“EPIC: Feats of Argentine Design” is a multi-format curatorial program aimed at reviewing a century of design history through the material found in the IDA Foundation collection and other archives. Its second chapter “1950” addresses the intensification of mass consumption in contrast to the consolidation of modern design.
#EpicAnniversary | UNCuyo
The first School of Design in the country, a pioneer institution in South America, was created on March 17: the Design and Decoration Department linked to the Higher School of Arts at the National University of Cuyo (Mendoza). It originated within a context defined by the reformulation of visual culture in the region boosted by diverse experiences –like the Fair of the Americas in 1954– and renewing agents that had been developing since the 1930’s. The province embraced modern, avant-garde trends and the first expressions of abstract art and industrial design appeared. At that point, finding the connections between the aesthetic elements of utilitarian objects and productive processes became crucial. The couple Colette Boccara and César Jannello –architects trained at the University of Buenos Aires and faculty members at the UNCuyo–, were the first professionals that examined concepts related to planning mass production and utilitarianism at the old School of Ceramics, alongside professors like José Carrieri.
Early on, supported by the artist Abdulio Giúdici –a graduate from the Prilidiano Pueyrredón National Fine Arts School– they implemented the design philosophy and, from academic management positions, they pushed for the creation of a Department specialized in “useful art”. Alongside other students and faculty members who had affinity with the theories forwarded by Tomás Maldonado and to concrete art principles, such as Santiago Barbuy and Leonor Rigou, they advocated for the practice of design in an integral way, with the aim of addressing all different aspects of modern life. In contrast to other programs available at other schools of architecture, the School of Design at UNCuyo was based on artistic training; a characteristic that marked its unique identity and encouraged aesthetic expressions.
#EpicAnniversary | Argentine Television
As reported by La Nación Newspaper: "Yesterday 's official ceremony inaugurated the television service in our country. The program was viewed with a sharp image at 150 km from the capital”. Argentine television began broadcasting on October 17, 1951. The first transmission was a speech by Eva Duarte de Perón who, stationed at the Mayo Square and accompanied by Juan Domingo Perón, announced her withdrawal as a Vicepresidential candidate due to a terminal illness. The event was immortalized through the images and sounds of the mass of “shirtless ones” supporters that gathered that day to celebrate “Loyalty Day”.
Argentine businessman Jaime Yankelevich –president of the Association of Argentine Private Radio Companies– was the pioneer who imported from the USA the first cargo of equipment (cameras, transceivers, microphones, and lights) meant to provide the southern region of the continent with the most advanced communication technology. The groundbreaking broadcast was produced in an improvised studio located at the small theatre forum of LR3 Radio Belgrano, with a TV antenna set in the terrace of the building that hosted the Ministry of Public Works and Services.
During the first years, TVs were usually placed in businesses and bars, points of social rendezvous where viewers gathered around the storefronts. In 1954, the government began acquiring devices, an action that boosted sales and helped improve transmissions of what turned out to be an overwhelming mass phenomenon. Noblex Radio Company (later known as Noblex) –founded in 1935 by technician Armando Pla– began developing in 1955 the first electronic devices made to receive and reproduce television signals. At first, the devices were integrated into cabinets that resembled furniture.
#EpicContext | Cerrito Building Epicenter
In the 1950’s, at a cozy hotel in 1371 Cerrito street in the capital city, a group of artists, architects, designers, and musicians gathered to create an avant-garde intellectual hub. Diverse proposals interacted in such a space, for example, the publications Editorial and Nueva Visión magazine, the design agency Axis, the architects society OAM, the music group ANM, and the art workshops led by Claudio Girola, Enio Iommi, Alfredo Hlito, Tomás Maldonado, and the –then– students Eduardo Bell, Ernesto Katzenstein, and Justo Solsona. This group of experts was strongly influenced by Bauhaus, rationalism, and concrete art expressions. The place, considered a house-studio, quickly became an epicenter of modern life experimentation.
Tomás Maldonado (Buenos Aires, 1922-Milan, 2018) painter, designer, cultural manager, and theoretician, was one of the key creators of the Concrete Art-Invention Association and the avant-garde plastics movement in Argentina. Alongside Lidy Prati (Chaco, 1921-Buenos Aires, 2008) plastic artist and graphic/textile designer, he became part of a disruptive couple that influenced each other in terms of aesthetics and theories. They were active members of the concrete art scene in Buenos Aires, a movement that had begun in the early 1940’s, eventually consolidating with the proclamation of the Inventionist Manifesto (1946). Maldonado and Prati, Edgard Bayley, Alfredo Hlito, the Lozza brothers, Claudio Girola, and Alberto Molenberg, among others, were some of its members. The strong connection among art, design, and pedagogy strengthened after a trip Maldonado took through Switzerland and Germany in 1948.
