This Bechtler exhibit will immerse you in the world of an Italian-Brazilian architect

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Step into the fourth floor gallery of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art after Oct. 30 and you’ll experience an immersive, multilayered film exhibition examining Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi.

In ”Isaac Julien: Lina Bo Bardi – A Marvellous Entanglement,” nine screens — each featuring various art forms and an interplay with time and space — share pieces of the life and work of the famed architect and designer, set amid her modernist buildings.

British artist and filmmaker Isaac Julien premiered the work in Rome, though the Charlotte installation will mark its premiere in U.S. museums.

Bo Bardi was a key figure in modernist architecture and culture, said Todd Smith, the Becthler’s executive director. “She was really influential with design work, with her writings, with her work as a curator, as well, and with her time in Italy, in Brazil,” he said. “She’s come back on the radar for architectural historians over the last few years.”

Similarly, Julien has been on Smith’s radar for a long time, he said, “with looking at historical figures and trying to bring them back into public consciousness.”

For roughly 25 years, Julien has introduced and evolved screen installations in contemporary art. His 1989 documentary-drama ”Looking for Langston” was a film exploration of black gay desire and the Harlem Renaissance.

A reflection on Bo Bardi

The installation headed to the Bechtler is a reflection on Bo Bardi’s Brazilian projects from the 1960s to the ‘80s. Her life story is interpreted by Brazilian mother-daughter actresses Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres. It was filmed in several locations in Brazil, including the São Paulo Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in Bahia and the Teatro Gregório de Matos in Salvador.

The film plays with our perception of time, inspired by Bo Bardi’s thoughts: “Linear time is a western invention; time is not linear, it is a marvelous entanglement where, at any moment, points can be chosen and solutions invented, without beginning or end.”

Smith said the work challenges the traditional way that most visitors go to an art museum, scanning the room, looking at an artwork, then going to the next one.

“This work really requires you to be part of the experience. The show plays up the importance of movement and space. That’s a whole other way of talking about the show — the bodily experience among these nine screens with the sound and the individuals moving around the space, as they’re watching and listening and being a part of the installation.”

Julien began the Bo Bardi work several years ago and completed it in 2019 as a sensory experience.

“It’s not meant to be a documentary about her life, nor a documentary about her architecture,” Smith said. “Rather, a really beautiful and poetic treatment of who she was as an individual and how she contributed to a cultural conversation in Italy, and most importantly, in Brazil.”

‘Legacies of modernism’

Much of Julien’s work has focused on breaking down barriers between artistic disciplines and exploring themes like race, history and migration through installation and film making. That’s a key reason why Julien’s work is a great fit for the Bechter now, Smith said.

“One of the things we’re trying to do with new exhibitions is look at not only some of the key ideas of modern art, but what are some of the legacies of modernism that we see artists grappling with still today,” he said. “As we talked internally about how we wanted to come out of the pandemic and present the museum for its next chapter, it became clear that the Julien work fit where we wanted to be at this moment.”

“Beautiful Souls, Less Beautiful Souls,” is among the work included in “Isaac Julien: Lina Bo Bardi - A Marvellous Entanglement.”
“Beautiful Souls, Less Beautiful Souls,” is among the work included in “Isaac Julien: Lina Bo Bardi - A Marvellous Entanglement.”

The Julien exhibition will take the place of “Twentieth Century Women,” an exhibition that featured over 100 works by 22 artists and focused on the artistic achievements of women in the Bechtler collections.

Other upcoming season highlights announced include “Annemarie Schwarzenbach: Departure Without Destination,” a major retrospective dedicated to the photography of the Swiss writer, photographer and journalist, and a celebration of the works of one of the founders of minimalism and conceptual art, American artist Sol LeWitt.

“Isaac Julien: Lina Bo Bardi - A Marvellous Entanglement”

Where: Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, 420 S. Tryon St.

When: On exhibit Oct. 30, 2021, through Feb. 27, 2022.


This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.

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