“EPIC: feats of Argentine design” is a multi-format curator program aimed at reviewing a century in design history through the material kept in the IDA Foundation collection and other archives. The opening section of chapter one, “1920–1940”, explains the transition from a stylistic culture to modernist manifestations in architecture and design.
Back then, Argentina experienced a period of prosperity and visibility of Its polarized national identity, while dealing with political and social conflicts connected to WWI and II. Technology, boosted by the Industrial Revolution, architecture, and applied arts merged to enable the transformation of the visual landscape and the urban fabric, while generating a social renewal.
#EpicAnniversary | Infamous Decade + Birome
Infamous Decade. The "Infamous Decade" (1930-1943) began on September 6, 1930 with General José Uriburu's coup d'état against the radical Hipólito Yrigoyen. The event took place in a global context defined by the 1929 Great Depression and Mussolini and Hitler's rise to power in Italy and Germany, respectively. The landowning oligarchy, several fascist organizations, and part of the student movement supported the coup in the streets. To face the crisis of the free market world system, the country embraced import substitution industrialization and fostered the creation of many public enterprises and state regulatory agencies. Such a context boosted in a remarkable way the Industrial sector and the working class, enlarged by the mass rural-urban migration. By 1943, industrial exports exceeded agricultural production for the first time in the nation's history.
Biro / Inventors' Day. In 1938, Ladislao Biró (Budapest, 1899–Buenos Aires, 1985) patented in Hungary the ballpoint pen: a penholder with a small ball in the tip and ink that dried immediately on paper. Being a journalist, his invention was inspired by printing press rollers. President Agustín P. Justo, who was fascinated by the pen, met him by chance in Yugoslavia and invited him to Argentina to begin mass production of his creation. Biró moved to the country in 1940 and, alongside his partner Juan Jorge Meyne, he founded the company Biro Meyne Biro. Together, they launched their new product, the Birome -an acronym of both their last names-, a metal pen with different finishes and a retractable system. They sold the patent in the USA, Switzerland, China, and France, where the producer Marcel Bich named it BIC. In that way, the biro became famous worldwide. Today, Biró's legacy is kept alive by the Biro Foundation, created by his daughter, Mariana, in 1999. Each year, on September 29, inventors' day is celebrated nationwide in remembrance of Ladislao Biró's birthday.
#EpicContext | Textile mega companies for Project Country
A group of textile factories constituted a powerful industrial hub that contributes to national growth by boosting the modernization and diversification of economic activities. This network created systems that connect work and social life: housing, schools, and daycare centers for working class families. Argentina, a booming country, received European immigrants protected by Law Nº 817, issued in 1876. While big department stores -like Gath & Chavez and Harrods- promoted international fashion and local production, companies such as Alpargatas (1885), Masllorens (1905), Grafa (1926), appeared.
Alpargatas, created in 1895 by the Basque immigrant, Juan Etchegaray, and Robert Fraser, of Scottish descent. Its first factory, located in Barracas, Buenos Aires, opened in 1890 and, soon, it comprised 3 big buildings with capacity for 7500 workers. The company expanded into eight provinces of the North West and Central regions of the country, Uruguay, and Brazil and created iconic products, such as the jute sole canvas espadrille, the Pampero (1910) canvas model, and the Flecha (1933) sneakers.
As time went by, the Alpargatas brand universe broadened, including footwear firms -like Rueda, Topeka, Bandolero, and Topper- and home and industrial textiles. The company implemented an innovative advertising strategy: hiring artists to develop promotional campaigns, an endeavor that resulted in the famous gaucho-related and traditional scenes showcased in calendars by Florencio Molina Campos, Mario Zavattaro, and Luis José Medrano. The company still exists today with a reformulated structure and sub-brand sale dynamics, in particular of the ones that have become emblematic in the world of clothing, footwear, and textiles.
The company Masllorens, founded by Pablo Masllorens in 1905, was loyal to the Catalonian textile manufacturing tradition up until the mid-1970's. Its first establishment was located in Avellaneda, Buenos Aires, and its production stood out for its integrated wool system that included manufacturing, knitting, printing, coloring, dyeing, and finishing details. The firm produced for local and international markets (Europe and South Africa) and it had over 3000 employees -engineers, operators, seamstress-. Masllorens was known for its cotton and wool, two-layer shirts.
