, no. 2 (2016): 27–49.

[31] Bardi also penned letters to leading US museums and schools of art and design, to ask about curricula and programming. While the inclusion of institutions such as the New Bauhaus (the Illinois Institute of Design) and the Museum of Modern Art are unremarkable, Bardi also—intriguingly—sought advice from the staff of Black Mountain College (P. M. Bardi to Black Mountain College, March 10, 1950, Arquivo do Museu de Arte de São Paulo, 1951—Instituto de Arte Contemporânea, box 1, folder 1, São Paulo, Brazil). A reply from David Corkran of Black Mountain College unsurprisingly emphasized the importance of Josef and Anni Albers, while the list of texts recommended by a representative of the Illinois Institute of Design (now part of IIT) included books by Sigfried Giedion, László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Gropius, Herbert Read, and Lewis Mumford.

[32] See P. M. Bardi, The Arts in Brazil: A New Museum at São Paulo, trans. John Drummond (Milan: Edizioni del Milione, 1956), 130.

[33] “Debatidos o programa e finalidades do Instituto de Arte Contemporânea,” Diário de São Paulo, March 22, 1950, my translation. Or, as another article asserted, the IAC would place “beauty in the service of industry” (“Instalação do ‘Instituto de Arte Contemporânea’: O belo a serviço da indústria—fundamentos no desenho,” Diário da Noite, February 8, 1950, my translation). Of course, this notion of design in the service of good taste can be linked to the broader postwar interest in “good design,” as advocated by Max Bill and the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany, from the late 1940s onward, and the Museum of Modern Art’s 1950s “Good Design” exhibition series. See Max Bill, Die gute Form: Wanderausstellung des Schweizerischen Werkbundes (Zurich: Kunstgewerbemuseum Zürich, 1949); and Terence Riley and Edward Eigen, “Between the Museum and the Marketplace: Selling Good Design,” in The Museum of Modern Art at Mid-Century at Home and Abroad, ed. John Szarkowski and John Elderfield (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1994), 150–79.

[34] For an account of parallel efforts to achieve “national improvement” through aesthetic education at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, see chapter 3 of Aleca Le Blanc, “Tropical Modernisms: Art and Architecture in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s” (PhD diss., University of Southern California, 2012), 197–215. Just as this article proposes that the edification promoted at MASP in the 1950s was haunted by fascist ideologies of interwar Italy, Le Blanc argues that postwar education in Brazil was rooted in ideas of improvement and moral hygiene prominent under the authoritarian and ethno-nationalist and regime of Getúlio Vargas in the 1930s.

[35] “The school [the IAC] is not intended to create artists, but to guide young people through technical and artistic preparation, directed towards giving them the opportunity to work, to create and contribute to the growth of industry in general, in a spirit and a taste purely contemporary” (P. M. Bardi and Lina Bo Bardi, “Uma escola de desenho industrial no Museu de Arte,” Arquivo do Museu de Arte de São Paulo, 1951—Instituto de Arte Contemporânea, box 1, folder 1, São Paulo, Brazil, my translation). See also Bardi, The Arts in Brazil, 130.

[36] Ethel Leon, “The Instituto de Arte Contemporânea: The First Brazilian Design School, 1951–53,” Design Issues 27, no. 2 (2011): 111–24, 119. See also Ethel Leon, IAC: Primeira escola de design do Brasil (São Paulo: Blücher, 2013). Leon further argues that the failure of the IAC was linked to Brazilian industry’s tendency to simply pay royalties to foreign firms in order to sell those firms’ products domestically, rather than investing money into domestic R&D or design (“Instituto,” 121–22).

[37] P. M. Bardi, “The Didactic Shows of the Art Museum of São Paulo, Brazil” (1947), Arquivo do Museu de Arte de São Paulo, box 1, folder 1, page 2, São Paulo, Brazil, my translation. See also P. M. Bardi, “L’expérience didactique du Museu de Arte de São Paulo/An Educational Experiment at the Museu de Arte. São Paulo,” Museum 1, no. 3–4 (1948): 138–42, 212, 212.