During the trip he met Max Bill and other iconic artists. He brought back from his journey sans serif fonts, which he later used in several publications, such as the newsletter of the Center for Architecture Students (CEA, 1949) –where Maldonado himself published a seminal article about industrial design–; and the magazine Nueva Visión (nv). Prati, on the other hand, was one of the few women that produced concrete painting since the 1940’s. By doing so, she explored the notion of creating infinite spaces. For a while, she signed her work as Lidy Maldonado; however, since 1946, she embraced once more her paternal surname. Prati designed the vignettes in the one published issue of the magazine Arturo (1944). In 1956, she made the editorial design of the covers and interior pages of the magazine Mundo Argentino. She applied concepts of space organization aligned with the image trends she embraced in the layout.
The advertising agency axis (1951), founded by Alfredo Hlito, Maldonado, and Carlos Méndez Mosquera, was a short-lived endeavor. In that brief period, the company installed business facilities and designed stands, pieces for exhibitions, posters, brochures, ads, and material for radio and television. As a part of the Cerrito epicenter, the group designed the identity of the organizations that came together there. Simultaneously, the firm’s main client, Ignacio Pirovano, hired axis to re-design the brand and ads of his company, Comte, as well as the poster for the retrospective exhibition of the work of sculptor Sesostris Vitullo, showcased at the Paris Modern Art Museum.
Nueva visión magazine (1951-1957) –a title that pays homage to Moholy-Nagy– was a cultural device created by the members of axis alongside Jorge Grisetti. It presented for the first time the “new visual culture” as a fertile field to display modern and concrete art expressions. The publication integrated art, architecture, design (graphic and industrial), and typography. The magazine boosted an unprecedented reflection about visual perspectives at a Latin American scale by featuring local and international creators as well as pedagogical and editorial projects. Nueva visión printing press (1954) –directed by Grisetti– published relevant texts like the ones authored by Max Bill and the volumes that would later become key sources about architecture, art, and design. “Documentos de arte contemporáneo”, coordinated by Hlito and “Arquitectura contemporánea” by Baliero, among other publications, are some of the collections published by the company. It also launched the magazine a (1957-1958), an art publication edited by nueva visión with atypical graphic parameters and aimed at reaching a specialized audience interested in acquiring “multiple original” art pieces.
The oam (1948-1957) –an organization devoted to modern architecture, featuring a lowercase letter m in its name as a representation of its “militant” nature, a characteristic shared by all Cerrito groups– was founded by Horacio Baliero, Juan Manuel Borthagaray, Francisco Bullrich, Alberto Casares Ocampo, Alicia Cazzaniga, Gerardo Clusellas, Carmen Córdova, Jorge Goldenberg, Jorge Grisetti, and Eduardo Polledo.
Besides developing projects as any other studio specialized in architecture, urbanism, and decoration –including furniture and object design both per unit and massively–, the organization stood out for promoting these disciplines in contemporary magazines and publishing houses. The group implemented a conception of architecture in connection to other art forms like music, dance, and painting (a perspective influenced by the constant interaction of diverse artistic practices in the building). At its workshop-studio located in the petit hotel, the organization’s members showcased some of their creations. Later on, most of the associates played a relevant role as faculty members of design programs in different universities.
The anm (1944) –new music association– was a crucial institution in terms of promoting contemporary music in Argentina. It was founded by the composer Juan Carlos Paz. The group lay the foundations of electronic music while expanding horizons towards concrete expressions. Its members changed throughout time; besides Paz, other renowned affiliates were Daniel Devoto, Esteban Eitler, Mauricio Kagel, Francisco Kröpfl, and Julio Perceval, among others.
During the 1950 's, the collaboration between anm and nueva visión groups was intense. The program handed out during the 1951 concert, designed by Maldonado, showed the typographic brand “anm”. This image was constantly used by the group in the years that followed. Paz used nueva visión magazine to redefine and promote a concrete music proposal explained in such articles as “¿Qué es Nueva Música?” or “Música atemática y música microtonal”. The association also built connections with the members of oam and Buenos Aires Poetry, organizations that used Krayd gallery as their meeting headquarters since 1952.