Grafa (Great Argentine Factories) joined the production scene in 1926, backed by Belgian Callens in partnership with the group Bunge & Born. Its first industrial spinning facility was established in Villa Pueyrredón, Buenos Aires, extending over 10 blocks (an area of 122.000 m2) with capacity for 7.000 workers that manufactured all the same working clothes and home textiles. The company grew with the incorporation of specialized stations located in Santiago del Estero (1967) and Tucumán (1971).
The brand Ombú appeared in 1945 as a business unit that became the leader in hard working clothes production. During the 80's, alongside acquiring the shares of Santista Argentina S.A. group, the firm was awarded the ISO 9001 for its qualified processes, being the first company of the sort to achieve such an accomplishment, besides becoming the official sponsor of the Argentine labor sphere.
#EpicContext | Editorial layout and graphic art
Editorial work acquired a professional status due to the technological development experienced during the golden age of Argentine graphic journalism. Cover art and ornamental editorial layout boosted the evolution of illustration into communication design. At that point, one of the main roots that nurtured the professional practice of graphic design appeared as a seminal triad constituted by: publishing houses (Emecé, Losada, Peuser, Guillermo Kraft); mass media (the newspapers La Gaceta, La Nación, and La Prensa; the magazines Caras y Caretas, Plus Ultra, La Novela Semanal, among others) and printers (López, Nós).
These media became platforms that encouraged the development of layout designers, typographers, illustrators, photographers, and graphic collaborators. Simultaneously, illustrated magazines strove to achieve high-quality visual material that could compete with the European press that circulated in the country and reach stylistic maturity following art nouveau and art decó trends. Graphic technologies, such as wood and metal engraving, lithography, photography, and halftone photo-print, evolved. In that context, the artwork created by the eminent illustrator Alejandro Sirio (España, 1890-Buenos Aires, 1953) stood out. Unlike other contemporary illustrators, he created integral designs that merged drawing, typography, and page layout.
The magazine Caras y caretas (1898-1939), founded by Eustaquio Pellicer (Spain, 1859 - Buenos Aires, 1937) and José Sixto Álvarez “Fray Mocho” (Entre Ríos, 1858 - Buenos Aires, 1903), was a milestone back then, since it aimed to be a “Festive, literary, artistic, and hot topics magazine” that addressed current affairs with an ironic sense of humor through the sketches of such draughtsmen as Manuel Mayol, José María Cao, Aurelio Giménez, Mario Zabataro, among others. The editors appealed and questioned diverse audiences, including the Argentine aristocracy, industrial immigrant workers, and, even, peasants struggling to assimilate early XXth century urban idiosyncrasy. This agenda was forwarded through the magazine's communication strategy, the reading conditions it offered -use of illustrations, informal language, gaucho-style prose, slang, and popular topics-, and the page layout, which matched content and ads.
Plus Ultra (1916-1930), the magazine's monthly supplement, included collaborations by the entire staff. It displayed a delicate editorial design and a unique identity complemented by quality content and reproductions of art pieces preserved at the Fine Arts Museum and private collections.
#EpicContext | Architecture and Modern Urbanism
Loyal to rationalist principles -inspired by the Bauhaus movement and CIAM, International Congress for Modern Architecture, guidelines-, modern architects began a revolution based on functional shapes that defined city ways of living. In that era, marked by the industrialization and expansion of the discipline, the School of Architecture and Urbanism was founded in 1947 (Universidad de Buenos Aires).
In 1929, the bold and unsuccessful “Buenos Aires Plan”, conceived by architect Le Corbusier during his first visit to Argentina, was launched with the aim of creating a territorial and urban rearrangement program. The project was embraced by young architects, Jorge Ferrari Hardoy (Buenos Aires, 1914-1977) and Juan Kurchan (Buenos Aires, 1913-1972), who published it in 1947 with the title “Buenos Aires Master Plan”.
Austral Group (1937-1941), with members like Antonio Bonet (Barcelona, 1913-1989), Kurchan, and Ferrari Hardoy, established new architecture concepts to be put into practice nationwide in its Austral Manifest -published in the magazine Nuestra Arquitectura (1939)-, thus betting on the crucial significance of devising integral projects.