[38] Mussolini’s text comes from the speech “Al popolo di Ferrara,” June 29, 1923, rpt. in Opera omnia (Florence: La Fenice, 1956), 19:279, quoted in Chiara Ferrari, The Rhetoric of Violence and Sacrifice in Fascist Italy: Mussolini, Gadda, Vittorini (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013), 208n64.

[39] Fernando Morais, Chatô, o rei do Brasil (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1994), 483, my translation.

[40] After being outlawed and violently repressed under President Eurico Gaspar Dutra (1947–51) in the late 1940s, the Brazilian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Brasileiro) gained ground in the 1950s. Starting in the first half of that decade, the PCB undertook activities through alliances with trade unions. Particularly during the left-leaning presidencies of Juscelino Kubitschek (1957–61) and João Goulart (1961–64), the PCB operated in a state of semilegality, only ended by the 1964 military dictatorship.

[41] The comment comes from a speech delivered at the inauguration of an exhibition at MAM-Rio in 1952, by Brazilian Minister of Education Ernesto Simões Filho, reprinted in the museum’s bulletin later that year (Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Boletim de Outubro, October 1952, 2, my translation).

[42] Léon Degand, “O fundamental é desenvolver intensa campanha em torno de todas as manifestações de arte, ‘um instrumento de difusão da arte moderna,’” Correio paulistano, November 26, 1948, quoted in Ana Paula Nascimento, “MAM: Museu para a metrópole: A participação dos arquitetos na organização inicial do Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo” (MA thesis, University of Sao Paulo, 2003), 118, my translation.

[43] Antônio Bento, “Os deputados e o Museu de Arte Moderna,” Diário Carioca (Rio de Janeiro), April 15, 1953, rpt. in Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Boletim, May 1953, my translation.

[44] An open letter from the São Paulo Fine Arts Association [Associação Paulista de Belas-Artes] to São Paulo governor Lucas Nogueira Garcez was printed as “Protestam os artistas plásticos contra o cessão do Trianon à I Bienal de Arte,” Jornal de Noticias, November 9, 1951, my translation. Whether one agrees with the APBA’s political criticism, the accusation of the first Bienal’s aesthetic weakness was not unfounded.

[45] Fundo Bienal, “Press release,” Arquivo do Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Bienal 1a, box 01/14, folder 1, BSP/Secretária Geral/Releases, São Paulo, Brazil, my translation. On this exchange, see also Adele Nelson, “The Monumental and the Ephemeral: The São Paulo Bienal and the Emergence of Abstraction in Brazil, 1946–1954” (PhD diss., New York University, 2012), 147–49.

[46] João Batista Vilanova Artigas, “A Bienal é contra os artistas brasileiros” [The Bienal is against Brazilian Artists], Fundamentos: Revista de Cultura Moderna (1951): 10–12, my translation. Fundamentos was an arts and culture journal linked to the Communist Party of Brazil (PCB).

[47] Clement Greenberg, “The Present Prospects of American Painting and Sculpture,” Horizon (London) (1947): 20–30, 20.

[48] See T. J. Clark, “Clement Greenberg’s Theory of Art,” Critical Inquiry 9, no. 1 (1982): 139–56.

[49] Six years later, Greenberg reiterated this point: “the gravest threat the present technological revolution offers to the continuity and stability of high culture is a vastly accelerated rate of upward social—more accurately, material and economic—mobility. The traditional facilities of urban culture cannot accommodate themselves to a steadily growing population—not merely class—of newcomers to comfort and leisure, without suffering deterioration” (Clement Greenberg, “The Plight of Culture” [1953], rpt. in Art and Culture: Critical Essays [Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1961], 22–34).

[50] “Democratização da arte,” A Noite (São Paulo), October 1, 1947, my translation.

[51] Radio Tupi, “Draft of advertisements,” November 7, 1947, Arquivo do Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Material para imprensa, box 4, folder 29, São Paulo, Brazil, my translation. Rádio Tupi was also part of Assis Chateaubriand's media empire.

