An exhibition lost and found

Read more below

By SOUMITRA DAS
  • Published 29.07.13
  •  

The Bauhaus in Calcutta: An Encounter of the Cosmopolitan Avant-garde, an exhibition held earlier this year at Dessau in Germany, will probably travel to this city, where it was originally held in December 1922, although few traces of it remain.

Even if the original paintings are not actually brought here as insurance will be prohibitively expensive and security will pose a bigger problem, the documents relating to the exhibition will be displayed here.

This was a pathbreaking exhibition of the watercolours, gouaches and drawings by artists from both this “School of Building” founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919, and modern Indian artists from Rabindranth’s Santiniketan school which opened in the same year.

The works from two corners of the world which shared many affinities and concerns were displayed in two rooms of No 12 Samavaya Mansion, Hogg Street (Futnani Chambers), which housed the Indian Society of Oriental Art.

This was revealed by Kathrin Rhomberg, co-curator of the exhibition, who was one of the participants of the bustling two-day Experimenter Curators’ Hub that began on Friday morning in the Hindusthan Road gallery.

The Hub is on its very successful third year now with curators from Japan, Poland, the UK, Germany and Indian metros attending. Pro-Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council, has provided support for this unique enterprise by young gallerists Prateek and Priyanka Raja from the very first year, and this time, British Council, Polish Institute and the Goethe Institut threw their weight in. The Hub, with 10 curators participating, was as usual steered by Aveek Sen with effortless ease, and the audience too was surprisingly vocal. A video-document of the Hub will be put online and will be available free on the Experimenter’s website.

In her presentation on Friday, Kathrin Rhomberg postulated that the avant garde has lost its position of being the “other” in the 1990s contemporary art system which allowed everything to be passed off as art. Later, in continuation of her interview with the Metro, she said one of the positive fallouts of globalisation and the end of Cold War is that Eurocentrism in art history is more and more being questioned, specifically in the last 10 years.

The need to develop a new dialogue and bring together different attitudes and concerns is being felt. After the end of Cold War, the archives of the former German Democratic Republic were accessible. Bauhaus, too, became aware of its past.

Regina Bittner, vice-director of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, initiated the process of bringing to life the 1922 exhibition. The curatorial team included art historian Partha Mitter.

Last year, when the team visited Calcutta, they discovered that the only existing document of the exhibition was in Lahore. It only carried the text by Stella Kramrisch, (1896-1993), who was an authority on Indian art and Hindu mythology from Austria. Rabindranath invited her to join Kala-Bhavan as a teacher of art history in 1921.

There were no photographs, and the 130 art works — miniature paintings, drawing and gouaches (they turned their back on oil) — did not have titles, only descriptions. They were by Kandinsky, Klee, Johannes Itten, Lyonel Feininger and some students, and among the Bengal School artists were Nandalal, Gaganendranath, Abanindranath, Sunayani Debi and Pratima Debi.

Kramrisch urged the people of Calcutta to visit the exhibition as the artists from both schools had so much in common — they were resisting the academic style prevailing then.

Rabindranath travelled twice through Germany and Austria when he met artists like Itten and intellectuals. It was at Kramrisch’s urging that Itten sent the Bauhaus works to Calcutta. Rhomberg says it was an “emancipatory moment” as it was a search for the new that broke away from colonialism.

Unlike the 1922 exhibition, however, at Bauhaus Dessau in May 2013, the two groups of works were displayed together “and it was clear that the artists of Bengal and Germany had the same concerns.”

The only work that sold was by Sophie Körner, a Jewish artist who was killed in a concentration camp. Rabindranath collected it. But it remains untraced. About the mystery surrounding the Bauhaus works that had allegedly disappeared, and the Interpol investigation in the 1970s, Rhomberg clarified that after the fall of the Berlin wall the Bauhaus archive in Weimar was accessible. A list was found which recorded that the works had returned to Germany. Some though not all the works were found.