Ivan Serpa, Lygia Clark, and the Bauhaus in Brazil

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 (1954–56) 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 color, materials, technique and composition has encouraged art historian Adele Nelson to claim Serpa’s teaching method was substantially based on the Bauhaus preliminary course.

On seeing the recent Brazilian works on view as a juror at the fourth Bienal de São Paulo (São Paulo Biennial) in 1957, Alfred H. Barr Jr. notoriously characterized them as “Bauhaus exercises” and mere “diagrams.”1 The prominent display at the exhibition of geometric abstract works by Lygia Clark, Waldemar Cordeiro, Hermelindo Fiaminghi, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Pape, Luiz Sacilotto, Franz Weissmann and others were undoubtedly the target of Barr’s dismissal of Brazilian contemporary art.2 Instantly controversial in Brazil, the remark was understood, then as now, as a dismissal of Brazilian abstract art as a latter-day, derivative replay of early-20th-century innovations in European modernism—by none other than the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.3 Certainly, he was not wrong to identify the German school and its philosophy of design as an important reference for Brazilian artists—a relationship underscored by the biennial’s special exhibition dedicated to the Bauhaus. What he failed to recognize or value were the ways artists in Brazil were engaged not in a project of imitation but of transformation. Barr’s comments also make clear that the claims on the history of European modernism made by artists working in developing nations were placed in a particular context of contestation. Engagement with Bauhaus ideas at both the institutional and individual levels proved a key forum for Brazilian actors of the 1950s to articulate tactics of citation and adaptation, asserting different non-derivative, radical conceptions of modernism.4

Two art schools that opened their doors in the early 1950s, at the recently established museums in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, were key interlocutors in this complex negotiation of claims on the German school and its pedagogy made by the emerging Brazilian postwar avant-garde. The first, the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea (Institute of Contemporary Art, IAC) at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (Museum of Art of São Paulo, MASP), was inaugurated by MASP director Pietro Maria Bardi in 1951, with architect Jacob Ruchti serving as a key teacher. The second was the art school of the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro, MAM RJ), which opened in 1952 with the artist Ivan Serpa as lead teacher. Both schools were short-lived in their original configuration, with the IAC lasting less than three years in its original form and Serpa’s courses at MAM RJ suspended upon his departure on an extended visit to Europe in 1958.5 What each school originally offered was instruction grounded in nonobjective abstraction and an emphasis on instruction in the history of modern art—alternatives to the training oriented by naturalism, Expressionism, and Cubism at Rio’s Escola Nacional de Belas Artes (National School of Fine Arts, ENBA), São Paulo’s Liceu de Artes e Ofícios (School of Arts and Crafts), and other private schools in both cities. In what follows, I examine the curricula of the school of the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, highlighting the important roles of certain thinkers and teachers, including Serpa and Mário Pedrosa, as well as works by artists trained at the school. I conclude with an analysis of the series of paintings by Lygia Clark that were partially the object of Barr’s comments. I argue that far from being “exercises,” the pedagogy and practice these artists and thinkers created reveal how the Bauhaus served as a crucial point of both avowal and disavowal for the emerging Brazilian avant-garde and its supporters, one which they used to establish connections to European modernism, assert a basis of art-making in nonobjective abstraction, and develop an ethos of research and materially grounded experimentation.

Ivan Serpa, Pintura nº 178, 1957.
Private Collection, photo: Jaime Acioli.

Ivan Serpa at the Museu De Arte Moderna do Rio De Janeiro

Just as IAC sought to train designers via drawing, MAM RJ similarly distanced itself from the notion of educating “fine artists.” In the latter’s case, the archetypal student was not the designer of posters and products but a child, paintbrush in hand, dressed in a smock. According to Pedrosa, the considerable attention that Serpa, the museum’s first teacher, devoted to instructing children was a testament to the larger role he believed art education should play in a democratic society.6 And in contrast to Bardi and Ruchti’s efforts to position IAC as a Brazilian successor to the Bauhaus, the teachers at MAM RJ did not purport to share a unified approach. Local artists taught a range of courses at the museum, but it was the painting classes for children and adults taught by Serpa which captured the popular and critical imagination of his contemporaries, providing an identity for the new school.7 Having won the prize for best painting by a young Brazilian artist at the first Biennial in 1951, Serpa had a reputation as both an emerging abstract artist and a children’s art instructor.8 At MAM RJ, he taught a number of ascendant abstract artists, many of whom, including Aluísio Carvão and Helio Oiticica, would soon fill the ranks of the mid-1950s avant-garde group Grupo Frente (Front Group) and, later, the Neo-Concrete movement.9

Contemporary commentators, historians and also Serpa himself often discussed his pedagogy in terms of its openness to experimentation and freedom of expression.10 While this is not inaccurate—a hallmark of Serpa’s teaching was his mentoring of both figurative and abstract artists—such a rhetorical focus has overshadowed a more nuanced account of his approach. Moreover, the vision of Serpa’s classroom as a self-directed, unstructured space does not account for the rigorous study of geometry, color, and materials clearly evident in the work of students enrolled in his painting class for adults, nor for the degree to which Serpa’s instruction was informed by Bauhaus pedagogy. If the IAC’s relationship to the Bauhaus was overdetermined, Serpa’s incorporation of Bauhaus techniques within his teaching at MAM RJ is a conspicuous blind spot in both contemporaneous and historical accounts.

