The Global Bauhaus: São Paulo

Lina Bo and Pietro Maria Bardi’s Instituto de Arte Contemporânea courted controversy by applying European pedagogical models in a post-colonial context

On the centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus in Weimar, the ‘bauhaus imaginista’ project, which takes place in eleven countries, looks at the institution’s position within global crosscurrents of experimental pedagogy. In this mini-series, we consider the legacy of the Bauhaus in cultural centres outside of the West.

The travels of European émigrés associated with the Bauhaus throughout Latin America are well documented, with the sense of kinship felt by many artists with the region clearly visible in their work. Anni Albers, for example, praised the sophistication of pre-Colombian weaving, with textiles such as Ancient Writing (1936) reflecting the pictorial imagery she saw in Peru. The transient nature of such engagement, in many ways a continuation of the colonial gaze which first brought Europeans to the continent, detracts from the reciprocal impact of Bauhaus pedagogy and Latin culture on artists and architects who travelled between the continents, exchanging ideas back and forth throughout the 20th century.

Lina Bo Bardi, São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP), 1968. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons 

São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) by Lina Bo Bardi, 1968. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons 

In Brazil, Italians Lina Bo and Pietro Maria Bardi did the most to bring Bauhaus teaching to a Latin American context. In 1947, within a year of their arrival in São Paulo, the couple founded the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP), an institution dedicated to transforming culture through education. While the museum treated the growing industrialization of the city as a pedagogic subject, its premise was stalled by the lack of connectivity between design and manufacture. This led them to establish, in 1951, the Instituto de Arte Contemporânea (IAC), an industrial design school where the curriculum, like MASP’s museology, was understood as an experimental, if not political, way of democratizing art and its history. In proposing industrial design as an extension to art history, the IAC taught a range of subjects including model making, architecture, botany, textiles, painting and engraving, photography, graphics, composition and sociology. All of these courses directly replicated those at The Chicago Institute of Design, first named the ‘New Bauhaus’ by its director Lázló Moholy-Nagy to whom Bardi made frequent reference.

'bauhaus imaginista: Learning from, São Paulo', exhibition view, 2018. Courtesy: SESC Pompéia São Paulo and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin 

'bauhaus imaginista: Learning from, São Paulo', exhibition view, 2018. Courtesy: SESC Pompéia São Paulo and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin 

Links to other institutions were therefore explicit, with Bardi writing to design schools globally including Black Mountain College, requesting detailed methodologies and reading lists upon which to model the IAC. Receiving less than enthusiastic responses, however, he instead invented connections, making much of the Ukrainian-Brazilian staff member, artist Laser Segall’s experiences at ‘the famous Bauhaus in Dessau’. While Segall had visited briefly and corresponded with Wassily Kandinsky, he was never enrolled as a student. Questioning the legitimacy of the Bauhaus model in Brazil, the artist Max Bill used his lecture at MASP in 1953 to criticize the seeming importation of European ideas. Such references, however, were intended as more than just an application of style: their implementation paradoxically promoted a uniquely Brazilian modern identity by invoking a European pedagogic inheritance, with the ‘old world’ a means to legitimate the ‘new’. 

Main image: SESC Pompéia in São Paulo by Lina Bo Bardi, 1982. Courtesy: Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; photograph: Markus Lanz

Dr. Jane Hall is a founding member of the London-based architecture collective Assemble, which won the Turner Prize in 2015. Her recently completed PhD at the Royal College of Art focused on the architect Lina Bo Bardi and her work at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Brazil

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