[52] On this history, see Hiroshi Daifuku, “Museums and Monuments: UNESCO’s Pioneering Role,” Museum International 50, no. 1 (1998): 9–18.

[53] See Bardi, “L’expérience didactique”; and P. M. Bardi, “Le Museu de Arte, São Paulo/The Museu de Arte, São Paulo,” Museum 7, no. 4 (1954): 243–49.

[54] P. M. Bardi also represented MASP at a number of these meetings, including UNESCO’s General Conference in Mexico City in 1947, and at the Second Biennial Conference of ICOM in London in 1950.

[55] The pneumatic piston was developed by Franco Albini, whom both Bardis knew in Rome. On Albini’s postwar museum designs, see Kirk, Architecture, 178–82. On postwar museology in Italy more generally, see “Musei e gallerie di nuova istituzione ricostruiti e riordinati,” in Musei e gallerie d’arte in Italia, 19451953 (Rome: Libreria dello Stato, 1953), 17–106; Caterina Marcenaro, “Le concept de musée et la reorganisation du Palazzo Bianco à Gênes/The Museum Concept and the Rearrangement of the Palazzo Bianco, Genoa,” Museum 7, no. 4 (1954): 250–67; Antonella Huber, Il museo italiano: La trasformazione di spazi storici in spazi espositivi: Attualità dell'esperienza museografica degli anni ’50 (Milan: Lybra Immagine, 1997); and Falguières, “Politics.”

[56] “Architetti e critici d’arte italiani in Brasile. Um museo dell’architetto Lina Bo,” Metron 30 (1948): 34–35; this and subsequent translations from this essay are my own.

[57] Paul Valéry, “Le problème des musées,” Le Gaulois, April 4, 1923; rpt. in Paul Valéry, Œuvres, ed. Jean Hytier (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), 2:1290–93, 1293; translation in Paul Valéry, The Collected Works of Paul Valéry: Degas. Manet. Morisot, trans. David Paul (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), 206. This passage is also quoted in Adorno, “Valéry Proust Museum,” Die Neue Rundschau 64, no. 4 (1953): 552–63, rpt. in Theodor Adorno, Prisms (1967), trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988), 175–85. Valéry's discussion of the museum drew on Henry Provensal’s diagnosis of roughly the same problem some two decades earlier (Henry Provensal, Vers l'harmonie intégrale: L’Art de demain [Paris: Perrin, 1904], quoted in Anthony Vidler, “The Space of History: Modern Museums from Patrick Geddes to Le Corbusier,” in The Architecture of the Museum: Symbolic Structures, Urban Contexts, ed. Michaela Giebelhausen [Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003], 160–82, 161). As Vidler continues, Provensal himself cited the early nineteenth-century writer and politician Alphonse de Lamartine, whose characterization of museums as “cemeteries of the arts” was likewise motivated by his distaste for “fragments broken from their original situations, parted from the purpose for which they were intended, and separated from the mass, by their union with which they conferred and received beauty, cannot be said to be aught else than the ashes of marbles which no longer live” (Alphonse de Lamartine, Visit to the Holy Land, Or Recollections of the East, trans. Thomas Phipson [London: George Virtue, 1845], 1:77).

[58] In fact, despite Bardi’s promotion of Rationalist architecture, his taste in painting was much more pedestrian. Bardi seemed to prefer German expressionism and the Scuola Romana, a group of painters working in postimpressionist and expressionist styles of painting, an internationally-oriented counterpart to the nationalist Novecento italiano. It’s not at all clear, then, what the aesthetic result would have been if (Rationalist) architecture were to rescue painting and sculpture from their state of decay. Edoardo Persico, Bardi’s sometime collaborator, in fact saw modern architecture as rooted in various strands of avant-garde painting, an argument falling out along roughly national-ethnic lines. For Persico, Le Corbusier’s architecture relied on cubism, Gropius’s work was rooted in neoplasticism (an assertion he admitted would be controversial), and Italian Rationalism would do well to draw from the Metaphysical painting of Giorgio de Chirico and others (Edoardo Persico, “Un teatro a Busto Arsizio,” Casabella [1935]: 36–43).