Mário Pedrosa, Serpa’s most vocal advocate and interpreter, largely set the parameters for our understanding of the artist’s teaching through texts penned from the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. In Crescimento e criação (Growth and Creation), the book-length publication he produced together with Serpa in 1954, Pedrosa emphasized that the artist combined a focus on experimentation with instruction in technical and compositional know-how, arguing that Serpa countered “academic preconceptions” while at the same time improving his students’ ability to manipulate materials and organize forms and marks within a composition.11 When addressing Serpa’s instruction of children, Pedrosa cast the teacher as an educator-cum-social reformer participating in an international reimagining of youth education.12 At the international level, the intellectual context for this valorization of the creativity of children included the development-oriented discourse of organizations like the United Nations and UNESCO, and conceptions of “visual thinking” put forward by early and mid-twentieth-century pedagogues and psychologists, including Rudolf Arnheim, who Pedrosa discussed at length in Crescimento e criação. In Brazil and, specifically, within Serpa and Pedrosa’s milieu, Serpa’s classroom was understood to stand alongside the studio that the artist Almir Mavignier established in 1946 for psychiatrist Nise da Silveira’s psychiatric patients at the Centro Psiquiátrico Nacional Pedro II (commonly referred to as Engenho de Dentro, for the neighborhood in which it was located) as a model for re-orientating a received understanding of creativity. According to Pedrosa, art and creativity were, “universal acquisitions” rather than the exclusive domain of artists.13

It is noteworthy that Pedrosa elected to understand Serpa’s pedagogical approach in relation to Arnheim and theories of visual perception rather than suggesting parallels with the interests in the creativity of children, the mentally ill and outsiders evinced by Surrealists, members of the Bauhaus, or the likes of Jean Dubuffet. This was not for lack of knowledge or contact—in fact, he was related to Surrealist poet Benjamin Péret by marriage and participated in art-critical circles in France, Germany and the United States, residing in the latter two countries intermittently in the late 1920s through the mid-1940s.14 Pedrosa’s larger intellectual project, one devoted to an inclusive conception of modernism oriented around the art of non-artists and the need to provide a place for “autochthonous resistance to international taste,” as well as his skepticism toward what he saw as a misconstrual of Bauhaus principles (Klee’s ideas in particular) as a basis for “solipsistic self-absorption” among gestural abstract artists and their champions, made it unlikely that he would assert a one-to-one lineage between Serpa’s teaching and the Bauhaus.15

In addition to Pedrosa’s resistance to situating Serpa’s pedagogical philosophy in relation to the Bauhaus or other European modernist reference points, Max Bill’s presence in Brazilian artistic discussions of the early 1950s—dating back to the retrospective dedicated to the artist with which MASP opened its doors in March of 1951 and, in particular, the debates around his controversial visit to Brazil in May and June of 1953—was an additional reason Pedrosa found claiming a Bauhaus lineage for Serpa’s pedagogy a decidedly unattractive option. Bill’s lectures at MAM RJ in 1953 are best known for the scandal his critique of Brazilian architecture caused in the local artistic and architectural communities.16 Yet, he also spoke at length about his plans for the new Bauhaus in Ulm, Germany (Hochschule für Gestaltung—Institute of Design, HfG), which would teach its first classes in August of that year.17 Bill acknowledged the significance of early Bauhaus instruction, particularly the teachings of Kandinsky and Klee, but in his remarks he was more critical of that early pedagogy than in contemporaneous publications (where he emphasized Ulm’s direct descent from the historical Bauhaus).18 In Rio, Bill made clear that he understood the approach at HfG to represent an advancement over what he viewed as Kandinsky’s and Klee’s more rudimentary, less scientific theories. The interpretation of the Bauhaus that Bill put forward thus differed significantly from the interests of Serpa, Pedrosa and their cohort of artists and thinkers, for whom consideration of the mathematically oriented practices of a mid-century artist like Bill in no way offered a rationale for no longer thinking about the work of Kandinsky, Klee, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and other early twentieth-century figures, as well as the artistic work of children, untrained artists, and the mentally ill.

Although it does not appear that Serpa followed a structured curriculum comparable to that of IAC or even some of his fellow teachers at MAM RJ, Paulo Herkenhoff, Mari Carmen Ramírez and Irene V. Small have demonstrated that he led his adult students in explorations of nonobjective abstraction, focusing on color theory, the application of materials and modern art history—requiring his pupils to complete an extensive number of works, often involving the serial investigation of form and color.19 The experimental and abstract studies of color, material and form taught in various iterations of the Bauhaus preliminary course were, undoubtedly, the source of many if not all of the exercises Serpa employed. Ramírez has noted, for example, that albums containing material and texture experiments displayed at the Grupo Frente exhibition of 1955 (the second of four the group organized during its existence) were likely an outgrowth of Serpa’s classroom,20 while Pedrosa described the albums as “containing the most varied experiments with textures, with every sort of material from bobbin lace and typewriter letter keys to cheap wrapping paper”—an account that distinctly recalls the texture and material studies that made up part of the Bauhaus preliminary course.21

Grupo Frente’s material experimentation was not confined to the collectively executed notebooks, a fact on display at the group’s 1955 exhibition. Hélio Oiticica and his brother César Oiticica, who studied with Serpa in 1954 and possibly in early 1955, exhibited mixed media works, including experimental prints by Hélio composed of carbon paper impressions and gouache on cardboard, which involved the artist running an iron over elements of the composition.22 Carvão, who commenced studying with Serpa in 1953, included a medium-format suspended sculpture constructed of thin, painted slats of wood that resembled a mass of stacked matchboxes in various states of disassembly.23 Members of the group who had not studied with Serpa also contributed to the panoply of materials on display. Abraham Palatnik showed furniture and Pape and Clark, in addition to woodcuts and paintings, exhibited, respectively, jewelry and architectural maquettes.24

Hélio Oiticica, Grupo Frente, 1955, Carbon copy and gouache on cardboard, 30.5 x 40.8 cm.
César and Claudio Oiticica collection.

