Bauhaus: The Fate of the Bauhaus

Das Staatliche Bauhaus

The Fate of the Bauhaus Buildings

The decline of the school probably began in 1928 when the founding Director, Walter Gropius departed but the last two directors were under pressures that Gropius escaped. Mies was able to do little more to save the Bauhaus than to turn it into a vocational school, training people for trades. Clearly he was trying to be as circumspect as possible in an increasingly hostile political climate. The Nazis won a political majority in Dessau and immediately took aim at the Bauhaus and its “cosmopolitan rubbish” and withdrew all public funding. Architect Paul Schultze-Naumberg took over at the school to restore pure German art and architecture and purge the Kisten or the boxes of Bauhaus furniture. The Nazis were unique among the fascists in their hatred of modern architecture, for, in Italy, the government appropriated modernism for its own purposes. However, the Nazis reverted to imperial architecture inspired by Rome and it is fortunate that Schultze-Naumberg limited his destruction to the curriculum of the school.

Perhaps the most malicious act of vandalism befell the Master’s Houses, built for Gropius, Kandinsky, Klee, Schlemmer, Feininger, Miuche and Moholy-Nagy. Gropius had designed a group of modernist semi-detached and single-family homes, the famous houses for the Bauhaus faculty. Built according the to the designs of Gropius, these houses included a revolutionary modern concept for the kitchen, replacing traditional kitchen furniture with hanging cabinets and counters. The homes were furnished with Bauhaus furniture, lamps, fabrics, weavings, and other accessories. Kandinsky and his wife, Nina, were photographed sitting in a pair of “Wassily” chairs, designed by Marcel Breuer.

When the Bauhaus moved to Berlin, the city of Dessau, which owned the property, sold the houses to the Junker factory and ordered that the “the outer form of these houses should now be changed so that the alien building forms are removed from the town’s appearance.” The houses were greatly altered with the wide window walls closed in for conventional openings and chimneys sprouted from the flat roofs. During an air raid, the houses for Gropius and for Moholy-Nagy were destroyed. The other homes are still standing and have been lovingly restored to their original condition. The mark of the influence of De Stijl architecture is strongly felt with the crisp white exteriors, trimmed in black with an occasional jolt of a red line. The interiors were colorful in the Bauhaus fashion of using color to demarcate space. Starting in 2000, these houses were restored by the city of Dessau and today they on the list of UNESCO’s historic buildings. The question of whether or not to rebuilt the remaining two houses is still under discussion.

The Bauhaus building itself was damaged by bombing in 1945 and was partially restored in 1976. The building was located in East Germany and the reconstruction was not precise or historically accurate, perhaps due to lack of funds. For example, the curtain wall of the workshop wing was destroyed and the original steel window frames were replaced with aluminum. It was thought that the frames were lost but they were relocated as part of a greenhouse and placed back where they belonged. Extensive restoration of the original restoration began in the early years of the twenty-first century. Few documents exist about the original building and the restorers took every effort to preserve the original elements of the building, from the innovative plastic floors to the brightly colored walls, painted in accordance to the plan of the wall-painting department, headed by Hinnerk Scheper. In 1996, the building was registered as a World Heritage site and today it receives two hundred visitors a day.

When Adolf Hitler became dictator in Germany, any intellectuals and artists who remained left the nation…if they could. It has been said, “Hitler shook the tree and America got the apples.” The diaspora of the Bauhaus architects were but a fraction of Germany’s creative capital that was drained out of the country’s system. Albert Speer replaced Walter Gropius as Germany’s most celebrated architect. Gropius, Breuer, Mies, Moholy-Nagy and Josef Albers all came to America with enormous impact upon art and architecture in New York and Chicago.

In a free and prosperous society, they were able to build significant modernist buildings and the Bauhaus lived on in buildings and in countless copies of Bauhaus objects for modern life. Sadly, Walter Gropius did not live to see the restoration of his Gesamtkunstwerk and he died in 1969. His American home in Lincoln, Massachusetts, built in 1938, was very similar to his home within walking distance of the Bauhaus.