[59] Romy Golan, “From Monument to Muralnomad: The Mural in Modern European Architecture,” in The Built Surface, Architecture and the Pictorial Arts from Romanticism to the Twenty-First Century, ed. Christy Anderson and Karen Koehler (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002), 2:186–208.

[60] Mario Sironi, “Manifesto della pittura murale,” Colonna 1 (1933): 10–12, in Donatello among the Blackshirts: History and Modernity in the Visual Culture of Fascist Italy, trans. Jeffrey Schnapp, ed. Claudia Lazzaro and Roger J. Crum (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 238–40. The manifesto was cosigned by painters Massimo Campigli, Carlo Carrà, and Achille Funi. See also Giovanna Ginex, “Il dibato critico e istituzionale sul muralismo in Italia, 1930–50,” in Muri ai pittori: Pittura murale e decorazione in Italia, 1930–1950, ed. Vittorio Fagone, Giovanna Ginex, and Tulliola Sparagni (Milan: Mazzotta, 1999), 25–45. The Novecento italiano style of painting that emerged in interwar Italy sought, like other retour à l’ordre tendencies of the 1920s, a renewal of “classical values” of balance, clear form, and figuration, in contradistinction to recent avant-garde tendencies toward shock, distortion of the human body, and abstraction.

[61] Exhibitions featuring Rationalist design include the 1934 Esposizione dell’Aeronautica Italiana in Milan, the 1936 Antica Oreficeria Italiana in Milan, and the 1936 VI Triennale di Milano. On this decade of exhibitions, see Stone, The Patron State; and Jeffrey T. Schnapp, “Epic Demonstrations: Fascist Modernity and the 1932 Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution,” in Fascism, Aesthetics, and Culture, ed. Richard J. Golsan (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1992), 1–37, 244–52. Lack of state patronage for Rationalist buildings propelled (mostly younger) architects into exhibition design, according to Beatrice A. Vivio (Franco Minissi: Musei e restauri: La trasparenza come valore [Rome: Gangemi, 2010], 28). Schnapp makes a similar point without the generational emphasis: “even when late-1930s façades drift into the lictorial orbit, exhibition interiors and installations continue to mine the avant-gardist/experimental vein” (“Mostre,” 83).

[62] P. M. Bardi and Guido Fiorini, “Progetto d'un edificio per esposizioni,” Quadrante 30 (1935): 28–31; this and subsequent translations from this essay are my own.

[63] According to the Sala della Vittoria designers, “In the project the [Fontana] sculpture and the tessellated works are not thought of as ‘decoration,’ or as parts added to the architecture, but more or less constitute the argument by means of their stereometry and by the intimate stylistic adherence” (Edoardo Persico, Marcello Nizzoli, and Giancarlo Palanti, “Salone d’onore at the VI Milan Triennale,” 1936 [Competition Drawings], quoted in Penelope Curtis, Patio and Pavilion: The Place of Sculpture in Modern Architecture [Los Angeles, CA: Getty Publications, 2008], 30).

[64] See Romy Golan, “Chronicle of a Disappearance Foretold,” paper presented at Interspaces: Art + Architectural Exchanges from East to West, Australian Institute of Art History, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, August 20–22, 2010; and Stefano Cagol, “Towards a Genealogy of the Thematic Contemporary Art Exhibition: Italian Exhibition Culture from the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista (1932) to the Palazzo Grassi’s Ciclio della Vitalità (1959–1961)” (PhD diss., The Royal College of Art, 2013), 63. In 1933, the exposition moved from Monza to Milan and shifted from a biennial to triennial frequency.

[65] Clement Greenberg, “Towards a Newer Laocoon,” Partisan Review 7 (J1940): 296–310, 310.

