Exhibition Documentation

Brochure and Wall Texts from the Exhibition at SESC Pompéia, São Paulo

The Bauhaus was founded in 1919, after the First World War. The radical premise of the Bauhaus was to understand design as a social project, and to undertake a reform of art and design education.

How can we understand its mission from today’s vantage point? In the course of the twentieth century, the Bauhaus movement radiated out to many nations and cultures—how can we reflect on these diverse legacies of the movement today, especially in the light of changing world geopolitics? How can we, in the spirit of the Bauhaus, reimagine culture as a social project—and what kinds of institutions would such a project need and generate?

bauhaus imaginista presumes modernism to be an inherently cosmopolitan project, something that emerged through transcultural exchange. It explores correspondences between various reform movements worldwide that believed in art as an agent of social change and traces how each of them redefined design and arts education through the eclectic study of sources, from the avant-garde to the pre-modern. Thus, bauhaus
imaginista invites reflections on urgent questions for cultural production today: How can we imagine the necessary shift from “thinking globally” to being relevant for different cultural contexts? What is gained by thinking and acting across the divide between art and design? How can we make these insights work for art and design institutions today? Or, do we need to imagine new institutional infrastructures?

In 2018, bauhaus imaginista explores and discusses these questions with partners in eight countries. In 2019, these debates will be continued at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin. Marion von Osten and Grant Watson, artistic directors and curators of bauhaus imaginista, have developed the project with the help of an international team of researchers, artists and designers, as well as with institutional partners in Morocco, China, the United States, Japan, Russia, Brazil, Nigeria, India, and the United Kingdom.


bauhaus imaginista: Learning From 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 patterns on rugs and carpets. This small India ink drawing clearly evidences Klee’s abiding interest in the decorative arts and artwork of the non- Western cultures studied as well at the Bauhaus, where the library contained a photographic compendium of “world cultures”.

The exhibition at Sesc Pompeia, São Paulo, examines how, from the 1930s onwards, Bauhaus émigrés— including Josef and Anni Albers as well as Marguerite Wildenhain—travelled 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 in North Carolina the knowledge contained in these works came to inform aesthetic and technical innovations, such as 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 Inca culture afforded weaving. 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 rejection of the French Beaux-Arts education led to local crafts—such as Amazigh jewellery, 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 postcolonial style. The study of local, vernacular forms of handicraft, architecture, interior 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 as instructors at the time, including the painter and graphic designer Mohamed Melehi.

In Brazil, a new design school named the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea (IAC)—established by the architect Lina Bo Bardi and museum director Pietro Maria Bardi at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP)—claimed Bauhaus credentials through both its curriculum and faculty. Here, however, there was also a resistance to the hegemony of European modernism. 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 Museu de Arte Moderna in Bahia (MAM-BA), where she proposed a school similar to the IAC. These developments reflect the post-war tendency towards cultural appropriation, that turned to the cultures of marginalized groups in developing new modernist vocabularies.

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


At the end of the 1920s, Paul Klee worked on a series of ink drawings that, along with his study of Maghrebian carpet patterns, included several versions of the fantasy town “Beride”. As with his drawing Teppich (Carpet) from 1927, these townscapes incorporate the formal vocabulary of weaving into their stylistic vocabulary. While at the Bauhaus, Klee served as director of the department of free sculptural and artistic design, but from 1927 to 1930 he also taught in the weaving workshop. Analyses of weaving techniques and textiles made through using the medium of drawing abound in both Klee’s pedagogical and artistic work. The drawings from 1927 were published two years later in a Bauhaus brochure focused on weaving, shortly after Klee returned from a trip to Egypt. Both the carpet motif and the fantasy town of Beride might also refer back to a previous trip Klee took to Tunisia in 1914, in the company of his friends August Macke and Louis Moilliet, from which he returned with four watercolours by an anonymous Tunisian artist. This two-dimensional fantasy town, drawn in the style of a mosaic, became a model for Klee’s subsequent amalgamation of an urban landscape pictorial construction. Western art historians have accorded this journey to Tunisia, which consisted of a fairly standard itinerary for tourists—including a stay in the colonial-villa neighbourhood of Tunis—as having a decisive impact on Klee’s search for an abstract formal language. Tunisia and Morocco were both protectorates of France until granted independence in 1956, while Algeria remained a French colony until France’s defeat in 1962 by the Algerian National Liberation Front. The French colonial project in North Africa depended upon both the imposition of rational systems of governance as well as that of a picturesque Orientalist imaginary. The latter encouraged the European vogue for North African handicrafts and African art that was often produced specifically for tourist bazaars.