Pedrosa interpreted the Grupo Frente notebooks, as well as the new material study evident in the individual artists’ practice, as being foundational for the creation of an enlightened form of design and art suitable to an industrialized society while being on a par with medieval handicraft.25 The analogy between the modern and the medieval is reminiscent of Gropius’s conception of the Bauhaus as a “new guild of craftsmen” in the mode of medieval stone mason lodges.26 Pedrosa’s larger proposal that the group share not a style but an ethos of disciplined and ethical experimentation, described as “the freedom of creation,” was grounded in his observation of Serpa’s classroom.27 Without evoking the Bauhaus, the vision Pedrosa proposed of an ethical, experimental postwar avant-garde nevertheless corresponded with elements of the Cold War reinterpretation of the German school: both share an understanding of creativity as a wellspring of humanism and an optimistic enthusiasm for the social efficacy of a non-objective, abstract artistic training linked to industrial production. Where the two depart is that Pedrosa, as a Trotskyite and committed political activist, believed art must engage society: he viewed the materially grounded conception of art forged by Grupo Frente as revolutionary.

Lygia Clark, Planes in Modulated Surface 4, 1957. New Digitale (1)(A) York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Formica and industrial paint on wood, 99.7 x 99.7 cm. Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros through the Latin American and Caribbean Fund in honor of Kathy Fuld. Acc. n.: 205.2008.© 2019. Digital image, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence; © O Mundo de Lygia Clark-Associação Cultural, Rio de Janeiro.

Lygia Clark and the Fourth São Paulo Biennial

Among the works on display at the fourth São Paulo Biennial (1957) were a selection of low-relief paintings from Clark’s Planos em superfície modulada (Planes in Modulated Surface), a series of preparatory drawings and paintings Clark produced between 1954 and 1958. Clark employed materials and methods that were, at first glance, easily understood: industrial paint, plywood and airbrush. Upon closer examination, however, the work’s unusual construction comes into focus—namely actual gaps introduced between the different elements of the painting. What first appear to be hand-drawn, ruler-aided compositions—equivalents to Josef Albers’s crisply rendered and incised engravings on laminated plastic from 1949–58, entitled Structural Constellations—are, in fact, assemblages that retain the jigsaw puzzle character of their preparatory collages and foretell the articulation of three-dimensional space found in Clark’s hinged sculptures of a few years later.

The relationship between Clark’s own work and Albers’s was widely commented on at the time by both artist and critics. Pedrosa, in particular, contested critics who viewed Clark’s works as indistinguishable from that of Albers. While noting the importance of “the old Bauhaus master” to the Brazilian artist’s recent series, Pedrosa underscored the innovation of the Planos em superfície modulada, writing, “Lygia’s current painting reveals space to us as composed of vectors that allow us to have a phenomenologically affective rather than a purely sensorial awareness of it.” 28 Whereas space in Albers’s works and the consequent viewing experience remained solely optical, Clark integrated real space via the grooves within her paintings, thereby creating a tangible experience of space.29 Clark emphasized her interest in both the ambiguous multidimensional space Albers created in his Structural Constellations, as well as her own integration of “external space” in the Planos em superfície modulada.30 Clark and critic Ferreira Gullar would later understand the phenomenological orientation expressed in this series as foundational to the conception of Neo-Concretism.31

An equally radical component of Clark’s series, however, is how the artist points to the sequential variation of geometric forms—a key operation of Bauhaus pedagogy as practiced by Albers and others—only to then undermine the expectation of a mappable sequence or formal evolution.32 In early texts, Clark criticized work, including her earlier production, that depended on “serial form,” arguing that the pieces she began in 1957 operated differently.33 Clark assembled differently scaled geometric shapes of sundry types (triangles, trapezoids, rectangles, squares, parallelograms) into medium to large format compositions of largely black, white and gray. The result is a group of pieces ranging from sparse near monochromes to dense, multifaceted geometric patterns. She also produced pairs of works that share identical compositions yet differed in dimension or palette. For example, she created slightly smaller but otherwise indistinguishable versions of several works, as in Planos em superfície modulada no. 5. As signaled by a myriad of seemingly simple, readily legible formal alterations in the series, Clark built the operation of repetition into her practice, marking repetition as an act not of imitation but transformation.