[66] See Jaś Elsner for a parallel discussion of Bildung as a field of intense ideological fervor in the interwar and postwar periods, with Bildung understood as “that cultural formation in humanism and civilizing values that educates the citizen by moulding him or her in the beneficence of ancient Greek tradition” (Jaś Elsner, “Paideia: Ancient Concept and Modern Reception,” International Journal of the Classical Tradition 20, no. 4 [2013]: 136–52, 140). For Elsner, the utter failure of Bildung as moral education—since “the National Socialist era and its crimes compromised the promise of cultural moulding in the German educational tradition”—provoked a soul searching that inflected the methods deployed by historians, art historians, and classicists of the postwar period (141). See also Jaś Elsner, “A Golden Age of Gothic,” in Architecture, Liturgy and Identity: Liber Amicorum Paul Crossley, ed. Zoë Opačić and Achim Timmermann (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2011), 7–15.

[67] On the waning influence of Brazilian salons—both private and government-funded—as new private galleries and art museums operating as public-private hybrids opened during the 1940s, see Nelson, 14–17. See also Angela Ancora da Luz, Uma breve história dos salões de arte: da Europa ao Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: Caligrama, 2005).

[68] Bardi's phrasing is “angoissant et opprimant,” in contrast to Jünger’s “Spannendes und oft Beängstigendes,” better understood as “exciting—and often alarming.” Jünger’s original text reads, “Der Besuch der Museen hat immer etwas Spannendes und oft Beängstigendes” (Ernst Jünger, “In den Museen,” in Das abenteuerliche Herz [Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1942], 145).

[69] Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” (1909), in Manifesto: A Century of Isms, ed. Mary Ann Caws (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001), 185–89, 188.

[70] Quoted in Catherine Lui, “Art Escapes Criticism, or Adorno’s Museum,” Cultural Critique 60 (2005): 217–44.

[71] In addition to Bardi’s 1951 text, one sees similar arguments posed throughout postwar articles in Museum. Writing in 1948, French curator Yvon Bizardel proclaimed, “In the nineteenth century, historical museums tended to slip easily into the accumulation of bric-à-brac à la Goncourt, with a taste for chiaroscuro and overcrowding. This kind of pitfall has still to be constantly guarded against and must be combated with cleanliness, bright backgrounds, ventilation and light so as to avoid, at any cost, the former dusty effect” (Yvon Bizardel, “Collections Municipales de Paris/The Municipal Collections of Paris,” Museum 1, no. 1–2 [1948]: 81–118, 85). Or, as Italian art historian Caterina Marcenaro wrote in 1954, “Many museums, forgetting their real social purpose, either follow the hedonistic decorative principle proper to private collections, or else resemble large stores, with a display of booty consisting mostly of bequests or purchases, or of spoils obtained by methods that may, or may not, have been legal. . . . There are many art museums . . . where quantity takes precedence of quality, exhibits being jumbled together in a general medley” (“Museum Concept,” 261).

[72] The dyads “museum/salon” and “museum/encyclopedia” are borrowed from Stephen Melville, “Notes on the Reemergence of Allegory, the Forgetting of Modernism, the Necessity of Rhetoric, and the Condition of Publicity in Art and Criticism,” October 19 (1981): 55–92, 68–70. See also Douglas Crimp, “On the Museum's Ruins,” October 13 (1980): 41–57.

[73] Yve-Alain Bois points out that Flaubert had already characterized the bric-a-brac museum in terms of “democratic barbarism” (Yve-Alain Bois, “Esthétique de la distraction, espace de démonstration,” Les cahiers du musée national d'art moderne 29 [1989]: 57–79, 58). Michelle Henning links Valéry’s idea of the museum as a site of competitions among artworks to Marinetti’s notion of the museum as a battlefield. See Michelle Henning, Museums, Media and Cultural Theory (New York: Open University Press, 2006), 38–41. See also Michel Foucault, “The Fantasia of the Library,” written in 1964 and published in slightly revised form in 1967 as “Un ‘Fantastique de bibliotheque,’” Cahiers Renaud-Barrault 59 (1967): 7–30, rpt. in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977), 87–109; and Eugenio Donato, “The Museum’s Furnace: Notes toward a Contextual Reading of Bouvard and Pécuchet,” in Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism, ed. Josué V. Harari (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979), 213–38.

