In Palm Springs, Two Modern Masters

Daniel Cornell, curator at the Palm Springs Art Museum, is the hands-down winner of the 2017 A+A Award for Curiosity, Research, and Perseverance.

He gets kudos for looking into the parallels between the 20th-century careers of architects Albert Frey and Lina Bo Bardi. Frey, he discovered, had worked in Le Corbusier’s office at the time of the Villa Savoye’s creation. In Italy, Bo Bardi was simultaneously co-editing Domus with Gio Ponti.

Drawn to Frey’s philosophy, Bo Bardi referenced some of his buildings in her writings. “She actually translated verbatim into Domus Frey’s treatise on architecture and the vernacular and relationships,” Cornell says. “She translated ‘In Search of a Living Architecture,’ but replaced his drawings with her own.”

After World War II, each architect migrated to the Americas – Frey to Southern California, and Bo Bardi to Brazil. And each began to hone their modernist chops, responding to the architecture and climate of their adopted homelands.

“They were both interested in grasping the International Style that they were trained in,” he says. “Both adapted to the vernacular of their new home countries and to their training in European Bauhaus modernism.”

Inspired by his initial research into this pair of modernists, three years ago Cornell convened 12 architectural curators from the U.S, and Brazil. “We had a conversation about what kind of exhibit we could have to bring this unspoken dialog together and highlight this relationship,” he says.

The result is an exhibition that opened last week, co-curated with Bo Bardi scholar Zeuler R. Lima. It showcases a collection of 3D models, drawings, design objects and photographs surrounding four famed homes designed by the mid-century design masters: Frey II House and Aluminaire House by Frey and Casa de vidro and Cirell House by Bo Bardi.

Though the two legendary architects never met, this exhibition draws parallels between their distinct architectural styles that connect people, nature, building, living and even social contexts. “They had an affinity and this project came about because there was a really interesting relationship between them that I can’t put my finger on,” he says.

With this exhibition in Palm Springs – home of some of the best midcentury modern architecture on the planet – Cornell and Lima have defined the nature of that relationship, in a place that deserves it most.

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