Encounter with Benjamin Buchloh and Michelle Harewood
From Posada to Isotype, from Kollwitz to Catlett
In this encounter, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh and Michelle Harewood present the key aspects of the exhibition From Posada to Isotype, from Kollwitz to Catlett, curated by both, in a survey on graphic art’s potential during historical avant-garde movements. The conversation touches on issues such as the development and exchange between different print media — woodcuts, wood engravings, linocut and lithography — which, during the first half of the twentieth century and at odds with its purportedly obsolete nature, served as a platform to vindicate and mobilise a broad number of international art movements.
Consequently, it sets out from the figures of José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913) and Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945), artists who started to develop their artistic practice in Mexico and Germany, respectively, between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th and used an ostensibly backward-looking technique as a medium of expression for social critique. This trend related to the resurgence of traditional graphic art would crystalise in different places, historical circumstances and art movements, for instance in German Expressionism from 1905 onwards with the work of artists such as Max Beckmann (1884–1950), Otto Dix (1891–1969) and George Grosz (1893–1959), or the Mexican Taller de Gráfica Popular which, founded by Raúl Anguiano (1923–2006), Luis Arenal (1909–1985), Leopoldo Méndez (1902–1969) and Pablo O’Higgins (1904–1983) in 1937, contributed to causes such as the nationalisation of mining and petrol resources and the fight for the land rights of indigenous peoples by means of a concerted production of posters, pamphlets and prints.
Finally, as a dialectic and historical conclusion, the attention shifts to the Isotype (International System of Typographic Picture Education) project created in 1926 by Gerd Arntz (1900–1988), Otto Neurath (1882–1945) and Marie Reidemeister-Neurath (1898–1986) to develop a universal communication system via images, reflecting on their role — and, by extension, on their pictorial quality — within a new and emerging information society.
Benjamin H.D. Buchloh is an art historian who has served as an Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. His published essay volumes include Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry (MITpress, 2000) and Art Since 1900. Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism (Thames and Hudson, 2005, co-edited with Yve Alain Bois, Hal Foster and Rosalind Krauss), and his work has keenly recovered the critical legacy and structural challenge of artists such as Michael Asher, Marcel Broodthaers, James Coleman and Dan Graham. He curated the retrospective on Gerard Richter at the Metropolitan Museum, in New York (2020), and received the Golden Lion Award for his work in Contemporary Art History and Art Criticism at the Venice Biennale in 2007. In 2015 he was a guest lecturer at the Museo Reina Sofía’s series of master lectures.
Michelle Harewood is an art historian who has worked as an assistant curator in institutions such as MoMA’s Painting and Sculpture Department and at Guggenheim, New York. Her line of research focuses on twentieth-century photography and Latin American art and she has been involved in events that include the James Rosenquist retrospective (Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2004). Moreover, she has conducted research and written the script for From Marseille to Martinique: A Surreal Odyssey, a documentary on artist Wifredo Lam (1902–1982) and The Hundred Days, an adaptation of Joseph Roth’s novel.