[74] For his part, Adorno was skeptical that such aesthetic pleasure was desirable, or even possible, “in a reality that stands under the constant threat of catastrophe” (“Valéry,” 185). See the original Proust passage in Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu, vol. 4, À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (Paris: Gallimard, 1919), 57.

[75] Bardi mentioned MoMA explicitly in his text, claiming that, “I believe that Americans will really be the first to understand the educational function of new museums. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, is the first step in the right direction” (“Museés,” 50). Bardi may have partially based his account of the “limitless museum” on a 1949 discussion of MoMA’s Goodwin-Stone building in the Italian architecture journal Domus, in which author Roberto Mango explained that “The museum is an anti-museum, not a museum in the limited, passive, ‘dusty’ sense of the word” (Roberto Mango, “Il Museum of Modern Art di New York,” Domus 10, no. 241 [1949]: 22–25, 23, my translation). Likewise, Mango’s statement that, “New Yorkers consider the ‘visit to the Museum’ altogether as interesting and spectacular [spettacolare] as [a visit] to Rockefeller Center or Radio City [Music Hall],” is echoed in the opening anecdote of Bardi's “Museés”: Bardi exits the museum—which, based on his tone, is sparsely attended—only to encounter a line of people who had just waited an hour to enter a movie theater (Mango, “Il Museum,” 23, my translation).

[76] In addition to the belated coverage of MoMA’s new building in the Italian journal Domus in 1949, the Bardis would have seen coverage of the Goodwin-Stone building—including photographs and floor plans—throughout the 1940s in US and European publications on architecture and museums. See, among others, “Le nouveau Musée d'Art Moderne de New-York,” L’Architecture d'Aujourd’hui 9, no. 6 (1938): 77–78; Philip L. Goodwin, “Le nouveau Musée d’Art Moderne de New-York,” Mouseion 14, no. 49/50 (1940): 43–66; and “The Museum of Modern Art, New York: A New Building for New Needs,” The Museums Journal 41, no. 5 (1941): 93–97. On the MoMA building’s architecture, see also Dominic Ricciotti, “The 1939 Building of the Museum of Modern Art: The Goodwin-Stone Collaboration,” American Art Journal 17, no. 3 (1985): 50–76.

[77] In praising “free architecture, with mobile interiors; automatic walls; floors, lighting and acoustics suitable for a pleasant stay,” Bardi may have been referencing a report on museum buildings in the United States presented to the International Council of Museums Conference in Mexico City in 1947 (“Museés,” 50). That report discussed “advances in mechanical, illuminating and heating and ventilating engineering,” and highlighted “flexibility of the building, for both re-arrangements within and enlargement of the whole,” and the ability of museums to “reset partitions for each new temporary show,” with “even the most permanent-looking buildings . . . now divided by non-bearing walls that can be relocated if need be” (Laurence Vail Coleman, “Recent Experience in the Building of Museums in the U.S.A.,” paper presented at the International Council on Museums conference, Mexico City, Mexico, November 8, 1947). Bardi attended this ICOM conference in Mexico City, and a version of his presentation there was published as Bardi, “L’expérience didactique.”

[78] The Museum of Modern Art, “Facts on New Two-Million-Dollar Building and Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art,” May 8, 1939. While Bardi may not have seen this particular press release, many of these details were repeated in architecture journals’ coverage of the building over the following decade.

[79] P. M. Bardi, A cultura nacional e a presença do Masp (São Paulo: Fiat do Brasil, 1982), 8, my translation; Bardi and Fiorini, “Progetto,” 28, my translation.

[80] Lina Bo Bardi, “Função social dos museus,” Habitat 1 (1950): 17, my translation.