Other Bauhaus posts on this website include: Bauhaus, The Founding, Bauhaus: Modern Design, Bauhaus: Internal Tensions, Bauhaus the End, and Bauhaus: the Fate of the Bauhaus

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

 

 

Bauhaus: Internal Tensions

Das Staatliche Bauhaus

Contradictions within the Bauhaus

In the most recent scholarly work on the Bauhaus, Bauhaus. Workshops for Modernity. 1919-1933, Museum of Modern Art, 2009, for the Museum of Modern Art, Barry Bergdoll wrote about the contradictions that existed within the Bauhaus. In my view, these contradictions were deeply and unavoidably embedded in the school’s heritage and its intentions. The cultural inheritance that the Bauhaus was working with came from an old way of thinking that may or may not have been capable of being modified for the modern world. Take the grid, for example. The grid became the basic ruling concept of the Bauhaus. Obviously, despite the impact of De Stijl, the grid is far older than the paintings of Piet Mondrian and had long been the underlying structure of any composition. But with the Bauhaus the grid comes to the foreground and determines the module that was mobilized for advertising and for furniture and for architecture. Gropius proposed the Baukasten as a cubic element that could be deployed for pre-fab architecture. However, the architect was a visionary but Germany itself was still in the process of standardizing systems of measurement and it would take years for modular units in building to become an international norm.

Another case in point is the Bauhaus interest in redefining the “book,” a very old object that needed to be updated. For the Bauhaus, the urgency of this self-assigned task could not be clearer. The urban dweller of the twentieth century was inundated with visual images through film, illustrated magazines and newspapers, and advertising. One saw in a flash and read quickly in small graphic units. People were seeing and thinking in visuals as in no other time in history. The development of a “new vision” in typography and advertising was perhaps the most impactful contribution of the Bauhaus. László Moholy-Nagy took up the task of redesigning the format of books and the traditional gray page of blocks of print, breaking up the monotony of lines with graphic insertions.

In order to design the forms appropriate for mass communication and mass advertising everything had to be rethought. Herbert Bayer attempted to drag Germany into the twentieth century by bypassing the traditional Germanic medieval script in favor of a simplified and updated Roman font. In eliminating frakur, Bayer sought to eradicate culture and nationality for a more rational system. The German language is characterized by the capitalization of nouns, which, as with all capital letters, violated the basic tenets of language—to simply translate a sound into letters. Bayer proposed an all lower case form of print, imposing universal regularity with modern ruler and the French curve. This “universal script” became the familiar architects’ writing, still prevalent today.

However beautiful the productions of the Bauhausbücher, publishers who used mass production faced demands inherent in the proposals of Moholy-Nagy and Bayer, which depended upon handwork. For a conventional publisher, the old fashioned book was efficient and cost effective. Stopping the presses to insert some sort of graphically attractive addition or hand-setting hand-made lettering, no matter how “universal,” was simply not conducive to modern methods of manufacture. Despite the fact that it is clear to us today that the artists and architects of the Bauhaus could see into the future and guessed correctly the needs of future industry and accurately predicted the desires of future consumers, the Bauhaus was caught in a time lag. Much of the work done by the faculty and students were very dependent upon handwork and upon old-fashioned craft. Only in advertising did the technology exist to adapt itself to Herbert Bayer’s ideas, simply because there was a profit motive for the profession. Otherwise, it would take decades for technology to catch up with the Bauhaus vision.

The mission of the Bauhaus of a New Vision and a Standard Grammar collided directly with an old idea that simply refused to die: the role of the artist as creator. Faceless murals of Oskar Schlemmer and his mute and masked theatrical production, The Triadic Ballet, all insist upon the anonymity of “The Bauhaus.” But, for some, the nameless modernity of the Bauhaus was simply too challenging, as was the notion that the school “owned” anything the student designed. Inspired by the construction of a bicycle frame, Marcel Breuer invented the cantilevered chair, now known as the “Breuer chair” and introduced a new controversy over who “owned” “Bauhaus designs,” the Bauhaus, the home base of the students, or the students who came up with the design? Although Breuer fought to retain his rights to the famous chair, the art designed by the Bauhaus students was always labeled “The Bauhaus.” Regardless of who owned the lamps, ashtrays, teapots of Marianne Brandt or not, her work still stands for The Bauhaus.”

Other Bauhaus posts on this website include: Bauhaus, The Founding, Bauhaus: Modern Design, Bauhaus: Internal Tensions, Bauhaus the End, and Bauhaus: the Fate of the Bauhaus

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

 

Bauhaus: Modern Design

Das Staatliche Bauhaus

Bauhaus and the Modern World

In the beginning, the Bauhaus was founded upon the precedents of arts and crafts, deeply rooted in a Romantic and Germanic notion of a return to a medieval way of life. The founding image of the Bauhaus was the Cubist-like cathedral designed by Lyonel Feininger for the 1919 Bauhaus Manifesto. Indeed it was the intention of the newly appointed director, Walter Gropius to end the academic distinction between the fine arts and crafts by reestablishing the culture of the workshop. There would be a master of craft, the Handwerkmeister, and the master of form, the Formmeister, who, between them, would join handwork and aesthetics. Indeed the idea of making things, of getting back to the direct experience with materials which were manipulated with the hands was the basic idea of the early Bauhaus. The ideal sought by Gropius was the mythic and spiritual collective memory of the Bauhüten or the masons’ lodges. The idea of the cathedral and the Bauhaus was the Einheitskunstwerk or the total work of art translated into the collective needs of a modern society. But this idea of collectivity was easier stated than achieved.