Leah Dickerman has argued that “experience, not knowledge, was the Bauhaus watchword,” and Eva Díaz has traced how “the rhetoric of experiment” was central to the reception of the Bauhaus by artists in the context of the United States.34 Pedrosa articulated a nexus of terms—freedom and creation, ethics and discipline—for pedagogical and artistic activities of the 1950s that point to the high societal stakes of art-making at midcentury in Brazil. Pedrosa’s best-known slogan for the Brazilian avant-garde—“the experimental exercise of freedom”—belies an unspoken relationship in Brazilian interpretations of Bauhaus ideas.35 The expression dates to 1967, but its origins lie in what Pedrosa saw as the productive tension between instruction and experimentation in Serpa’s pedagogy. Upon the continuum of experience, experiment and experimentation, Brazilian thinkers and artists positioned themselves as inheritors and usurpers of European modernism. By 1959 the Neo-Concrete movement would declare that artists operating in a developing nation more completely fulfilled the ideas and praxis of the historical avant-garde than did earlier European artists. In the early and mid-1950s, by contrast, Clark and other Brazilian abstract artists maintained an active tension between inheritance and usurpation in their works. The potential for misrecognition-as-derivation implicit in series like Planos em superfície modulada was, and is, a vital entry point into midcentury Brazilian artists’ tactics of citation and adaptation as well as their critical relationship with modernism.