[81] Even MoMA had used cloth-covered walls as the backdrop for modern art during the 1930s, but shifted to white walls with the 1939 Goodwin-Stone building. All the same, the Goodwin-Stone building retained much of the “residential scale” and “domestic ambience” of MoMA’s former home, a Rockefeller family townhouse (Ricciotti, “The 1939 Building,” 55, 57–58). On the “intimacy” of MoMA’s display of modern art, see also Christoph Grunenberg, “The Politics of Presentation: The Museum of Modern Art, New York,” in Art Apart: Art Institutions and Ideology Across England and North America, ed. Marcia R. Pointon (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1994), 192–211, 203–4; and Jesús Pedro Lorente, The Museums of Contemporary Art: Notion and Development (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), 165. William Rubin, director of MoMA from 1968 through 1988, argued that this was the appropriate viewing scale for artworks of the avant-garde, since from impressionism onward, modern artworks were often first displayed in small-scale private spaces such as artists’ studios and collectors’ homes rather than “collective, monumental” public spaces like churches or palaces. See Sam Hunter, The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The History and the Collection (New York: H. N. Abrams, 1984), 46. Of course this ignores the strand of the avant-garde from Soviet Russia and its legacy.

[82] In her 1950 article on the museum’s architecture, Lina Bo Bardi explained that the poles were used in part to prevent exposing paintings to environmental humidity seeping through the walls (“Função social,” 17).

[83] Both MASP and MAM-SP mounted didactic exhibitions in their early days, though MASP’s were developed in-house and exhibited on a semipermanent basis, while those at MAM-SP were borrowed typically from international institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago and mounted for shorter runs. Bardi drew on his contacts in Italy for assistance in obtaining photographs of artworks and artifacts from the Western canon for MASP’s early didactic exhibitions. Emilio Villa, Bardi's colleague from Studio d’Arte Palma in Rome, worked to obtain original photographs and reproductions of works of art and architecture from art institutions, archaeological sites, private collections, and historical sites, drawing upon the resources of Italy’s museums as well. Villa also spent several months during 1951–52 in São Paulo working at MASP. There is also some suggestion that the Studio d’Arte Palma participated in designing the panel layouts for didactic exhibitions, but that P. M. Bardi eventually asserted authorial control over them. See Stela Politano, “Exposição Didática e Vitrine das Formas: A didática do Museu de Arte de São Paulo” (MA thesis, State University of Campinas, 2010), 36, 46–54.

[84] Zeuler Lima broaches this formal comparison as well, but attributes it solely to Lina Bo Bardi's experience in magazine layout (“Lina,” 14). In their evocation of graphic design procedures, these didactic exhibition designs also participate in the montage aesthetic discussed above; see note 21.

[85] On this decade of exhibitions, see Stone, The Patron State, 128–75, 222–52; and Schnapp, “Epic Demonstrations,” 1–37, 244–52. Lack of state patronage for Rationalist buildings propelled (mostly younger) architects into exhibition design, according to Beatrice A. Vivio (Franco Minissi, 28). Schnapp makes a similar point, but without the generational emphasis: “even when late-1930s façades drift into the lictorial orbit, exhibition interiors and installations continue to mine the avant-gardist/experimental vein” (“Mostre,” 83). On the Italian lineage of MASP’s displays, see also Renato Luiz Sobral Anelli, “O Museu de Arte de São Paulo: O museu transparente e a dessacralização da arte,” Arquitextos 10, no. 112 (2009): n.p.; Canas, “MASP,” 30–34, 82–87; Politano, “Exposição Didática,” 162–72; and Alessandra Criconia, “Un’architetta romana in Brasile,” in Lina Bo Bardi: Un'architettura tra Italia e Brasile (Milan: FrancoAngeli, 2017), 31–46.

[86] On the Galleria Bardi, see Paolo Rusconi, “Via Brera n. 16. A galeria di Pietro Maria Bardi,” paper presented at “Modernidade latina: Os italianos e os centros do Modernismo latino-americano,” Museu de Arte Contemporânea da Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, April 9–11, 2013.

[87] On Studio d’Arte Palma, see Chiara Piermattei Masetti, Roma: Sotto le stelle del '44: Storia, arte e cultura dalla guerra alla liberazione (Rome: Zefiro, 1994), 78; Fabio Benzi, Roma, 19181943 (Rome: Viviani, 1998), 71; and Dianne Dwyer Modestini with Mario Modestini, “Mario Modestini, Conservator of the Kress Collection, 1949–1961,” in Studying and Conserving Paintings: Occasional Papers on the Samuel H. Kress Collection (London: Archetype, 2006), 43–62, 45–46.

