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From 22 March to 23 June, the Fundación Juan March is hosting “Playing Art. Education, Art and Design,” an exhibition which aims to shed light on the question of why 20th-century art is as it is, taking as a starting point the games played in childhood and adolescence by the artistic pioneers of the last century.
The exhibition features the drawing manuals, games and educational materials used in their earliest years by the leading artists, architects and designers of the 20th century, alongside artworks they went on to create in adulthood. The show is made up of works from public and private collections both in Spain and abroad, in particular from the collection of guest curator, Juan Bordes. Sculptor, architect and teacher, Bordes put forward the conclusions of his study into the theory and practice of leading educators in “La infancia de las vanguardias: sus profesores desde Rousseau a la Bauhaus” (The Avant Garde in Infancy: its Teachers from Rousseau to the Bauhaus), a book published in 2007 and foundation stone of the theory presented in the current exhibition.
Art as play
Is it possible that play and the concept of drawing as a tool for learning could have provided the stimuli for the artistic sea-change brought about by the avant garde movements of the 20th century? This fascinating exhibition and its curator, Juan Bordes, maintain that very idea.
The change that comes about in art with the arrival of the 20th century can be traced back to ideas firmly rooted in the 19th century, fruit of re-evolved enlightened reasoning which sought to forge a genuinely new future, not a continuation of the existing artistic tradition and established order. This need for a clean break, for invention open to new ways of doing things, first emerges in the field of education. Change starts with a shift in sensibility. And this change in education produces a change in creative practice too. Thinkers and educators such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel agree that if it were available to all, drawing would be of prime importance; in education, drawing would be a tool for direct communication and individual expression. A new vision emerges: to learn through play, empowering observation, drawing and experimenting. A positive cycle is established, stimulating the desire to learn. Geometry linked to shape, composition, the play of light and colour, the ways in which they interact, combine or translate into mathematical algorithms also have a huge influence on those children, the future artists, architects and designers of the 20th century.
It was this new educational order which shaped the development of artists such as Picasso, Braque, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Malevich, Klee, Josef and Anni Albers, Duchamp, Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Dreaming to shape the future
The Fundación Juan March has been transformed into a huge playground. There’s so much information that I’ll have to come back to visit this exhibition every week until it closes. I’ve found genuine treasures here: games that sparked the rupture with figurative art forms, avant garde creators who made toys and, most of all, the spirit of artistic fusion exemplified by the Bauhaus, which looked to bring beauty and utility to all. Accessible art in the domestic environment.
Observing the objects designed by 20th-century artists which are displayed in the exhibition, various questions arise: Where’s the dividing line between educator and artist? Between artist and designer? Between architect and creator of children’s games? And what did they play when they were kids?
What I consider most important and memorable about this exhibition, however, is the discovery that an artist is someone who plays free of restrictions, as a means of expression. Like trial and error, play awakens curiosity without attaching excessive importance to results. Play is capable of turning present into future through each individual’s education and by freeing their intuitive potential, that desire and urge to create what does not yet exist.
Exposition: Playing Art Education, Art and Design from 22 March to 23 June 2019.
Curators: Juan Bordes, Manuel Fontán del Junco and Aida Capa, with the colaboration from Norman Brosterman and Juliet Kinchin.
Photography: Oscar Rivilla
Translation: Rebekah Jane Rhodes
Música: Dr Symptosizer
Art director: Carolina Verd
Main picture and picture number 2: vintage top and skirt; cap and lace by Carolina Verd.
Picture 3: dress by See By Chloé; pants by Carolina Verd.