  • 1 C.A.: “Conversa com Alfred Barr Jr.,” O Estado de São Paulo, 28 September 1957, Suplemento literário, p. 7. Unless otherwise noted, translations are mine.
  • 2 IV Bienal do Museu de Arte Moderna de S. Paulo: Catálogo geral, Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, São Paulo 1957, pp. 58–70, 73–81.
  • 3 For analysis of the reaction to Barr’s remark in Brazil, see Ana Cândida de Avelar: “Controversies of a Juror: Alfred Barr Jr at the 4th São Paulo Bienal,” Third Text 26, No. 1, January 2012, pp. 29–39.
  • 4 Mário Pedrosa identified a “radical attitude” toward modernism among Brazilian postwar artists as well as Alexander Calder and Paul Klee, artists he saw as models for young Brazilian artists. See Adele Nelson: “Radical and Inclusive: Mário Pedrosa’s Modernism,” in Glória Ferreira and Paulo Herkenhoff (eds.): Mário Pedrosa: Primary Documents, Museum of Modern Art, New York; Duke University Press, Durham, NC 2015, pp. 35–43. Sérgio B. Martins and Irene V. Small use the notions of hijacking and destabilization, respectively, in their analysis of the Brazilian avant-garde’s relationship to modernism. See Sérgio B. Martins: Constructing an Avant-Garde: Art in Brazil 1949–1979, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 2013, p. 2; and Irene V. Small: “Pigment Pur and the Corpo da Côr: Post-Painterly Practice and Transmodernity,” October, No. 152, Spring 2015, pp. 82–102.
  • 5 On the closure of the IAC in late 1953, see Alexandre Wollner: Design visual 50 anos, Cosac & Naify, São Paulo 2003, p. 72; and Ethel Leon: “IAC, Instituto de Arte Contemporânea: Escola de desenho industrial do MASP (1951–1953),” M.A. thesis, Universidade de São Paulo, 2006, pp. 67–70, pp. 158–78. On Serpa’s European travels, see Vera Beatriz Siqueira: “Insistently Current,” in Fabiana Werneck Barcinski et al. (eds.): Ivan Serpa, Silvia Roesler; Instituto Cultural The Axis, Rio de Janeiro 2003, pp. 169–75. The IAC was reestablished temporarily in 1957.
  • 6 Mário Pedrosa: “A força educatora da arte” (1947), in Otília Arantes (ed.): Mário Pedrosa, Textos escolhidos: Vol. 2. Forma e percepção estética, Edusp, São Paulo 1996, pp. 61–62. For an interpretation of MAM RJ’s education program in light of discourses of democracy, see Aleca Le Blanc: “Tropical Modernisms: Art and Architecture in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Southern California, 2011, pp. 180–232.
  • 7 Serpa began teaching courses at MAM RJ on 10 May 1952, and his classes in the early 1950s included painting classes for children and adults as well as a theory of painting course. See “Artes plásticas: Aulas de desenho e pintura,” Correio da Manhã, 9 May 1952, p. 7; and Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro 1967, n.p.
  • 8 Serpa had taught children’s art classes at his home since 1947. Siqueira: “Insistently Current,” p. 159.
  • 9 When Grupo Frente first exhibited in 1954, five of its eight members had studied with Serpa. By 1955, ten of its fifteen members were Serpa’s former or current students.
  • 10 See, for example, “Pincel e calças curtas: O que é e como funciona a escolinha de Ivan Serpa—Horário sem rigidez e nenhuma obrigação—Criança, artista inato,” Tribuna da Imprensa, 29 May 1954, folder MAM-Cursos, 1954 (hereafter Cursos 1954), Acervo Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (hereafter Acervo MAM RJ); Siqueira: “Insistently Current”; and Hélio Márcio Dias Ferreira: “Ivan Serpa, Artist-Educator,” in Barcinski: Ivan Serpa, pp. 201–7.
  • 11 Mário Pedrosa and Ivan Serpa, Crescimento e criação (Rio de Janeiro, 1954), reprinted as Mário Pedrosa: “Crescimento e criação,” in Pedrosa: Textos escolhidos, Vol. 2, p. 72.
  • 12 Mário Pedrosa: “Arte infantil” (1952), in Pedrosa: Textos escolhidos, Vol. 2, pp. 63–70; and Pedrosa: “Crescimento e criação,” pp. 71–80.
  • 13 Mário Pedrosa: “The Vital Need for Art” (1947), trans. in Ferreira and Herkenhoff: Mário Pedrosa, p. 105.
  • 14 He also lived in Paris later in his life, and in Belgium and Switzerland as an adolescent.
  • 15 Mário Pedrosa: “A Bienal de cá para lá” (1970), in Lorenzo Mammi (ed.): Mário Pedrosa, Arte: Ensaios, Cosac Naify, São Paulo 2015, pp. 489, 491. See also Nelson: “Radical and Inclusive,” pp. 35–43.
  • 16 Bill visited Brazil twice in 1953, in May and June (when he lectured at MAM RJ) and in December (when he served on the jury of the second Biennial). For analysis of Bill’s widely covered criticisms of Brazilian architecture, see Valerie Fraser: Building the New World: Studies in the Modern Architecture of Latin America, 1930–1960, Verso, London 2000, pp. 252–55; and Le Blanc: “Palmeiras and Pilotis,” pp. 103–5.
  • 17 See “Artes plásticas: A conferência de Max Bill,” Correio da Manhã, 31 May 1953, p. 11; “Artes plásticas: Max Bill esclarece pontos de vista e desfaz mal entenidos (I),” Correio da Manhã, 7 June 1953, p. 11; and “Max Bill: Visita ao Brasil do famoso escultor modernista,” Boletim do Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, no. 9, July 1953, pp. 5–6, 8.
  • 18 See, for example, Max Bill: “The Bauhaus Idea from Weimar to Ulm,” Architects’ Year Book 5, 1953, pp. 29–32. Bill also sharply distinguished HfG and the Bauhaus in private correspondence in 1953. See Nicola Pezolet: “Bauhaus Ideas: Jorn, Max Bill, and Reconstruction Culture,” October, no. 141, Summer 2012, pp. 100–1.
  • 19 Paulo Herkenhoff: “Rio de Janeiro: A Necessary City,” in Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro (ed.): The Geometry of Hope: Latin American Abstract Art from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection, Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, Austin 2007, pp. 56–57; Mari Carmen Ramírez: “The Embodiment of Color—‘From the Inside Out,’” in Mari Carmen Ramírez (ed.): Hélio Oiticica: The Body of Color, Tate, London 2007, pp. 35–36; and Irene V. Small: “Hélio Oiticica and the Morphology of Things,” Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 2008, 46n22.
  • 20 Ramírez: “The Embodiment of Color,” p. 35, 71n43. To the best of my knowledge, researchers have not located the Grupo Frente notebooks. I believe, however, the albums are partially visible in an installation view held by Acervo MAM RJ: Pasta de fotografias: MAM EXP: 29 “Grupo Frente,” Arquivo Fotográfico, Acervo MAM RJ.
  • 21 Mário Pedrosa: “Grupo Frente” (1955), trans. in Ramírez: “The Embodiment of Color,” 71n43.
  • 22 See Adele Nelson: “There is No Repetition: Hélio Oiticica’s Early Practice” in Lynn Zelevansky et al. (eds.): Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium, Prestel, Munich 2016, pp. 43–56.
  • 23 Eric Baruch, Alusío Carvão, João José da Silva Costa, Elisa Martins da Silveira, et al. to MAM RJ, 5 January 1954, folder Cursos 1954, Acervo MAM RJ; “Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, matrículas dos cursos” (1954), folder Cursos 1954, Acervo MAM RJ; “Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, matrículas dos cursos (segundo semestre)” (1954), folder Cursos 1954, Acervo MAM RJ.
  • 24 See Grupo Frente: Segunda mostra coletiva, Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro 1955.
  • 25 Pedrosa: “Grupo Frente,” in Ferreira and Herkenhoff: Mário Pedrosa, p. 270.
  • 26 Walter Gropius: “Program of the Staatliche Bauhaus in Weimar” (1919), in Hans M. Wingler (ed.): The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1969, p. 31. On Gropius’s use of medieval allusions, see Charles W. Haxthausen: “Walter Gropius and Lyonel Feininger, Bauhaus Manifesto, 1919,” in Barry Bergdoll and Leah Dickerman (eds.): Bauhaus, 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2009, pp. 64–67.
  • 27 Pedrosa: “Grupo Frente,” trans. in Glória Ferreira (ed.): Arte contemporáneo brasileño: Documentos y críticas/Contemporary Brazilian Art: Documents and Critical Texts, Artedardo, Santiago de Compostela 2009, p. 476.
  • 28 Mário Pedrosa: “Lygia Clark, or the Fascination of Space” (1957), trans. in Ferreira and Herkenhoff: Mário Pedrosa, p. 287.
  • 29 Ibid.
  • 30 Lygia Clark: “The Influence of Albers” (1957), trans. in Cornelia H. Butler and Luis Pérez-Oramas (eds.): Lygia Clark: The Abandonment of Art, 1948–1988, Museum of Modern Art, New York 2014, p. 56.
  • 31 See, for example, Ferreira Gullar: “Clark: Uma experiência radical,” Jornal do Brasil, 22 March 1959, suplemento dominical, p. 3; and Lygia Clark: “Lygia Clark and the Concrete Expressional Space” (1959), in Manuel J. Borja-Villel (ed.): Lygia Clark, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona; MAC, Galleries contemporaines des Musées de Marseille, Marseille; Fundação de Serralves, Porto; Sociéte des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels 1997, p. 84.
  • 32 On Albers’s approach to variation, see Eva Díaz: “The Ethics of Perception: Josef Albers in the United States,” Art Bulletin 90, No. 2, June 2008, pp. 260–85.
  • 33 Lygia Clark: “1957” (1957), trans. in Butler and Pérez-Oramas: Lygia Clark, p. 56. See also Lygia Clark: “Ideas about Diverse Points” (1957), in Butler and Pérez-Oramas: Lygia Clark, p. 57; and Lygia Clark: “1957” (1957), in Butler and Pérez-Oramas: Lygia Clark, pp. 57–58.
  • 34 Leah Dickerman: “Bauhaus Fundaments,” in Bergdoll and Dickerman: Bauhaus, 1919–1933, p. 17; and Eva Díaz: “We Are All Bauhauslers Today,” Art Journal 70, No. 2, Summer 2011, p. 118.
  • 35 Mário Pedrosa: “The ‘Silkworm’ in Mass Production” (1967), trans. in Ferreira and Herkenhoff: Mário Pedrosa, p. 148.
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Um 1900 erschienen die ersten Kompendien und Handbücher über sogenannte Weltkunst. Nach dem Ersten Weltkrieg explodierte dann die Anzahl der Publikationen über außereuropäische Künste. Diese fanden auch sogleich Eingang in die 1919 neu etablierte Bauhaus-Bibliothek. Diese Buchreihen lassen erkennen, unter welchen Bedingungen nichteuropäische Kunst in den 1920er-Jahren rezipiert wurde: als Inspirationsmaterial, als Ausdruck der Kanonkritik an einer europäischen Hochkunst und als Plädoyer für die Aufhebung zwischen Kunst und Kunsthandwerk, aber vor allem auch welches Verständnis von „Welt“ hier reproduziert wurde. → more