[88] The linking figure from P. M. Bardi’s posts in boxes and the MASP paintings on metal tubes to the MASP crystal easels is Italian exhibition designer Franco Albini, an acquaintance of the Bardis through Palanti. Albini’s 1941 design for the Mostra di Scipione e di disegni contemporanei at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan exhibited paintings on metal poles—with one bend—protruding from bucket-shaped concrete cylinders set directly on the gallery floor. Albini and the Bardis seem to have been involved in a mutual borrowing over the course of four decades: P. M. Bardi’s earlier post-in-box displays in Milan provided the shape for Albini's 1941 exhibition design, which in turn suggested the rough concrete directly on the floor of Lina Bo Bardi's “crystal easels.” Albini returned the compliment, quoting Bo Bardi with his 1972–77 design for the Pinacoteca del Castello Sforzesco in Milan, where paintings were hung on vertical glass fiber panels hanging from the ceiling.

[89] On this installation, see also Agnoldomenico Pica, “La vigilia del plebiscito,” L’Ambrosiano, March 24, 1934, 4; and Andrea Camilleri, Dentro il labirinto (Milan: Skira 2012). Some sources state that Persico had worked as a designer in P. M. Bardi’s galleries. See Curtis, Patio, 32n9; and Imma Forino, “Private Exhibitions: Galleries, Art, and Interior Design, 1920–1960,” in Made in Italy: Rethinking a Century of Italian Design, ed. Grace Lees-Maffei and Kjetil Fallan (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 163–78, 167. See also Galleria Bardi, A. C. Jucker, Pietro Küfferle, Giacinto Mondaini (Milan: Galleria Bardi, 1930).

[90] As in Rosalind Krauss’s famous account of the grid’s “will to silence, its hostility to literature, to narrative, to discourse” (“Grids,” October 9 [1979]: 50–64, 50).

[91] The technique of metal poles in front of cloth-draped walls continued to be used for some temporary exhibitions, such as an exhibition of paintings by Tarsila do Amaral in 1955.

[92] On the goldwork show, see Antonio Morassi, Antica oreficeria italiana (Milan: Hoepli, 1936). On Albini’s work more broadly, see Antonio Piva and Vittorio Prina, Franco Albini: 19051977 (Milan: Electa, 1998), 86–89.

[93] Crucially, the Le Corbusier exhibition design at MASP was completely different from the installation when the same show was hung at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston in 1948. See Le Corbusier, New World of Space (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock; Boston: The Institute of Contemporary Art, 1948). BBPR was an architecture group active in interwar Italy, and both Bardis were acquainted with its members. Two members of BBPR were killed during the war. On the structure of the BBPR Monument, see Patrick Amsellem, “Remembering the Past, Constructing the Future: The Memorial to the Deportation in Paris and Experimental Commemoration after the Second World War” (PhD diss., New York University, 2007), 162–64, 167–83; Noa Steimatsky, Italian Locations: Reinhabiting the Past in Postwar Cinema (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 66–70; and Kirk, Architecture, 146–47.

[94] Kirk argues that the idea of the Rationalists as underdogs was generated when Italian architectural “critics writing in the 1950s like Giulia Veronesi and Bruno Zevi projected their anxieties onto the past by exaggerating the political ‘difficulties’ architects faced under Fascism”; these critics, Kirk argues, “revealed their own urgent postwar agendas as social critics when they equated Rationalism with anti-Fascism—a patently untenable assertion—yet they gained with this revisionism an unquestioned consensus” (Architecture, 139, 150).

[95] Lina Bo Bardi, interview with the students of the Directório Acadêmico Rocha Pombo do Paraná, Faculdade de Filosofia, Ciencias e Letras, University of Paraná, Curitiba, Paraná, circa 1963, Arquivo do Museu de Arte Moderna de Bahia, Salvador, Brazil, n. p.

[96] Brazil’s military dictatorship would last—with varying levels of totalitarian severity—from 1964 to 1985.