Wladimiro Acosta (Odessa, 1900 - Buenos Aires, 1967), an architect and engineer trained in Berlin, arrived in Argentina in the late 1920's. His belief in the social function of the discipline and his interest in bioclimatic phenomena –visible in the Helios (1932) system he created– defined his work and his curriculum approach as a university professor. He designed educational and health facilities in different Latin American cities, as well as several housing projects. He also conceived furniture, stage sets, and theatre wardrobe.
Amancio Williams (Buenos Aires, 1913-1989) was another emblematic architect inspired by technological and scientific research. His most renowned piece, the House above the Creek (1943-1946) in Mar del Plata, stands out for its shape-structure and its connection to nature. He worked alongside his partner Delfina Galvez Bunge, architect, scholar, and translator, who played a key role in the sphere of cultural exchanges. Williams supervised the construction of the Curutchet House (1949) in La Plata, the only Le Corbusier project that came to fruition in Latin America.
Another example that displayed a rationalist-art decó style Is the Kavanagh Building (1934-1936) at San Martín Square (Buenos Aires) by Sánchez studio, Lagos, and De La Torre, which at that time became the highest skyscraper in South America. Over 60 buildings developed by architect Francisco Salamone (Italia, 1897-Buenos Aires, 1959) throughout the province of Buenos Aires between 1936 and 1940 are also worthy examples to mention. Salamone's work included municipal palaces, squares, cemeteries, and slaughterhouses that merged different styles -art decó, Italian futurism and functionalism-.
#EpicContext | American Identity
In the 1920's a group of intellectuals, members of the Centennial Generation (Ricardo Rojas, José M. Ramos Mejía, Manuel Gálvez, among others) aligned themselves with the tenets of the “first cultural nationalist" movement, a trend that aimed at creating a national identity based in a Native-Hispanic syncretism that invoked local traditions. Ricardo Rojas (Tucumán, 1882- Buenos Aires, 1957) acted as the leader of the State sponsored group. Keen on promoting an American approach to archaeology and pre-Columbian art as the basis of a mass education crusade focused on Indigenous culture, he published the essays Eurindia (1922) and Silabario de la decoración americana (1930). In his work, the Argentine North West was shown as a symbolic, antique space rich for its spiritual diversity and its connection to key historical events of the colonial and early national periods.
The school textbook Viracocha, published by Curt Berger and Co. in 1923, became an educational milestone that systematically used American decorative drawing as a didactic tool to explain the symbolic role embedded in pre-Columbian art through technical notebooks designed by sculptor Gonzalo Leguizamón Pondal and the architect Alberto Gelly Cantilo. Due to its successful incorporation of the aesthetic proposed in Eurindia (Rojas' essay published one year before), the Viracocha initiative won the “Gold Medal” at the VI National Decorative Art Salon and was selected by the National Council of Education as elementary school textbook to teach plastic arts.
Since the pre-Hispanic era, native textile production has been an ignored legacy that reveals our roots. In Santiago del Estero -displaying unique patterns- and Catamarca -featuring iconoclast pieces-, women weavers played a significant role by passing family legacy, transmitting it generation after generation. In that respect, the loom, as an artifact, enabled the transfer of native American sketches within households as symbols of the family's ancestral genealogy.
Ruth Courcuera (Buenos Aires, 1929) was a pioneer in researching popular weaving in the Andean region and its connections to contemporary production -the book Herencia textil andina (1987) synthesizes her findings-, where fabrics, techniques, and cosmogonies merge in a rich narrative that links us through time. Andean manifestations have been ever since source of inspiration worldwide, particularly for Bauhaus female textile designers, among other schools.
#EpicHighlights | Argentine Institute of Graphic Arts
The Argentine Institute of Graphic Arts (IAAG) (1907) was founded by Antonio Pellicer Pereyra (Barcelona, 1851-Buenos Aires, 1916) with the objective of promoting graphic crafts and typographic art in a context that fostered the creation of associations connected to working unions and employers' associations, such as the Buenos Aires Typographic Union (1877) or the Industrial Union of Argentina (1904), which had a Graphic Arts Section.
A connoisseur of anarchist ideals that encouraged working class organization, Pellicer was president of the institute three times and created the journal Anales. He also developed technical writing conventions for the field of graphic crafts, directed such periodicals as La Noografía and the magazine Éxito Gráfico, and often collaborated with several anarchist and unionist publications. The IAAG materialized the ideas of the first typography scholars -like Joaquín Spandonari, Pablo Coni, and Pedro Tonini, among others-. In a parallel path, Anales became a privileged institutional medium to exchange and promote both visual products and ideas about graphic creation in Argentina. Published since 1910, in 1917 it was renamed as Anales Gráficos and appeared on and off until 1967.
