Museum as Medium by Tessa Mae Rippenhagen
The careful display of art objects and the museum culture of the western world, was revolutionized during the sixties by two people an ocean apart. Carlo Scarpa and Lina Bo Bardi, brought radical ideas about the curatorial arts to the modern world. Lina was born in Italy but moved to Brazil very early in life, while Carlo has become synonymous with modern Italian architectural style. Both were responsible for giving the art audience a new way of ‘looking’ and an entirely new gallery experience to behold.
In Verona, a thirty year project came to conclusion in 1973, with ‘Museo di Castelvecchio’. Meaning ‘old’ castle’ in italian, the audience is already made aware of its historic significance, and considering its heritage. a short thirty years to prepare it for the public, is quite appropriate for a building that began its life in the 12th century. What once was a prominent military fortification of the middle ages, and survived countless political upheavals, has come through it all and is now exhibiting its finest aspects thanks to the careful curation of Carlo Scarpa. This museum houses one of the many examples of Scarpa’s ‘offering of the art’ to the viewer, where he places the object on a brace or shelf adjacent to a wall, that has been painted a contrasting color, directing our focus to a single moment, as if to say, “look, here is a thing the may seem almost common place any where in Italy, but here in this god given light, with that brilliant color support, and this armature of display...well, Voila!!’.
There is a very personal interaction with each piece, one is compelled to step closer as in an intimate setting, that seems very orchestrated on a scale of ‘one-on-one’. These spaces would not work, if they were jammed packed like the Louve during summer vacation, where hundreds are crowded into large salons filled with gaudy gold frames with security lines surrounding everything.
An individual should have space and quiet, upon entering Castelvechio, it is place of contemplation and immersion into a cave of memories of bygone eras. One does not simply enter this as a regular, everyday museum with descriptive fact boards and artifacts pinned beside, here we are invited to experience a piece of the past, with modern improvements for a gallery setting. Scarpa is very thoughtful with his placement of natural light. They are not here to act as windows to the exterior, but only as skylight spotlights, highlighting each piece precisely as he had intended. The whole system of curating is deconstructed against the backdrop of an ancient castle, creating a non-traditional space where the past and present meet, every instance of light and color are collisions of old and new.
Where Carlo was given a castle and created a museum, Lina would design her museum from the ground up, literally. Beginning in 1957 and continuing through the ten years that followed, Bo Bardi was undertaking a project of monumental proportions. Bo Bardi was attempting to return the arts to the people, with MASP, the new Museum of Art, for Sao Paulo, which opened in 1968.
By allowing the public to enter the physical space of the building, without actually paying admission, access to underneath the suspended structure, almost undermining the authority of the gallery that generally discriminates against non-patrons, and also the massive picture gallery walls of window that allow visual access to the exhibitions above. Reversing the roles, putting those on the inside and privileged enough to pay admission, on display as spectacles of society, as opposed to the exposed masses of the urban ghettos that wonder the streets. The social realms are confronted with each other and balanced on the scales of justice, just as the monolithic concrete beams support the fragile glass prism.
The interior was yet another chance to question patriarchal authoritative labels, and layer many viewpoints to create an equal playing field. A break down of both artistic hierarchy and personal perspective of movement within the space. This Picture Gallery was an experimentation of freedom within confines. The complete accessibility and approachable platform of display that Bo Bardi designed, creates a three dimensional approach to a medium that has for centuries been viewed in the same position it was made in. A two dimensions perspective of an art object suspended above the viewer, who can only look into the reality of the painting from a fixed point. Her “cymas” destroyed this traditional social distancing and exposed the artwork to the public on all sides. A concrete block supporting a single pane of glass, which allows for three hundred and sixty degrees of exhibition, turning paintings into sculptures.
Scarpa brought the medieval world into the modern age, and Lina brought modern art to Sao Paulo. Each invented their own unique way of displaying an object that elevated it from the everyday. The museum as a working medium, that breathes and evolves as time goes on, is evident in their work. From single moments of reflection to entire floors of open access, these pioneers of exhibition brought the modern age to meet modern art. The simple curation of pictures on walls and sculptures on pedestals will forever be complicated by their adventurous advancements. May the museum continue to adapt as much as the world around it.
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-All Images found on Google Images