In 1962, six years after Morocco achieved independence from France, the artist Farid Belkahia became director
of the School of Fine Arts in Casablanca. At the time, the school was still governed by a French-colonial ideology based on a tradition of orientalist figuration, with very
few Moroccan students enrolled. Belkahia urged radical pedagogical change. The social, spatial and spiritual function of the arts in the Maghreb, and the rich history
of local craft production, presented an alternative body of knowledge to existing Western academic models of art education, based on the notional hierarchy between applied and non-applied arts. Asserting the need to decolonize Moroccan cultural production, the art school’s curriculum was revised by Belkahia and the artists and intellectuals teaching at the Casablanca School—including figures such as Mohamed Chabâa, Bert Flint, Toni Maraini and Mohamed Melehi. Separately and in tandem, they took up the study of North African handicraft and architectural practices, publishing papers and articles about craft, interior design and the Moroccan vernacular. They also introduced courses at the school on photography, silkscreen printing and art in the public sphere. Their aim was to use the productive friction between different bodies of knowledge to create an authentically local, egalitarian, postcolonial visual language, beyond the normative hierarchies of manual versus cognitive labour or popular versus elite culture. Belkahia and his colleague’s reformulations included an acknowledgment of the transcultural character of early modernism. In the course of devising their new Casablanca curriculum, they revisited the Bauhaus pedagogical stratagems, which had aimed to synthesize all the arts.

The Moroccan painter Ahmed Cherkaoui trained as a calligrapher before studying in Paris and Warsaw following Moroccan independence. In the early 1960s, Cherkaoui abandoned figurative painting and began working with elements drawn from Islamic calligraphy, Moroccan ceramics and the tattoo and gold work of the Amazigh. He was also influenced by the work of Roger Bissière and Paul Klee. His painting from this time deals with tactility, colour, line and form, synthesizing various surface treatments and sign systems employed by local artists and craftspeople with elements from European modernism. After his early death, Cherkaoui became a role model for an entire generation of Moroccan artists, including Farid Belkahia, who presented his works at the seminal Pan-African festivals in Dakar (1966) and Algeria (1969). In 1962, Belkahia was appointed director of the School of Fine Arts Casablanca. Together with the artists Mohamed Melehi and Mohamed Chabâa, Italian art historian Toni Maraini and Dutch ethnological researcher Bert Flint, he developed the school’s curriculum, incorporating the study of African craftsmanship, Arabic and Amazigh architecture as well as Bauhaus principles and methods. The artists Hossein Miloudi and Abdellah Hariri were both students at the school.


Fleeing Nazi persecution at the start of the Second
World War, Bauhaus-trained ceramic artist Marguerite Wildenhain immigrated to the United States. She made her way to the West Coast, eventually settling at Pond Farm, the artist colony established in the 1940s by architect Gordon Herr and his wife, the writer Jane Herr, outside the resort town of Guerneville in Northern California. Pond Farm proposed a utopian model combining artistic work, teaching, farming and communal living. In this respect, the community mirrored Black Mountain College (established in 1933 and founded on the holistic principles of the philosopher John Dewey), which also attracted Bauhaus émigrés. Wildenhain taught ceramics at the Pond Farm summer school along with other Europeans who had settled in the United States—such as the weaver Trude Guermonprez, who had studied with Benita Otte, and collage artist Jean Varda. Wildenhain continued in this role long after internal disputes led to the Pond Farm community’s disbandment. At Pond Farm Pottery, Wildenhain brought the intensity of her Bauhaus experiences to bear, insisting on a strict and rigorous process, with students throwing thousands of pots in order to acquire a feel for the clay, but forbidden from keeping samples of their work. She is remembered as an inspiring but authoritarian teacher. Pond Farm was conceived not only as a place for training in the art of crafts but also as a school for life, and while Wildenhain’s students were put through their paces in the workshop, they were also encouraged in their free time to discuss subjects ranging from the appreciation of nature to historical and contemporary philosophy.


In the 1960s, an interest in regional and vernacular architecture evolved into a type of counterculture contestation of the international modernist style that was then prevalent in the United States. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s book is an early document of this movement. Today it stands among the classic texts of architectural history and is remarkable for its prescient attention to building typologies and construction techniques, which are the outcome of different forms of social practice, and whose builders remain anonymous. They include forms of Amerindian settlement, Mexican pueblos and churches as well as barns and houses built by the first European settlers. The book highlights architecture’s role in fulfilling cultural and social needs, as well as taking into account the influence of political and climatic conditions on different building methods. Moholy- Nagy’s book was the result of several research trips undertaken between 1948 and 1952, during which she documented examples of structural typologies ignored in American universities because they were deemed banal. In her study, Moholy-Nagy focused on local buildings in North and Central America, but she also cited anonymous buildings and architectural details from the Middle Ages and German Baroque period. She argued that popular American architecture had a unique directness and did not cleave to specific styles, criticizing the canon of Euro-American architectural history, which up until then had only taken elite architecture and famous architects into account. However, in retrospect the book can be faulted for having failed to develop a critical vocabulary regarding settler colonialism, instead adopting anthropological methods informed by structuralism.