#EpicContext | Political Futurism
During the two presidential terms led by General Juan Domingo Perón (1946-1952 and 1952-1955, the latter one interrupted by the coup organized by the self-appointed Liberation Revolution), the Justicialist Movement produced a great plan to nationalize enterprises and strengthen local economies. The First and Second Five-Year Plans followed these guidelines with the goal of building a modern State aligned to peronista principles. That planning process required the constant support of effective communication through systematic messages and the configuration of graphic, didactic, and promotional elements. The mechanisms of aesthetic, symbolic, and cultural production, channeled through the political propaganda system established by Perón’s administration, were not mere “promotional” material –radio, TV or graphic pieces-, since they were used as proof of one of the ideological principles of the regime summarized in the slogan “Better than saying is doing”.
Some voluminous publications, such as the 800 pages long “La Nación Argentina. Justa, libre, soberana” (1950), provide enough information to analyze the mega-project behind the First Five-Year Plan and the expected future scenarios for the country. Through shocking images, popular representations -focused in urban and rural workers-, and brief, easy to read texts, such publications communicated in a synthetic way political messages. At the same time, complex data related to economic, productive, and geo-political issues were systematically reformulated as infographics and choreographies which were unusual at the time. Such communication strategies aimed at transmitting complex information to broad audiences that included illiterate and non-specialized readers.
Simultaneously, mass media contributed to create a progressive narrative that supported official proposals. The scientific revue Mundo Atómico -published between 1950 and 1955 by Haynes S.A.- demanded, using a style that resembles science fiction language, massive access to the technological universe. That was one of the ways used to boost the arrival of new, global, avant-garde knowledge to universities, research centers, and industrial areas.
As artistic movements as constructivism and concretism rose, peronist aesthetics relied on philosophic elements linked to representative and existentialist art (the soul, the people), akin to the avant-garde movements of the interwar period. In that sense, sectors from the opposition labeled Perón’s regime as a totalitarian government due to the ultra-nationalist methods it employed to create a fictional and megalomaniac image of the State.
#EpicContext | Mass Production: Seats
Eversince the import substitution policies were implemented, with particular emphasis during the 1950’s, architects and designers began producing furniture pieces of simple manufacture that enabled mass reproduction. In that way they contributed to create an innovative, economic system to produce chairs, couches, tables, and storage furniture -aimed to compete within the local market-, while boosting modern design and reformulating traditional materials. The forerunners of modern furniture back then were the BKF seat (1938) –the first design to accomplish a simplified manufacture process by assembling an iron structure with a soft holder–, the modern version of Safari seat (1945) by Amancio Williams; as well as the series of semi-handcrafted designs made by the architects Horacio Baliero, Antonio Bonet y César Jannello.
The W chair (1944-1953) by César Jannello actually resulted from a sequence of successes derived from the architect’s playful experimentation with metallic, flexible structures connected to wooden holders. In 1944, alongside his partner Colette Boccara, Jannello visited the construction site of the House over the brook in Mar del Plata (by Delfina Gálvez and Amancio Williams) and, there, using materials from the construction site, he produced his first iron-structured chair inspired by the BKF design. The “Classic” version and the “New BKF” (later renamed by Jannello’s granddaughter María for the chair’s 2012 reissue) are emblematic pieces of Latin American design. They stand out for their sculptural quality -resembling concrete art trends-, ergonomy based on a movable backrest, and the theoretical foundations they originated from. The design was produced worldwide after being showcased in the French journal L’architecture d’aujourd’hui (1947) and in the catalogue style AA compiled by Raoul Guys.
As time went by, the design was improved ergonomically, based on Gerardo Clusella’s suggestions and productive adaptations –multi-layered supports that replaced the solid wood holder-, transforming the product into a standard seat with increased mass production potential. The K system (1955), constituted by a chair, an armchair, and a table, is a building system based on the dry assembly of wooden pieces, pipes, and connectors made of steel and rope. It can be included in the DIY (Do it Yourself) category that enables the user to buy the unassembled piece and put it together following a simple process at home.
oam studio produced and represented furniture pieces created by some of its members: Horacio Baliero and Gerardo Clusellas, as well as designs by Jannello and Max Bill. Those pieces were showcased in nueva visión magazine, N° 7 (1955), as part of the article “Aspectos del diseño argentino: sillas y sillones” written by Baliero, where he presented the criteria that should define an universalist conception of Argentine design, always in synch with the principles of concrete art. Clusellas, interested in achieving rigorous solutions in technical, ergonomic, and formal terms, designed bronze seats, upholstery, coffee tables –made of either glass, aluminium, wood, or iron-, and he conceived pieces based in the same building system. The Anticorodal Seat (1954-1957) stemmed from that process. Its formal logic turned it into a paradigm of metal chairs during the 1950’s. Its design resulted from the search for standard systems that could properly solve binding through an immediate assembly method of all components. Its stackable qualities also made it stand out.
