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Paul Klee: Master of the Bauhaus opens at the Fundación Juan March in Madrid
Paul Klee, Flor tropical, 1920. Oleo y lapiz de grafito sobre papel imprimado adherido a carton. Zentrum Paul Klee, Berna. © VEGAP, Madrid, 2013
MADRID.- Paul Klee: Master of the Bauhaus is the second exhibition that the Fundación Juan March has devoted to the Swiss artist since the one it organized several decades ago, in 1981, which was the second exhibition focusing on Paul Klee ever held in Spain. The exhibition -with Fabienne Eggelhöfer and Marianne Keller Tschirren as guest curators- is the result of several years of work in collaboration with the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern. It is based on what may well be—after the publication of the artist’s catalogue raisonné—the most significant and relevant research project on Klee of a “structural” nature conducted in the last decades: the critical edition of his pädagogischer Nachlass. The phrase applies to a collection of texts as fascinating as it is heterogeneous: nearly four thousand manuscript pages in which Klee -during his ten years of teaching at the Bauhaus- recorded his reflections and theoretical and practical investigations. These notes and illustrations center on the notion of pictorial form, on natural and artificial structures; on configuration in the plastic arts; on rhythm and on color.

The exhibition includes 137 works comprising paintings, watercolors and drawings executed between 1899 and 1940, come from the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern as well as from many other museums and collections, both public and private, in Switzerland, Germany, France, the United States and Spain, alongside nearly a hundred manuscripts chosen from among his lecture notes, which represent each one of the twenty-four chapters into which Klee’s texts are divided.

From 22 March, until 30 June 2013, the Fundación Juan March in Madrid offers Paul Klee: Master of the Bauhaus: 137 Works by Paul Klee (Münchenbuchsee, Kanton Bern, Switzerland, 1879 – Muralto, Kanton Tesino, Switzerland, 1940), comprising paintings, watercolors and drawings executed between 1899 and 1940, alongside nearly a hundred manuscripts chosen from among his lecture notes, which represent the Paul Klee’s so-called “pedagogical legacy” at the Bauhaus.

The exhibition furthermore presents objects and documents that range from contemporary photographs to the artist’s herbariums, encompassing some of his reading materials, documentary sources for his thinking, his writing, his drawing notebooks, and his publications. It is a multifaceted collection of material that enables one to adequately contextualize his life and work at the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau and helps clarify the mutual influences between his theory and his artistic practice throughout his life.


Paul Klee: Master of the Bauhaus is the second exhibition that the Fundación Juan March has devoted to the Swiss artist since the one it organized several decades ago, in 1981, which was the second exhibition focusing on Paul Klee ever held in Spain. That show, which enjoyed the collaboration of the artist’s son, Felix Klee, the Paul-Klee-Stiftung in Bern and the Beyeler gallery in Basel, featured 202 works, including oil paintings, watercolors, drawings and prints. The first exhibition on Klee had been held in 1972 at the Palacio de la Virreina in Barcelona and the Museo Espańol de Arte Contemporáneo in Madrid, with sixty-one works from the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf. Since those two pioneering shows, exhibitions on Klee in Spain happily have returned with relative frequency, with seven in the last four decades.

In the face of this succession of exhibitions, whose frequency extends to notable international exhibitions over the last decades, one might legitimately ask: Why Klee again? The relevance and opportuneness of an exhibition such as this one perhaps may be explained on the basis of a distinction between the narrowly “thematic” approach behind the majority of exhibitions referred to as “thematic,” versus an approach that does not necessarily exclude thematic orientations but that might more properly be called “structural.” This latter sort of exhibition is grounded on a fundamental attention to a “transverse” or “operative” facet of the artist’s work –an essential factor that “cuts through” his or her entire oeuvre, in contrast to the cultivation of certain subjects or themes in specific periods.

Paul Klee: Master of the Bauhaus is an exhibition of this latter variety. It is the result of a project undertaken in June of 2009, when the Fundación Juan March received news that the Zentrum Paul Klee (with which the Fundación shared fond recollections of that pioneering exhibition from the 1980s as well as more recent collaborations) had proposed to embark upon a research project that was truly striking in its relevance. This effort, a complete critical edition of Paul Klee’s so-called “pedagogical legacy,” did not necessarily demand a parallel exhibition, but it certainly did not exclude that possibility.

The German art historian Will Grohman wrote in 1954 that “The moment to definitively assess Klee’s artistic teaching will have arrived once the main parts of his pedagogical legacy have been published.” Over a half-century later, the publication of not just certain essential parts, but of that Nachlass, or legacy, in its entirety has become the objective of a research project. It proved, indeed, to be a more than ideal opportunity to prepare a second exhibition focusing on Klee that would combine a presentation of the Swiss artist’s fascinating and influential work with attention to a “structural” aspect –an approach that is at once novel and decisively illuminating in the way it sheds new light on Klee’s artistic theory and practice.

Paul Klee: Master of the Bauhaus includes 137 works by the Swiss artist and has been organized in collaboration with the Zentrum Paul Klee and with Fabienne Eggelhöfer and Marianne Keller Tschirren as guest curators. The present exhibition at the Fundación Juan March brings together some of the works displayed at the Zentrum Paul Klee together with many others from important museums and collections in Switzerland, Germany, France, the United States, and Spain.