Dry Time — Anni Albers Weaving the Threads of the Past

When the Bauhaus was formed it was meant to be the reversed image of contemporary history and society. If the outside world was a field where opposing forces, in the form of class and national struggles, raged, the Bauhaus aimed to extricate itself from these conflicts in order to establish an alternative primordial community. In this essay, Maria Stavrinaki comments on what seems to be Anni Albers’s problematic relationship to the past in general and to history in particular. Anni Albers is not a unique case though, but rather a case study, which despite its particularities, can be considered as analogical to the Bauhaus in general. → more

Working From Where We Are — Anni Albers’ and Alex Reed’s Jewelry Collection

Not by nature acquisitive and certainly not art collectors, Josef and Anni Albers began in 1936 to collect Mexican figurines and other artifacts unearthed from that land’s memory. They described the country, which they first visited in 1935, as “the promised land of abstract art.” Returning to Black Mountain College Anni Albers and Alexander Reed began experimenting with everyday articles to create a strange and beautiful collection of objects of personal adornment inspired by their visit to Mexico. → more

Andean Weaving and the Appropriation of the Ancient Past in Modern Fiber Art

Ancient and Indigenous textile cultures of the Americas played a critical role in the development of the work of fiber artists who came of age in the U.S. in the late 1950s and 1960s. Anyone who has studied fiber art of this period, myself included, knows this well. They openly professed an admiration for traditions ranging from Navaho weaving, to the use of the backstrap loom in Mexico and Central America, to the ancient weaving techniques of Peru. → more

Anni Albers and Ancient American Textiles

At the time Anni Albers wrote On Weaving in 1965, few discussions of Andean textiles “as art” had appeared in weaving textbooks, but there were numerous publications, many of which were German books published between 1880 and 1929, that documented and described their visual and technical properties. Albers almost single-handedly introduced weaving students to this ancient textile art through her writing and her artistic work.  → more

Josef Albers and the Pre-Columbian Artisan

In his inaugural manifesto for the Staatliche Bauhaus, Walter Gropius proposed a new artistic agenda and pedagogical practice based on craft and artisanal principles. This article analyzes how prominent Bauhaus teacher and artist Josef Albers, entered into dialogue with a very specific kind of artisanal aesthetic: the pre-Columbian crafts he encountered on his many trips to Mexico. Revisiting his lecture “Truthfulness in Art” delivered in 1937, after his third trip to the country, the article studies the way in which Albers learned from the abstract tradition of pre-Columbian artisans, incorporating their knowledge into his own artistic and pedagogical practice. → more

“Every Moment Is a Moment of Learning“ — Lenore Tawney. New Bauhaus and Amerindian Impulses

“I felt as if I had made a step and maybe a new form. These evolved from a study of Peruvian techniques, out of twining and twisting. Out of that came my new way of working, of dividing and separating the piece.” Lenore Tawney’s “Woven Forms” are not purpose-built in a (Western) crafts sense; they move beyond traditional European rules of weaving and attempt to approach an indigenous attitude towards craft and technique. This essay shows how Tawney charted her own unique path in fiber art by linking Amerindian impulses with Taoist concepts of space and Bauhaus ideas. → more

Questions about Lenore Tawney — An Interview with Kathleen Nugent Mangan, Executive Director of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation

The search for the spiritual characterized Lenore Tawney’s long life, and was reflected in both the iconography and materials she used in her work. She was a regular diarist and her journals provide valuable insight into this deeply personal search. bauhaus imaginista researcher Erin Freedman interviews Executive Director of the Lenore G. Tawney Foundation, Kathleen Nugent Mangan, about Tawney’s approach and work. → more

kNOT a QUIPU — An Interview with Cecilia Vicuña

In this recorded interview, Vicuña describes how after she first learned about quipu, she immediately integrated the system into her life. Quipu, the Spanish transliteration of the word for “knot” in Cusco Quechua, is a system of colored, spun and plied or waxed threads or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. They were used by the Inca people for a variety of administrative purposes, mainly record-keeping, and also for other ends that have now been lost to history.  → more