In 1933, Philip Johnson, then the curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, recommended Josef and Anni Albers as instructors at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. From here, the Albers were able to travel widely, taking research trips to Cuba, Mexico, Peru and Chile, during which they observed, documented and collected the work of pre-Columbian, as well as contemporary Indigenous cultures—a world they had only interacted with previously through books and museum collections. In the summer of 1935, they made the first of 14 trips to Mexico, commenting that here, art was everywhere. These Latin American travels had a profound impact on their work and teaching practice. They returned to Black Mountain with many examples of Indigenous handicraft, notably for an exhibition of Mayan art in 1937 and for the Harriet Engelhardt Memorial Collection, assembled by Anni Albers as a teaching collection. The couple admired the complex abstraction they discovered in Native and pre-Columbian art, which in the early twentieth century had become the subject of keen interest to the artistic avant-gardes. In the interplay between figure and ground, the rhythms and repetitions of Andean textiles, as well as in the façades of ancient archaeological sites, they discerned an aesthetic sensibility of extreme relevance to modern art and design. Photographs and collages by Josef Albers also testify to this: for example, in his pictures of terracotta figures, removed from their museum vitrines, and set against a neutral ground and dramatically lit, Albers is interpolating these ancient objects, as he perceived it, into a vital modernist present.


The various research projects on Amerindian craft, undertaken by artists and designers who emerged out of the Bauhaus context, did not initially raise questions regarding authorship and self-representation. In anthropology, however, the critique of unequal appropriation and description was already undergoing a process of negotiation. This process is expressed in a 1966 film project by Sol Worth and John Adair. The two filmmakers instructed residents of the Pine Springs Navajo reservation in Arizona on the basis of filmmaking, in order that they themselves could depict their own culture. Collected under the overall title Navajo Film Themselves, these short films—with titles such as “Intrepid Shadows” by Al Clah, “The Navajo Silversmith” and “The Shallow Well Project” by Johnny Nelson, “Old Antelope Lake” by Mike Anderson, “The Spirit of t he Navajos” by Maxine and Mary Tsosie and “A Navajo Weaver” by Susie Benally—document a variety of spiritual and artisanal practices. In the film presented here, “The Second Weaver”, Susie Benally instructs her mother on how to use a movie camera so that she can film Benally weaving a belt. All of these films were originally screened and discussed on the reservation. After the project, Worth and Adair published the book Through Navajo Eyes, establishing a new relationship between the documentation of indigenous cultural practice and its written analysis.


The fiber art movement, which emerged both in the US and internationally during the 1960s, refers to artists working with textile materials—weaving off the loom, but also using knotting techniques, braiding, wrapping and crochet. Their ambition was to see textiles afforded the same status as painting and sculpture, and considered a form of creative expression freed from utility. American “fiber artists” in particular owed a debt to the Bauhaus. While the school’s weaving workshop had turned increasingly to function, rejecting the “pictures made from wool” of the Weimar period, the emphasis placed on material and structure, the system instituted for teaching and textual analysis—as well as the professed equality of the arts and crafts—was considered an important precedent. Bauhaus weaving collections were also available in American museums and, significantly, many fiber artists trained with Bauhaus teachers, including Lenore Tawney (with Marli Ehrman at the Institute of Design in Chicago), Sheila Hicks (with Josef and Anni Albers at Yale in Connecticut) and Anne Wilson and Key Sekimachi (both of whom studied with Trude Guermonprez at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California). Fiber artists like Bauhaus weavers before them responded to a diffused notion of world textile cultures exemplified by Anni Albers’ book, On Weaving. Dedicated to “my great teachers, the weavers of Peru”, Albers, along with the younger generation turned in particular to the textile traditions of the Incas for not only their technical brilliance but also the high social value afforded weaving in the Inca civilisation, in contrast to its place within their own culture.


In 1927, Hannes Meyer, already known as an important architect of the Neues Bauen (New building) movement, was invited by Bauhaus director Walter Gropius to head the newly established “building” department at the Bauhaus in Dessau. In April 1928, having been appointed as the second Bauhaus director, he immediately introduced new course subjects related to technology, natural science and the humanities, in order to better meet the requirements of an egalitarian social ideal. Two years later, he was dismissed from his position—a result of Germany’s increasingly conservative and nationalistic ideological climate. Together with a group of Bauhaus graduates, including the weaver Lena Bergner, he travelled to Moscow at the invitation of the Soviet government. Meyer and Bergner lived and worked in the Soviet Union from 1930 to 1936, returning to Switzerland after the direction of the Stalinist regime became clear. In 1939, the couple moved on to Mexico, where Meyer became the head of Mexico City’s urban planning office, while Lena Bergner worked as a weaver for different local educational organizations, also developing new planning schemes for rural and urban schools. In 1942, the couple founded the publishing house La Estampa Mexicana to disseminate the work of the graphic arts collective Taller de Gráfica Popular.


