In recent decades the relationship between the art of the 20th century and play, education, childhood and the primitive has been the subject of a considerable number of exhibitions. Some have focused on traditional toys, others on games and toys designed by the avant-gardes or by modern artists, architects and designers, while others have looked at children's drawings and literature, artists' books and those illustrated for children.
Nonetheless, no exhibition has previously presented the research that has traced the influence of the new pedagogical models which appeared in the 19th century concerning both children's education and the teaching of drawing, which was the basis of artistic practice for the avant-gardes (and hence for the art, architecture and design of the entire 20th century, which were their heirs). Logically, an exhibition of this type involves the display of an extremely wide range of educational games and didactic material, shown alongside works of art in a single, convincing visual space.
This is the account offered in Playing Art. Education, Art and Design, an exhibition that aims to reveal how the innovative pedagogical theories of the 19th century that were most radically based on play and on the experience of "drawing for all" - inspired by Emile (1762) by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the best-known practical expression of which is perhaps the Kindergarten system devised by Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) - have provided a highly effective but equally underappreciated starting point for the great shift that modern art introduced into tradition, together with the emulation of artistic tradition (or the break with it), knowledge of other cultures and periods, and the influence of literature and intellectual trends of the time. The exhibition thus aims to show how the genesis of modern art also lies in the childhood of its protagonists and in the education they received.
Featuring loans from public and private institutions and collections in both Spain and abroad, this exhibition juxtaposes a wide-ranging selection of drawing manuals and methods, materials, resources and educational games from the collection of the exhibition's guest curator Juan Bordes with works by the 20th-century's leading artists, architects and designers. In Playing Art. Education, Art and Design, which also benefits from the presence of Norman Brosterman and Juliet Kinchin on its curatorial team, educational games take their place alongside examples of 20th-century art and design, not just in terms of their formal similarities, which are evident, but also with regard to the historically documented cases of so many artists who were educated in the new pedagogical systems. Both are presented as examples of a common spirit in education and art. If children are educated as artists who must learn through play, it is not surprising that as adults they see themselves and behave as true "professional" children, devoting the serious game of their lives to that other game – simultaneously elemental and elevated, fun and reflexive – which characterises the finest examples of the art of our time.