Diagonal. Pointé. Carré — Goodbye Bauhaus? Otti Berger’s Designs for Wohnbedarf AG Zurich

Gunta Stölzl. Anni Albers. These are the most prominent names today when one thinks of actors in the Bauhaus textile workshop. Both had been involved in the textile workshop since Weimar times, shaping it through their understanding of textiles and their teaching. Otti Berger did not join the workshop until Dessau. Stölzl and Albers succeeded in leaving Germany in 1931–32. And they succeeded in continuing to work as textile designers and artists. Berger succeeded in doing this, too, but accompanied by an ongoing struggle for recognition and fair remuneration. → more

The World in the Province from the Province to the World — Bauhaus Ceramics in an International Context

In this article Hans-Peter Jakobson presents the various influences, both national and international, and direct and indirect, influencing the views on ceramics taught in the Ceramic Workshop of the State Bauhaus Weimar Dornburg. Based on the life paths, inspirations and influences of the few ceramists who emerged from the Bauhaus workshop in Dornburg, he traces possible worldwide developments in ceramics to the present day. → more

Reading Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture in North America, 1957

In the 1960s, the interest in a regional and vernacular architecture evolved into a sort of counterculture against the prevailing modernism in the USA. Sybil Moholy-Nagy’s book is an early document of this movement and today a classic of architecture history. It features buildings and construction techniques that emerge from social practices and whose builders remain anonymous. They include Amerindian settlement forms, Mexican pueblos and churches, as well as barns and houses of the first European settlers. → more

Vernacular Architecture and the Uses of the Past

In sending out the manuscript of Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture to a publisher, Sibyl Moholy-Nagy added a note on the “Genesis of the manuscript,” which is quite revealing about the intellectual trajectory that gave rise to it. She positioned herself as first and foremost a traveling observer, learning from direct contact with artefacts and buildings, curious about their histories and willing to interpret material evidence and local narratives. → more

The “Workshop for Popular Graphic Art” in Mexico — Bauhaus Travels to America

The global developments that led in 1942 to the appointment of Hannes Meyer, second Bauhaus director, as head of the workshop for popular graphic art, Taller de Gráfica Popular (henceforth referred to as the TGP), made it a focal point for migrating Europeans in flight from fascism. This essay aims to shed light on how the TGP was influenced by Europeans granted asylum by Mexico before and during World War Two, and, conversely, to explore the degree to which these exiled visual artists, writers, and architects’ ideas came to be influenced by their contact with artists active in the TGP. → more

Lena Bergner — From the Bauhaus to Mexico

The story of Lena Bergner is relevant to the history of architecture and design on account of her career passing through different ideological and cultural contexts. Here we will discuss her life and work, focusing on her training in the Bauhaus, her time in the USSR and her time in Mexico, where, along with her husband the architect Hannes Meyer, over a ten-year period she undertook cultural projects of great importance. → more

Of Art and Politics — Hannes Meyer and the Workshop of Popular Graphics

The Mexico of President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río was a fertile ground for the development of ideological questions, especially those originating from the left. The expropriation of oil fields, mining and large estates in 1938, the refuge granted Spanish republicans and members of the International Brigades in 1939, and the accord of mutual support between the government and syndicalist organizations all favored the formation of artistic and cultural groups willing to take part in the consolidation of revolutionary ideals which, until that point, had made little progress. Among these organizations was the Taller de Gráfica Popular, the Workshop of Popular Graphics. → more

bauhaus imaginista — and the importance of transculturality

What bauhaus imaginista has documented thus relates to a particular historical phase, one that opened a path to the renewal of the art situation in Morocco. And yet, although more recent generations of Moroccan art historians and critics often mentioned the period as a formative and unavoidable reference point, they never really deepened study of that period. It somehow remained in the shadows of other phases and realities. But cultural memory has its rhythms, and the moment arose when the years of the Casablanca Group called for attention, demanding its artistic accomplishments be better understood. In this regard, the bauhaus imaginista project came at the right moment and has had important repercussions. → more


I was sixteen years old when I undertook my first journey into finding a professional vocation, first in Asilah, then in Fez followed by Tétouan. 1952. Tangiers was, to me, an open book, a window on the world. The freedom of seeing, of discovering and of feeling, of weaving the narratives of my dreams. → more

The Bauhaus and Morocco

In the years when Western nations were committed in new projects of partnership, with what was then called the “Third World”, young artists and students from the Maghreb had grown up in the passionate climate of the struggle for independence, were talented, open to modernity, and eager to connect with twentieth-century international art movements, which were different in production and spirit from colonial ideology and culture. → more

École des Beaux-Arts de Casablanca (1964–1970) — Fonctions de l’Image et Facteurs Temporels

Utopie culturelle vécue, posture éthique et préfiguration de la modernité artistique et culturelle marocaine, l’École des Beaux-arts de Casablanca est, de 1964 à 1970, le lieu de cristallisations d’aspirations sociales et artistiques portées par un groupe d’artistes et enseignants responsables d’une restructuration des bases pédagogiques. → more

Les Intégrations: Faraoui and Mazières. 1966–1982 — From the Time of Art to the Time of Life

Les Intégrations exemplified a specific conceptual motif, one that acted not within a single field but rather implied a relationship of interdependence between different media (visual arts and architecture) and techniques (those of graphic arts and architecture). They thus allowed for the emergence of disciplines that were not static in formation but evolving in relation to one another. The intermedial relationship they created between art and architecture raises the question of what lies “between” these disciplines: how do they communicate with each other? What are the elements of language common to this “spirit of the times,” to the particular atmosphere of the late 1960s? → more

Chabâa’s Concept of the “3 As”

“Architecture is one expression of the fine arts” (Mohamed Chabâa, in: Alam Attarbia, No. 1, p. 36, 2001.)