The exhibition is, therefore, the result of several years of work in collaboration with the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern. It is based on what may well be –after the publication of the artist’s catalogue raisonné– the most significant and relevant research project on Klee of a “structural” nature conducted in the last decades: the critical edition of his pädagogischer Nachlass. The phrase applies to a collection of texts as fascinating as it is heterogeneous: nearly four thousand manuscript pages in which Klee recorded his reflections and theoretical and practical investigations. They are full of striking diagrams, schematic illustrations, tables, color spectrums, constructions and drawings. These notes and illustrations center on the notion of pictorial form, its regular features, governing principles and genesis; on geometry, planes and volumes; on movement; on natural and artificial structures; on configuration in the plastic arts; on rhythm and on color. This Nachlass is, in short, a series of meditations on the life of forms, without which one cannot definitively understand Klee’s own theory or his artwork –two areas that (as is obvious in the case of an artist) echo each other mutually.

Nevertheless, and despite the evident significance of these writings, scarcely two exhibitions have ever turned to them explicitly in order establish a visual dialogue that would focus on the relationships between Klee’s work and his teaching. This is surely due, at least in part, to the fact that this extraordinarily abundant source of material, as richly evocative as it is challenging to understand, was in a state that proved impractical for its systematic interpretation and analysis.

The exhibition, Paul Klee: Master of the Bauhaus, was conceived in parallel with the study, transcription and critical edition of that immense legacy, a task that was carried out by Fabienne Eggelhöffer and Marianne Keller-Tschirren beginning in 2008, with support from the Schweizerischer Nationalfonds (SNF) and other institutions, among them the Fundación Juan March. This effort has resulted in the publication of the online resource, inaugurated in August 2012, www.kleegestaltungslehre.zpk.org. This web site provides free access to the database containing complete facsimiles and transcriptions of the texts, thus fulfilling the longstanding wishes of the international community of researchers working on Klee and his oeuvre, expressed by Will Grohman years ago.

Klee undertook all his investigations with a decidedly pedagogical objective. His texts sound markedly didactic. They are, after all, the “lecture notes” with which Meister Klee prepared and presented his classes at the Bauhaus in Weimar and then in Dessau, where he taught, along with Wassily Kandinsky, Lothar Schreyer and Oskar Schlemmer, from 1921 to 1931. During that decade, Klee prepared his classes on bildnerische Formlehre (“theory of pictorial form”) and created more than 3900 handwritten pages of material with notes for his classes, which he designated collectively as Bildnerische Gestaltungslehre (Theory of pictorial configuration). It was at the Bauhaus, with that institution’s particular and novel approach to theoretical and practical teaching and its break with the traditional role of the applied arts, where Klee developed his own pedagogical methods, by which he transmitted to his students the fundamental principles of formal configuration –that is, what we might more conventionally call “design”. And although Klee was not teaching future artists, per se (the students at the Bauhaus were, in Klee’s words, “Bildner, werktätige Praktiker”, creators, shapers of material, working practitioners), and he was convinced that art could not be taught in the same way one teaches theoretical disciplines or pure applied arts, his contributions as a teacher emerged, logically, alongside a meditation on his own pictorial work –which has since influenced entire generations of artists around the world.

That enormous accumulation of teaching notes is not, of course, a kind of archive of preparatory drawings or a supply of sketches that Klee could use for his works. In fact, in contrast to earlier exhibitions that have focused on the subject, and unlike certain partial editions of Klee’s texts, this exhibition and the essays in the accompanying catalogue refuse to establish excessively rigid causal relationships between Klee’s “theoretical” corpus and his works. Thus, simplistic analogies have been avoided, of the sort that find formal similarities, based on too-narrow an analysis of “motifs”, between specific works and specific material from his notes.

However, it is obvious that Klee did not exclusively compartmentalize the activities of reflection, teaching, and artistic creation. On the contrary, he devised his theories and developed his teaching on the foundation of his own work as an artist. In this way, his theory and his artistic practice continually rub up against each other, producing mutual echoes –as, for example, when we observe him playing freely in his drawings of geometric constructions with the same processes of configuration that we find in his notes.

In short, a reciprocal reverberation emerges between Klee’s artwork and his notes. Considered in unison, his works and his reflections form a kind of pictorial analogue to a violin’s soundbox, enormously rich visually and also of great interest theoretically. In the case of Paul Klee: Master of the Bauhaus, reverberating within this “resonator” –made literally three-dimensional in the exhibition space and organized structurally and thematically in this catalogue– are our selection of 137 works comprising paintings, watercolors and drawings executed between 1899 and 1940, alongside nearly a hundred manuscripts chosen from among his lecture notes, which represent each one of the twenty-four chapters into which Klee’s texts are divided.

The loans for the exhibition come from the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern as well as from many other museums and collections, both public and private, in Switzerland, Germany, France, the United States and Spain. Both in the exhibition and in this catalogue, Klee’s works are organized around five themes that are central to his creative work as well as in his teaching: color, rhythm, nature, construction and movement. They help guide our gaze in the expansive artistic universe of such an imaginatively fertile creator as Klee was. The phenomena of genesis and growth in nature provided him with a model for explaining configuration and design. His thesis that the essential question was less the definitive form of things than the processes that lead to it –his notion that a form should not be understood as “Being” but rather as “Becoming”– pervades his teaching and explains his interest in the generation and inner workings of form. Along with natural phenomena, Klee also studied, artistically and theoretically, the ideas of rhythm, color, geometric construction and movement.





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