Beuys and Beyond in Sao Paulo
Deutsche Bank Collection in Dialogue with Contemporary Brazilian Art
Two seminal artists in contemporary art, two influential teachers that left their mark on an entire generation of artists: the exhibition "Beuys and Beyond – Teaching as Art," now making its guest appearance in Sao Paulo, shows Joseph Beuys and his students in a dialogue with Nelson Leirner and the important artists the "Old Master" of the Brazilian scene has taught. "Beuys and Beyond" is the third major exhibition of works from the Deutsche Bank Collection to tour through renowned Latin American museums. The project combines two themes that are of key importance to Deutsche Bank’s social commitment—art and the teaching of creativity.
||This year, Deutsche Bank celebrates the hundred-year anniversary of its business activities in Brazil, while the Instituto Tomie Ohtake celebrates its tenth birthday. And so the exhibition house in Sao Paulo seemed like the ideal location for the Brazilian station of Beuys and Beyond—Teaching as Art. The building, which is unmistakable due to its colorful futuristic façade, is dedicated to the work of Tomie Ohtake, a Japanese-born representative of the abstract painting so typical for Brazil. Along with the artist’s work, the building, designed by her son Ruy Ohtake, also houses exhibitions of Brazilian and international contemporary artists.
With around one hundred works from the Deutsche Bank Collection, the exhibition conveys a complex image of the influence Joseph Beuys exerted on six of his most important students: Lothar Baumgarten, Imi Knoebel, Jörg Immendorff, Blinky Palermo, Katharina Sieverding, and Norbert Tadeuz. The curators of the Instituto Tomie Ohtake, Agnaldo Farias and Paulo Miyada, chose Nelson Leirner as the Brazilian counterpart to the German artist. Due to his frequently controversial works that repeatedly investigated themes such as the marketing of art, globalization, and the hegemony of the USA in Latin America, Leirner is considered to be one of the most important protagonists of contemporary Brazilian art.
Leirner and Beuys are connected both by the political content of their works and their aim to reach as many people as possible with their art. And for both, teaching became an important part of their work. "To be a teacher is my greatest work of art"—this was how Beuys summarized it in 1977 in an interview with Artforum. Beuys radically called the traditional teaching methods and the rigid hierarchies at the Dusseldorf Art Academy into question; Nelson Leirner also opposed the pedagogical status quo. As a result of his experiences at the hands of the Brazilian military dictatorship throughout the sixties and seventies, he stood vehemently for freedom of opinion and artistic expression. At times, his classes at the Armando Álvares Penteado Foundation (FAAP) resembled performances, and he repeatedly provoked his students, calling upon them to leave the beaten path and to subject their work to critical scrutiny.
The exhibition at the Instituto Tomie Ohtake also shows how wide the spectrum is among Leirner’s students. Caetano de Almeida, whose geometrically patterned canvases continue the tradition of Brazilian abstraction into the digital age, has four paintings in the show in which an allover of petals and leaves explodes in psychedelic colors. On the other hand, Iran do Espírito Santo, who created the Brazilian Pavilion at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999 together with Leirner, adopts a cool minimalist style in his mirror installation. Edgard de Souza presents an untitled photo series of male bodies made in 1998/99 as a sculptural object, while Sergio Romagnolo investigates the flood of imagery in the mass media: his paintings are based on stills from American TV series.
Leda Catunda also works with found image material; in her textile works, she combines kitschy calendar images with abstract shapes. Punk rock’s energy and "do-it-yourself" attitude characterizes the works of Dora Longo Bahia. Her collage-like wall pieces convey the rough spirit of urban subcultures. Laura Vinci works with the most classic of sculptural materials. In her room-sized installations, she combines sculptures of white marble with red apples. While the fruits slowly shrink during the course of the exhibition, the contrast between the perfect surfaces of the stone cubes becomes more and more apparent. When one compares the works of Beuys and Leirner with that of their students, one sees that they were not interested in rearing epigones—quite the contrary. Both teachers encouraged their students to find their own paths and to develop new creative approaches.
Beuys and Beyond—Teaching as Art
September 13 – October 30, 2011
Instituto Tomie Ohtake
Sao Paulo, Brazil