An Introduction to Brazilian Modernism

Brazilian Modernism, a vibrant movement that emerged in the early 20th century, encapsulates a rich tapestry of art, architecture, literature, and design that reflects the country’s cultural diversity, socio-political landscape, and quest for identity. Although this movement evolved alongside its European and American counterparts, at its core, Brazilian Modernism sought to break away from European influences and embrace a distinctly Brazilian aesthetic, blending indigenous, African, and European elements into a unique cultural expression.

Percival Lafer MP-123 Modular Bench for
Lafer MP. Sold for $6,250

When you look at the architecture and furniture from this period in Brazil, specifically around the mid-20th century, you can’t miss their distinctive features. Even if you didn’t know it was Brazilian, the luxurious curves and natural forms often give it away, along with the choice of materials and design philosophy. 

Oscar Niemeyer (1907–2012), hailed as a pioneering figure in modernist architecture, is celebrated for his innovative designs characterised by sweeping curves and fluid forms. His architectural vision often harmonises with nature, creating structures that seem to organically emerge from their surroundings. Niemeyer gained international acclaim through his collaboration with Le Corbusier on the design of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. However, his most renowned project remains the civic buildings of Brasília, Brazil’s capital, which not only exemplify his distinctive style but also contributed to Brasília’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992), an influential Italian-Brazilian architect, designer, curator, and activist, left an indelible mark on modern architecture and design, particularly in Brazil. Immersed in Brazilian culture and landscape, Bo Bardi seamlessly integrated modernist principles with local materials, techniques, and traditions. Her iconic São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), completed in 1968, stands out for its innovative use of concrete and glass, creating a suspended structure that fosters public interaction and cultural expression—a testament to Bo Bardi’s belief in architecture’s societal role. Bo Bardi’s designs epitomise simplicity, functionality, and a profound understanding of spatial dynamics and human experience. Advocating for inclusivity and accessibility, she viewed architecture as a catalyst for social change. Beyond architecture, Bo Bardi ventured into furniture design, creating pieces that blend modern aesthetics with practicality and comfort. Often these furniture designs incorporated native Brazilian woods and leather.

The Latin America Memorial in São Paulo, Brazil. The architectural setting, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, is a monument to the cultural, political, social and economic integration of Latin America.

Percival Lafer (born 1936), a distinguished Brazilian furniture designer, gained renown for his pioneering modernist creations that seamlessly merge functionality with artistic flair. Initially trained as an architect, Lafer began making furniture in 1961. His preference for premium materials such as leather, hardwood, and metal underscores his commitment to quality and durability. He sought to create lasting designs that were accessible. Among his iconic creations is the MP-123 Modular bench, one of which sold last year through Leonard Joel for $6,250.  We are delighted to be including a three-piece MP-091 lounge suite in the April Modern Design auction.

Our Modern Design Auction will take place on Monday 8 April in Melbourne. For viewing times and to see the full catalogue please visit our website.

By Rebecca Stormont, Modern Design Specialist

Top Image (detail): The Latin America Memorial in São Paulo, Brazil. The architectural setting, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, is a monument to the cultural, political, social and economic integration of Latin America.

April 2024