After the liberation of Prague by the Russians they set about getting the family paint factory going again. Then the Communists carried out a coup in Prague in 1948. This spelled the end for the Neumann brothers and their enterprises in Czechoslovakia. It was time to leave Europe for good. They made a careful study of world conditions in their sector, looking for the most promising country in which to establish a paint factory, and Venezuela was selected.
Arriving in Caracas in 1949, it marked a new beginning. As Neumann later recalled in an interview, “the first thing I saw on arrival at the port of La Guaira was a giant cockroach, that, and the heat that literally fried us were my first impressions. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. During the voyage, instead of taking the time to learn it, I played table tennis and won the boat championship. The result was that in the early days I had to resort to a Czech-Spanish dictionary and use all verbs in the infinitive.” Nevertheless, with the paint formulas from their father’s Czechoslovakian enterprise, the Neumanns started their business with a loan of a hundred thousand dollars, naming it ‘Montana Fabrica de Pinturas’, and they became the leading supplier of paint to the domestic market. In addition to turning out paint, ‘Montana Resimon’ was established in 1959 to meet the need for resins, varnish, ink and paintbrushes. Montana Grafica – a paper manufacturing and printing plant – was launched because none of the local printers were able to produce satisfactory labels for their paint cans. By 1969, the companies were turning over sales of over US$12million, thanks in part to expanding into industrial maintenance, wood, marine and automotive markets for paint. Developing an additive that prevented the adhesion of dirt and dust for painting road signs and tunnels, for example, led to the Neumanns securing many lucrative government contracts. In 1970, these diverse interests were merged into a large conglomerate called CORIMON CA, the first Venezuelan company to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
To a certain extent Venezuela had proved to be a challenging place to do business. The Neumanns had arrived in Venezuela just after the political coup of 1948, and the beginning of General Perez-Jimenez’s five-year dictatorship. The F.A.L.N. was formed by the Communist Party with the aim of retaining strategic presence through acts of terror. During a period when oil pipelines were sabotaged, the US Embassy in Caracas was bombed and kidnappings were carried out in the public eye, the Neumanns’ factory was torched, the resins and paint igniting in a spectacular conflagration.
The brothers were a new breed of industrialist. Entrepreneurs with a sense of philanthropy too, an almost unknown combination at the time.
Yet in other ways Venezuela was a canny choice. In 1950, while the rest of the world was struggling to recover from World War II, Venezuela’s oil wealth had made it the 4th largest economy in the world. Having escaped the devastation of the war, and with a ready source of cash from oil revenues to hand, the Venezuelan President could afford to build the country’s future. So the Neumann’s businesses developed in tandem with a construction boom that saw a wave of showcase modernist buildings in the capital as well as infrastructure development. Perez-Jimenez began to see himself as a modernizer. Highways were built linking Caracas to the coast; the slums of Caracas were cleared and replaced with colourful high-rise buildings, hotels and factories. In each case, Perez-Jimenez and his associates took a cut of the commission. In the rapidly developing urban culture of Caracas, European modernism was coming to be seen as a political tool, a means to reject tradition and backwardness and provincialism, a means of achieving development, or of catching up with the US. If modernist architects in Europe had turned away from traditional buildings and monuments because they were seen as being too implicated in the politics and problems of the past to warrant retention, the modernist artists, designers and architects in Venezuela came to be seen as the vanguard of the desarrollista – as the agents, not just of development, but of a new way of being.
The brothers exemplified this, they were a new breed of industrialist on the Venezuelan scene. Entrepreneurs with a sense of philanthropy too, an almost unknown combination at the time. Both Hans and Lothar had begun to build up substantial collections of art. Whilst Lothar amassed a significant private collection of Art Nouveau, Hans collected work by European painters whose reputation had been established in the first half of the twentieth century such as Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Bacon and Klee. In addition, he acquired and championed the work of the new generation of Venezuelan artists such as Carlos Cruz-Diez, Jesus Soto, Alejandro Otero and Marisol Escobar, placing them at the epicentre of 20th century modernism.
They offered their patronage to a number of art foundations as well as the Museo de Bellas Artes. In 1964. Hans Neumann, in conjunction with his brother and the National Institute of Educational Training, founded IDD, the Institute of Drawing and Design in order to support the training of the industrial and graphic designers of the future. It was at the printing workshop Nena Palacios, the beautiful socialite and graphic designer whose workshop was at the centre of the Venezuelan art scene, and the place that high profile celebrities like Ava Gardner and the Chilean poet and diplomat, Pablo Neruda, would come to visit, that Neumann had developed his idea of founding an international institute of design. Venezuela had a growing industry but there was a shortage of trained designers in the country and the plan was that IDD would remedy this; how Hans achieved this would reveal his skill in brokering complex deals. He approached his brother Lothar who had been focusing his philanthropic efforts on supporting economically disadvantaged children in need of educational support and together they developed the Neumann Foundation. Next, Hans approached Nena Palacios’s brother-inlaw, Oscar Palacios Herrera, who as the president of INCE had developed a National Apprenticeship Scheme offering a wide range of technical training courses. In turn, Palacios Herrera won the support of the National Institute for Entrepreneurial Training and the Ministry of Education. The Neumann Foundation made a substantial foundation bequest and INCE agreed to offer institutional support and more financial backing and so, in 1964, IDD was launched.