CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE IN LA SPEZIA (1900-1917)
Pietro Maria Bardi was born on February 21, 1900, in La Spezia, an Italian city on the Gulf of Genoa. Second of four children, he was said to have few friends and a quite troubled school life. He dropped out of school and attributed his intelligence to a domestic accident: he said it was after a fall, in which he injured his head, that he developed a liking for reading. Pietro went on to study on his own, reading everything he could — a habit that followed him throughout his life. At the age of 17, he published, by the publishing house Avanti in Milan, the small booklet “Geremia Benthan: dei possedimenti coloniali”, about the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham. As a young man, he worked as an assistant laborer at Arsenale Marittimo and then apprenticed at a law firm. In 1917 he was called to join the Italian army and left La Spezia never to return.
BEGINNING OF A JOURNALISM CAREER IN BÉRGAMO (1917-1924)
It was at this phase that Bardi actually began his journalistic career, which he had previously explored in some articles and contributions to newspapers such as Gazzetta di Genova and the Independente. Based in Bergamo since his military career, he found work at the Giornale di Bergamo. Later, he joined the team at Popolo di Bergamo, Il Secolo, and at the expressive Corriere della Sera, in Milan. In 1923, he married Gemma Tortarolo, with whom he had two daughters, Elisa and Fiorella, and moved to Milan the following year. Writing was his main professional activity until his death; it was the vehicle he found to express his controversial style and a criticism based on deep knowledge and daily experience of architecture, art, politics, and, above all, culture.
THE GALLERIES IN MILAN (1924-1930)
It was in Milan that Bardi began his career as an art dealer and art critic, initially working in existing galleries. In 1926, he created his own space with the acquisition of Galleria dell’Esame. In 1928, he founded Galleria Bardi, in via Brera, where he presented several artists. In the same year, he launched an Art Bulletin that was edited by the gallery and, in 1929, the Belvedere, a large-format art journal that lasted 10 editions. Critics and intellectuals attended the space and his performance was in evidence. In June 1930, he moved to the Italian capital to direct Galleria d’ Arte di Roma.
THE YEARS IN ROME (1930-1946)
Self-taught, Bardi combined several work fronts in magazines and newspapers with the activities of art dealer and art gallery director, as well as critic and journalist. In Rome he had contact with artists from all over Italy and, with resourcefulness, participated in outstanding initiatives in favor of the renovation of architecture, in defense of the rationalists – in 1932 he was in Russia for the magazine Architecture d’Aujoud-hui. As an editor, a successful initiative was Quadrante magazine. The publication, created by him and Massimo Bontempelli in 1933, was one of the main vectors of the modern debate until its closure in 1937. In 1933, Bardi approached the avant-garde architects of other countries, participating in the Fourth International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM). At the end of that same year he took an exhibition of Italian architecture to Buenos Aires; it was during this trip that he visited Brazil for the first time. When returning to his country, he promoted Le Corbusier’s lectures in Rome and Milan in 1934. Between 1938 and 1943, he directed, wrote, and developed the graphic design for the monthly magazine Il Vetro, which raised questions about the application of glass in architecture and industry. In 1944, he founded the Studio d’Arte Palma, an important center for the research and sale of art, and where he met the young Lina Bo during the architect’s visit to Rome. Bardi divorced his wife and married Lina in August of 1946.
ARRIVAL IN BRAZIL AND THE FIRST EXHIBITIONS IN RIO DE JANEIRO (1946-1947)
In 1946, recently married, Bardi and Lina embarked on the adventure of coming to Brazil, a country with the prospect of prosperity in the field of arts and a promising architecture scenario. They left Genoa with a permanent destination for Brazil, aboard the freighter Almirante Jaceguay, bringing a significant collection of works of art and handicrafts, in addition to Bardi’s huge library. They arrived in Rio de Janeiro in October of the same year, and there they stayed for the first few months. With the works brought from Italy, Bardi organized the “Exhibition of ancient Italian painting” at the headquarters of the Ministry of Education and Health (currently Palácio Gustavo Capanema), in whose halls he met businessman Assis Chateaubriand, who invited him to collaboratively create the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP). In 1947, the couple moved to São Paulo – despite Lina’s preference to remain in Rio de Janeiro.
THE YEARS IN SÃO PAULO AND THE DIRECTION OF MASP (1947-1999)
In 1947, Pietro and Assis Chateaubriand, together with Lina, carried out the first installations of the museum, temporarily located at Sete de Abril Street. Pietro was designated director of MASP as early as 1947, a position he would occupy for most of the rest of his life. Until 1953, he made a series of trips to Europe and the United States to acquire works that would configure the museum’s collection. His management of the museum was pioneer in several aspects; Pietro favored the didactic character in the presentation of the works, and developed pedagogical activities such as offering courses of engraving, drawing, painting, and sculpting. He promoted temporary exhibitions of artists, an unprecedented practice in museums that is present in these institutions to this day; he also divulged new artists and established notorious names in Brazilian art. Along with marketing professionals, he created the Escola de Propaganda at MASP, now ESPM. In 1950, he founded and directed with Lina Bo Bardi the magazine Habitat, officially associated with the newly founded MASP and which defined itself as the “magazine of the arts of Brazil”. They remained directors until the magazine’s 15th edition (with the exception of numbers 10 to 13, headed by Flávio Motta). In 1951, alongside Lina, Pietro founded and directed – until 1953 – the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea, a school linked to MASP and one of the first design teaching initiatives in Brazil. In 1968, he founded the magazine Mirante das Artes, being fully responsible for its organization and editing during its 12 numbers.
8 Pietro Maria Bardi next to canvases from the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP). São Paulo, September 14, 1958
12 Pietro Maria Bardi, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the inauguration of MASP on Avenida Paulista, in 1968
14 Easels from the art gallery of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) with the work of Amedeo Modigliani on display
Throughout all his years in Brazil, he continued his activity as an essayist, critic, historian, researcher and gallery owner. In 1992, he published his 50th and last book, História do MASP. In 1990, Bardi and Lina founded the Quadrante Institute – now Instituto Bardi / Casa de Vidro, with figures such as Fábio Luiz Pereira de Magalhães, Modesto Souza Barros Carvalhosa, José Mindlin, Renato Requixa and Renato Magalhães Gouveia. According to the minutes of incorporation, Bardi declared the “advantage of establishing a private entity that can develop independently or in conjunction with the Museu de Arte de São Paulo – Assis Chateaubriand – MASP, and also with national and foreign entities, cultural activities and studies related to the history of art and architecture”. In 1996, he stepped down from his role at MASP, but remained in charge of the presidency of Instituto Bardi from the institute’s foundation until his last year of life.
Pietro Maria Bardi died in October 1999, having completed almost a century of life with a generous history and dedication to the arts, in Italy and Brazil.