Baliero, on his side, produced office equipment, like desks and chairs with casters, that matched industrial models manufactured in the USA. Besides, he created the emblematic Mimbre-made seat (1954) with a welded iron structure covered with a wicker weaving that supports the body. The piece shows the strong handcraft-industrial potential for production as well as a regional but modern language.
Simultaneously, the Viennese architect, designer, and decorator Walter Loos, settled in Argentina in the 1940 's, produced flexible furniture for one-room apartments (1954). The chairs and tables designed by Loos could adapt to both high and low height requirements as well as to different purposes, such as eating or relaxing. This multi-functional quality enhanced small, 3,5 X 4 mts. spaces.
#EpicHighlights | Fair of the Americas
The Fair of the Americas, an event that took place from January to March, 1954 in Mendoza City, was organized during a context marked by the fierce industrialization policies of Perón’s regime. Directed by industrialist Iván Bacsinszky, alongside the architects César Jannello and Gerardo Clusellas, in charge of planning the event, and with the collaboration of graphic designers Tomás Maldonado and Santiago Barbuy, and the contemporary musician Mauricio Kagel, among other actors. Set at San Martín Park –throughout an area covering 30 hectares– the fair showcased significant participants such as all Argentine provinces (La Pampa and Chaco were renamed Eva Perón and Juan Domingo Perón, respectively), state organisms, industrial groups, and Latin American countries as guests. The magnitude, complexity, and coherence of the projects developed in its organization were unprecedented in the entire continent and the event became a key milestone in terms of the interdisciplinary nature of the Modern Movement in Argentina.
Planning included the development of an integral system that implemented ephemeral architecture innovations, particularly shown in the installation of the 93 pavilions and stands –all of them participants in an international contest–; an original furniture and equipment design created just for the exhibition; the development of a unique visual identity; and the artistic proposal of the allegorical tower. The tower was in itself a worldwide landmark for avant-garde trends of the period.
The industrial fair had several objectives: to consolidate the political image of the government to strengthen commercial and international relations by showcasing a country in constant industrial growth with avant-garde cultural proposals; to enhance economic alliances among Latin American countries; and putting the spotlight on the Cuyo province through a spectacular event that would attract both dwellers of the region and visitors. Maldonado collaborated with the Fair’s communication strategies by developing the graphic module that provided the visual elements later used by Barbuy in the creation of several graphic supports: postal stamps, posters, ticket, correspondence paper, handbooks, catalogues, ads, public signage, and identifications for the event’s authorities. Jannello led the architectural process.-at an urban scale-, from its initial proposal to its final conclusion, and he also projected the “Tower of the Americas”. Clusellas created some of the pavilions and specific furniture. Other authors connected to the modern movement, such as Francisco Bullrich and Hilario Zalba collaborated as well.
#EpicHighlights | Krayd Art Gallery
Located in 533 Tucumán street (Buenos Aires), Krayd gallery (1952-1955) became a crucial art center of the time despite its brief existence. It was founded by the musicians Francisco Kröpfl and Daniel Zoltan, both of them connected to the New Music Group with the collaboration of the poet Raúl Gustavo Aguirre, who worked for the magazine Poesía Buenos Aires. The name of the gallery merges the founders’ names. The hall became a space that validated artistic creations and encouraged the interaction of diverse modern trends of the period. For such reasons, the gallery worked as a meeting point for modern plastic art, graphic and furniture design, architecture, and music expressions.
