●Edition 1: Learning From
Oct. 24 2018–Jan. 6 2019

bauhaus imaginista: Learning From, São Paulo

  • SESC Pompéia São Paulo
  • R. Clélia, 93 - Pompeia, São Paulo - SP, 05042-000, Brazil

Anne Wilson, Disintegration Grid, detail, 1975, Paper rush, raffia, Courtesy of Anne Wilson and Rhona Hoffman Gallery.

bauhaus imaginista: Learning From at the SESC Pompeia in São Paulo (Brazil) explores the role played by cultural appropriation during the time of the historical Bauhaus, as well as in the school’s subsequent legacy. These are detailed in three different histories of the international reception of the Bauhaus. As its point of departure, the exhibition takes Paul Klee’s 1927 drawing Teppich (Carpet), which references traditional Maghrebi carpet patterns. This small India ink drawing displays clear evidence of Klee’s abiding interest in the decorative arts and artwork of non-Western cultures studied at the Bauhaus, in who’s library could be found a photographic compendium of “world cultures.”

Photograph from the archive of Hannes Meyer from his time in the Soviet Union, undated, © Hannes-Meyer-Archiv, Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt am Main.

bauhaus imaginista: Learning From shows how from the 1940s onwards Bauhaus emigres, including Josef and Anni Albers, and Marguerite Wildenhain, traveled throughout the Americas observing, documenting and collecting handicrafts produced by pre-Columbian and contemporary indigenous cultures. Brought back to progressive institutions such as Black Mountain College, the knowledge contained in these works came to inform aesthetic and technical innovations, particularly in the development of fiber art within the sphere of textile production and design. Anni Albers and her fellow weavers, including a younger generation of “fiber artists,” looked to Peruvian textiles in particular, due to their technical brilliance and the high social value afforded weaving in Inca culture. Interest in vernacular handicraft, as well as architectural typologies, is also evident in photographic studies undertaken by Hannes Meyer and Lena Bergner during their time in Mexico, where a resurgent interest in popular and pre-Columbian forms of expression intersected with social-revolutionary ideas.

This turn to the vernacular and to handicrafts was politicized in post-independence Morocco, where the early 1960s rejections of the French Beaux-Arts led to local crafts such as Amazigh jewelry, rugs, ceramics and murals becoming elevated in the estimation of Moroccan artists, who set out to develop modes of contemporary art and design embodying a post-colonial style. The study of local, vernacular forms of handicraft, architecture, design and picture-making were integrated into the curriculum of the School of Fine Arts in Casablanca, where they were cross-referenced with elements of Bauhaus pedagogy by a group of young artists serving then as instructors, including the painter and graphic designer Mohamed Melehi.

In Brazil, a new design school named the Institute of Contemporary Art (IAC)—established by the architect Lina Bo Bardi at Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)—claimed Bauhaus credentials through both its curriculum and faculty. But the hegemony of European modernism was also resisted. A perceived need to formulate a specifically Brazilian aesthetic led Bo Bardi to study the innovative potential of cultural production within Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous groups, particularly after Bo Bardi began running the Museum of Modern Art in Bahia, where she set up a school similar to the IAC. These developments reflect the post-war interest in cultural appropriation, which turned to the cultures of marginalized groups in developing new modernist vocabularies.

Through a wide range of artworks, artifacts, films, documentary material and new artistic commissions, the exhibition at SESC brings these disparate histories together. The accompanying discursive program was developed with the specific intention of interrogating these histories, which share in common the cultural logic of appropriation, the extensive borrowing by Western artists from Indigenous and Mestizo cultures. These “borrowings” were detached from their original context at a time when these cultures, Brazil’s Indigenous people for example, witnessed their traditional way of life threatened and destroyed by processes of administrative and economic modernization, and neo-colonial aggression.

Richard Chalfen, Film-maker Alta Kahn while shooting Navajo Film Themselves, 1966, Film still, Courtesy of Penn Museum Archive / © Richard Chalfen.

●Related Articles
Common Threads — Approaches to Paul Klee’s Carpet of 1927

Paul Klee’s Carpet, 1927, creates a conundrum for scholars as it does not neatly fit the existing theoretical models concerning how European artists engage with non-Western art and culture, while at the same time opening up exciting new avenues for inquiry. → more

Teko Porã — On Art and Life

Cristine Takuá is an indigenous philosopher, educator, and artisan who lives in the village of Rio Silveira, state of São Paulo, Brazil. She was invited to present a contemporary perspective on questions and tensions raised by interactions between the indigenous communities and the mainstream art system, as well as to address Brazil’s specific social and political context. → more