Through its diverse endeavors, the institute -merged with the Gutenberg Foundation since 1970-, alongside the journal, effectively positioned, validated, and strengthened the work of graphic artists, while participating from the transformations experienced in a country that was undergoing a modernization process. Developments in graphic techniques during the first decades of the XXth century impacted cultural ways of visual consumerism through publications and advertisements that appealed to a mass audience.
#EpicHighlights | Juan Dell'acqua
Juan Bautista Dell'acqua (Chile, 1907 - Buenos Aires, 1975), was a relevant painter, engraver, poster illustrator, and decorator throughout the 30's and 40's, who received more than 75 national and international awards. Settled in Argentina since 1914, he was a self-taught artist. His style displayed an avant-garde aesthetic inspired by art decó and featuring the collage as a main technique.
As part of his work, he did the layout of graphic and editorial pieces for his company DELL'ACQUA EDITORIAL PUBLICITARIA, an unusual professional feat in that era. Among his products, some of the most renowned are the Messenger's Almanac (1938 y 1942), the nautical Calendar and Almanac published by Peuser, and the Peuser Tourism Guide (1954); as well as advertising pieces made for the firms Hetesia, Masllorens, and lanas Mamita. Between 1939 and 1946, Dell'acqua made the cover art for more than 60 issues of the monthly magazine Tejiendo, a publication led by Amalia Jones with the purpose of teaching and promoting weaving among a female audience. He also created the main character and developed the comic strip “Cosas de Cuca” for the magazine.
#Epic #ExpertOpinion | Liernur + Carballo
Jorge “Pancho” Francisco Liernur, architect, professor, and researcher, is an expert in modern architecture and urbanism. As part of our section #Epic Expert Opinion, this April we will chat with him about the Austral Group, Acosta, Williams, and Salamone, all of them participants of the period's turning points.
Belén Carballo, founder and director of Argentine Ethnic Art, currently coordinates cultural, social development projects in Santiago del Estero. Alongside Ricardo Paz, they research, recover, and promote handcraft furniture and textile pieces for the Monte project. During April, we will discuss with her about the significance of textile production in Argentina's North Western region as a way to revalue artistic and cultural native creations.
#EpicMerchandising | Wallpapers
Alongside the first chapter "1920–1940" of the #Epic program, we have launched a wallpaper collection, adapted to different formats for cell phones, tablets, laptops, and computers featuring the applications of classic, turn of the century, printing presses. This collection of images can be downloaded for free, we encourage you to use it in your devices and to share it with all members of the design community.
EXTENSION Kurchan Fund
We proudly announce the incorporation of the collection-archive Juan Kurchan (Buenos Aires, 1913-1972) to our catalogue, donated by the Kurchan Family. Featuring in the Kurchan collection are blueprints, photographs, drawings (of surreal style), letters, and texts. An inestimable set of pieces and documents that will be safeguarded by IDA Foundation.
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-Carballal, D. (et. al.) (2018). Cómo se imprime un libro. Madrid, España: Instituto Cervantes y Fundación Luis Seoane.
-Gergich, A. (2018).“Historias poco historiadas en el diseño gráfico local. Cultura gráfica, arte y diseño en la revista Anales del Instituto Argentino de Artes Gráficas”. Caiana. Revista de Historia del Arte y Cultura Visual del Centro Argentino de Investigadores de Arte, N° 12, 173-182.
-Kozlowski, G. (2019). ”La profesionalización de los oficios gráfico-visuales en el periodismo argentino de comienzos del siglo XX. El caso de Caras y Caretas entre 1898 y 1900”. XXI° Congreso de la Red de Carreras de Comunicación Social y Periodismo, UNSa, Salta.
-Mailhe, A. (2018). “El mestizaje indo-hispánico en la educación estética de las masas". Revista Estudios del ISHiR, Año 8, Nº22.
-Maldonado, T. (2004).“El proyecto moderno” en ¿Es la arquitectura un texto? Y otros escritos, Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ediciones Infinito.
-Sparke, P. (2010). Diseño y cultura. Una introducción. Desde 1900 hasta la actualidad, Barcelona, España: Ed. Gustavo Gili.