The exhibitions displayed there show the significance of both abstract art and figuration. The gallery’s first showcase was named “Pintores argentinos contemporáneos” (1952). It included pieces by 60 artists, such as Sarah Grilo, Alfredo Hlito, Tomás Maldonado, Miguel Ocampo, and Xul Solar. Other emblematic exhibitions were: “1ª Exposición: Formación de un concepto escultórico moderno. 1900-1925” (1953); “2ª Exposición: Orientaciones actuales de la escultura argentina” (circa 1953), which presented work by Enio Iommi, among others; the exhibition “Pettoruti 1924-1954” (1954), organized by Julio E. Payró as a way to commemorate the thirty anniversary of his Witcomb showcase; and Clorindo Testa’s first solo exhibition, “Pinturas” (1954); in its final stage, the gallery presented “Arte Madí” (c. 1954), an exhibition that displayed painting, sculpture, and architecture pieces. Kröpfl and Zoltan were the curators of the gallery and, as such, they aimed to present diverse and often contrasting trends that revealed the rich nature of Argentine culture.
Krayd visual identity was made by Maldonado, who designed the brand, the facade, and the graphic series incorporated to the space as an integral system. Maldonado also gave a lecture at the gallery: “Precisión e imprecisión en las artes visuales” (1953). The conference was illustrated with a slide show.His friend and constant collaborator, the Hungarian artist Tomás Gonda, contributed with the graphic art displayed in the gallery’s new year cards and informative brochures. These illustrations display a complex layout of images, text, and empty spaces. In 1955, Krayd published a binder with 18 litographs by artists like: Badii, Fernández-Muro, Grillo, Hlito, Lanús, Ocampo, Presas, Ideal Sánchez, and Torres Agüero. Due to its complexity and high quality, this project unraveled the gallery’s financial failure while, paradoxically, consolidating its significance for the nation’s cultural history.
#Epic #ExpertOpinion | García + Rivas Pérez
María Amalia García holds a BA and PhD in Art History from the School of Philosophy and Letters (UBA). She has acted as Curator in Chief at the Malba-Buenos Aires Latin American Art Museum since 2021. She is an independent researcher affiliated to CONICET (currently with a leave of absence) and a university professor at the Arts program of the FFyL-UBA. Among other publications, she is the author of El arte abstracto. Intercambios culturales entre Argentina y Brasil (Siglo XXI, 2011), which was published in English by the University of California Press. Throughout the month of June, we will talk with her about the characteristics of artistic trends from the 1940’s and 1950’s that influenced the field of design the most.
Jorge Rivas Pérez holds a PhD in Art History from Bard Graduate Center at New York, and an architect degree granted by the Central University of Venezuela. He is the Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator of Latin American Art at the Denver Art Museum. Some of the renowned exhibitions he has put together as a curator specialized in design are Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela, 1940–1978, showcased at the Americas Society in 2015-2016. We will chat with him about the material culture of Latin American, XXth century objects and design.
EXTENSION Pieces at the Malba + CCK
IDA aids in the generation of exhibition-related experiences, provides guidance for curatorial projects, and lends pieces from its archive. IDA lent the poster of the movie “Psexoanálisis” (1967), a film directed by Héctor Olivera, to the Malba Museum for it to be displayed in the exhibition “Terapia”, open to the public from March 19 to August 16, 2021. The movie poster is part of the patrimonial collection of the artist and designer Edgardo Giménez (Santa Fe, 1942), safeguarded by IDA. The film was designated by the critics as the first pop motion picture in national cinema. The exhibition was curated by Gabriela Rangel, Verónica Rossi, and Santiago Villanueva, and it showcases the work of more than 50 artists with the aim of examining the reasons why psychoanalytic drive has become one of the most peculiar and outstanding traits of Argentine society.
“Piazzolla 100” shown at the Kircher Cultural Center pays homage to the musician Astor Piazzolla on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The exhibition, which will be open from March 12 until the end of 2021, includes a piece from IDA’s collection: the musical score “Balada para un loco” (1969) composed by Horacio Ferrer and Astor Piazzolla and edited by Lagos. The piece, designed by Carlos Alonso, is a bold graphic gamble that winks at modernity and absurdity through the incorporation of astronaut musicians, a popular topic after the first human landing on the moon took place earlier that year.
Fundación IDA | Fondos Patrimoniales: 2. UNCuyo | 3. Nueva Visión | 4. Maldonado, Tomás | 6-8. Política | 9. Jannello, César | 11-14. Jannello, César | 15-16. Galería Krayd | 17. Nueva Visión | 18. Fotografía Alejandro Guyot para Malba | 19. Fotografía Wilson Santiago | 20. Patagonia | 21. Giménez, Edgardo | 22. Arte | Archivos invitados: 1. AGN Archivo General de la Nación | 5 y 10. ARCA Archivo de Arquitectura Contemporánea Argentina.