Mohamed Chabâa’s consciousness of his national heritage and his interest in architecture both emerged at a young age. His concept of the “3 A’s”—art, architecture and the arts and crafts—grew out of his discovery both of the Italian Renaissance and the Bauhaus School during a period of study in Rome in the early 1960s. From then on, bringing together the “3 A’s” would become a central interest, a concept Chabâa would apply in various ways and fiercely defend throughout his long and varied career. → more

Don’t Breathe Normal: Read Souffles! — On Decolonizing Culture

The need for a synthesis of the arts and, with this, a change of pedagogical principles, was not only present at the beginning of the twentieth century (forces that prompted the Bauhaus’s foundation), but after WWII as well, during the “Short Century” of decolonization. This second modern movement and its relation to modernism and the vernacular, the hand made, and the everyday was vividly expressed through texts and art works published in the Moroccan quarterly magazine Souffles, published beginning in the mid-1960s by a group of writers and artists in Rabat, Casablanca and Paris. → more

A Bauhaus Domesticated in São Paulo

In March 1950, Pietro Maria Bardi, director of the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP, which opened in 1947), wrote to several American educational institutions requesting their curricula as an aid to developing the first design course in Brazil—the Institute of Contemporary Art (IAC), which was to be run as a part of the museum and would also be the country’s first design school. Despite being brief and objective, his missives did not fail to mention the “spirit of the Bauhaus,” explicitly linking the institute he hoped to found with a pedagogical lineage whose objectives and approach he aimed to share. → more

In the Footsteps of the Bauhaus — Its Reception and Impact on Brazilian Modernity

Through the strong German-speaking minority and its active work in the creation and mediation of culture in the spirit of modernity, the application of Bauhaus formal language, especially in the first phase of Brazilian modernity, has played a considerable role. It was only with the equation of German culture with National Socialism and the ensuing intolerance of German protagonists that these architectural and cultural activities were severely disrupted. In Brazil during this period, a style of modernism based on the principles of Le Corbusier finally gained acceptance. The impulses of the Bauhaus, however, which were not perceived for many years, were also reinterpreted and further developed within Brazil, although they remained occulted in comparison to the public reception of Corbusier. → more

Walking on a Möbius Strip — The Inside/Outside of Art in Brazil

This text investigates how the topological figure of the Möbius strip, famously propagated by Bauhaus proponent Max Bill, was used in Brazil within dissident artistic practices of the 1960s and 1970s as a tool for reflection on the subject, alterity and public space. The Möbius strip is revisited in this essay as a conduit for thinking critically about possible subversions of Eurocentric forms, as well as various appropriations of traditional popular culture by modern and contemporary art in Brazil. → more

The Poetry of Design — A search for multidimensional languages between Brazilian and German modernists

In the 1950s and 1960s, intense debates and exchanges took place between Brazilians and Germans working in the fields of design, art, and their various manifestations—from architecture and painting to music and poetry. These intertwined lines are identifiable in myriad events: journeys, meetings, exchanges of letters, exhibitions, lectures, courses, and publications. Common modes of production emerged out of these different encounters where, more than relations of influence, one can observe how entangled realities led to a questioning of the directionality of the flow between center and periphery. → more

The Latent Forces of Popular Culture — Lina Bo Bardi’s Museum of Popular Art and the School of Industrial Design and Crafts in Bahia, Brazil

This text deals with the experience of the Museum of Popular Art (MAP) and the School of Industrial Design and Handicraft, designed by the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi, in Salvador (capital of the state of Bahia), Brazil. Such a “school-museum” is based on the capture and transformation of latent forces that exist in Brazilian popular culture. → 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

Times of Rudeness — Design at an Impasse

In 1980, Lina Bo Bardi began working on a book concerning her time in the northeastern part of Brazil. With the help of Isa Grinspum Ferraz, she captioned the illustrations, revised her contributions to the book and drafted the layout and contents. The latter also included texts by her collaborators who, in a truly collective effort, had tried to envision the project of a true Brazil—an unfettered and free country with no remnant remaining of the colonial inferiority complex which had plagued the country earlier in its history. Bo Bardi discontinued her work in 1981. In 1994, the Instituto Lina Bo e P.M. Bardi published this project as Times of Rudeness: Design at an Impasse. → more

Connecting the Dots — Sharing the Space between Indigenous and Modernist Visual Spatial Languages

Ever increasing numbers of design institutes note the merits of cultural diversity within their pedagogy and practice. Rather quixotically, however, Eurocentric modernist ideals remain dominant within design curricula. This ambiguity results in non-Western social, cultural and creative practice, remaining side-lined, albeit while still being lauded as of great value. Critical of this duplicity, this paper introduces three Indigenous visual spatial languages, identifying a number of correlations and contradictions these offer to the establishment and implementation of Bauhaus pedagogy and subsequent examples of modernism adopted beyond Europe. → more

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