Similar to other “militant modernist” publications that flourished at that time, Habitat – the arts and design magazine
edited by architect Lina Bo Bardi in 1950 – not only propagated images of modern art and architecture, but also images of popular and indigenous cultures, introducing its audience to the vocabulary of modernism and vernacular and native forms of cultural expression at the same time. This project investigates the ways in which images of indigenous arts and crafts were framed by the aesthetic language of Habitat. It mobilizes a series of design strategies based on re-appropriation, collage and re-placing – procedures that were central to the graphic language of Habitat – to interrogate the context from which these images emerged as signifiers of modernity in the magazine’s pages, exposing how Habitat itself, by virtue of its pedagogic language and visual design, functioned as framing device concealing that context
and its inherent colonial structure.


Lina Bo Bardi was an Italian-Brazilian architect, exhibition designer and editor of journals such as Domus and Habitat. After moving to Brazil in 1946, when she conceived the Museum of Art of São Paulo (MASP) together with Pietro Maria Bardi, her husband and first director of the Museum, she was formally involved in two education projects attached to the museums in which she was a key figure.

The Instituto de Arte Contemporânea (IAC) at the MASP, active from 1951 to 1953, extended the work of the museum, bringing European Modernism to audiences and introducing the structured curriculum of an industrial design training. Exhibitions at the museum included one of Thonet chairs, the work of Max Bill, Le Corbusier and Alexander Calder, as well as “Vitrine das Formas” (Showcase of Forms) aimed at reorienting and updating Brazilian taste. The school, which grew out of a perceived lack of design expertise, intended to train industrial designers as specialists within
the formal discipline of modernism, using experimental techniques similar to the Bauhaus preliminary course, research in design specialisms, and aiming to establish links to industry as well as to maintain connections to an international avant-garde. The IAC was not financially sustainable and closed. Bo Bardi as director of the Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia (MAM-BA), in 1962, conceived of a second school the Escola de Desenho Industrial e Artesanato. Her ideas for this school sought to integrate modernist industrial design with artisan production, as well as to document the popular craft cultures of the Northeast. It was a turn away from European examples and an acknowledgement of the subsistence technologies, powerful aesthetics and cultural presence of the non-affluent communities of Brazil. Bo Bardi’s Bahia School also resonated with the progressive ideas of educator Anísio Teixeira who conceived Escola Parque (also represented in this exhibition).


The art school of the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (MAM RJ) was established in 1952, led by Ivan Serpa, who gave classes for both children and adults— including artists who would go on to form the Grupo Frente (1954–57) and later the neo-concrete movement (1959–61). Writer and critic Mário Pedrosa described the “experimental” character of these classes, but the fact this experimentation was structured through study of colour, materials, technique and composition has encouraged art historian Adele Nelson to claim Serpa’s teaching method was substantially based on the Bauhaus preliminary course. This link is identified also in comments made by the director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Alfred Barr, about the work of artists in the 4th São Paulo Biennial (1957), which he described as being merely “Bauhaus experiments”. Also noteworthy were efforts to create an art school at MAM RJ, based on the Hochschule für Gestaltung (Institute of Design, HfG) in Ulm, Germany (1953–68)—the Escola Técnica de Criação (ETC)—an initiative that would later influence the foundation of the Escola Superior de Desenho Industrial (School of Industrial Design) in Rio de Janeiro in 1963.


The Bauhaus was an innovative school for architecture, art, and design that existed for fourteen years. Founded in Weimar in 1919, it relocated for political reasons to Dessau in 1925 and to Berlin in 1932, where it was closed by the Nazis in 1933. In spite of its short existence, the school forged a new pedagogy in which students were learning with and from materials to meet new societal needs after the catastrophe of World War I. The focus of teaching and learning at the Bauhaus was less on individual works of art than on building processes and the collaborative efforts they require. Bauhaus teachers and students were radically rethinking life, society, and the everyday world for a new design ethos. In refusing to accepting seemingly given certainties and traditions, the Bauhaus tried to overcome the division between fine arts and crafts. Under its three directors – Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – the school continuously developed new ideas. Teachers and students actively participated in international modernist networks and migrated to various parts of the world after the school was closed. Bauhaus methods and ideas continue to be adapted and translated internationally.

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