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.