The Bauhaus student body was definitely a mixed bag, unemployed men looking for something to do, old and difficult veterans, and students who were unprepared for the lofty goals of the Bauhaus. Gropius brought in a sterling faculty with pre-war credentials, starting with Lyonel Feininger and continuing with Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Johannes Itten from Vienna. Itten quickly remedied the problem of the lack of student readiness for an art school by creating a “foundation” course that would teach the basics to all students to create a foundation for the more advanced courses. Classes taught by Kandinsky and Klee complemented this “preliminary course”. Although Itten would be forced out along with the lingering sentiments for Expressionism in 1922, the idea of providing a year of basics in the arts still lingers in art schools a hundred years later. After Itten’s departure, László Moholy-Nagy took over the Preliminary Course, which would later be taught, most famously, by Josef Albers.

Despite their philosophical differences, Itten and Gropius established significant ideas that would leave their mark on twentieth century design and architecture. Itten, who was a hippie before his time, taught his students the fundamentals of the body through yogi or stretching exercises that would get them in touch with their own physicality. This emphasis on the senses was part of the need to give primacy to experience and an awareness of life through exercises in quick sketches in drawing class. Gropius did not consider that the Bauhaus was engaged in “making art” but in conducting “experiments” in a “laboratory.” At the Bauhaus, “abstraction” took on a different meaning as a search for fundamentalism. Abstraction did not stand in for “something else,” but was the process of distilling art making down to the essentials.

This basic core that the post-war artists were seeking initiated a search for artistic forms stripped of any cultural “baggage.” The idea of a tabula rasa was not just a quest for the visual arts; philosophers also turned their attention to the epistemology or the grounds of perceptual knowledge and linguistic understanding. Edmund Husserl wrote extensively of “bracketing” reality and attempting to discern the essentials of perception. Fernand de Saussure proposed a system where in the structure of language could be determined, breaking down linguistics into the “sign,” the “signifier,” and the “signified.” Certainly the thinking of De Stijl was crucial in the Bauhaus’ process of stripping down to a basic code of line and color. As Yves-Alain Bois pointed out in his 1985 book on De Stijl the “elementarization” which narrowed composition to the primary colors, white and gray, and the ruled line at right angle, and “integration,” which binds the resulting forms into a unified whole were the basis of De Stijl philosophy.

What had to be unlearned were outmoded and outdated aesthetic conventions and received ideas of beauty as taught by the academy. The artist of the twentieth century needed to have a mind cleansed of received wisdom and to return to a tabula rasa from which new and clarified forms would emerge. Gropius sought basic modules as elemental building units. Having achieved that level of creative clarity, the artist could be redefined as “a builder of systems.” The emphasis on experience over knowledge meant that communication between viewer and maker should be pre-linguistic and immediate due to the eloquence of “fundamental forms.” In his influential book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1911, Vasily Kandinsky asserted that a form of “psychic shock” would result when the viewer encountered these strong forms. Key to the idea of gaining experience, which would replace conventions was the idea of “play.” The importance of play at the Bauhaus was inspired by the foundational work of Friedrich Froebel who invented the “kindergarten” or the “children’s garden” where children played and learned from their play.

By 1923, Gropius was ready to announce the new philosophy for the Bauhaus. This “reversal of values” moved the school away from the reform of arts and crafts to an engagement with the industrial world. Clearly, the Bauhaus had been profoundly impacted by the art and design done by the De Stijl movement in Holland and by the example of “laboratory work” done in the new Soviet Union. De Stijl founder, Theo van Doesburg, moved to Weimar and gave individual lessons to Bauhaus students but was never a professor there. In Berlin, German art audiences go their first look at the new art of the Soviets at the Galerie van Diemen in Berlin in 1922. The world had changed and the Bauhaus reacted with alacrity. Gropius, speaking at a 1923 exhibition of faculty and student work, announced that the Bauhaus had moved into the present and had a new slogan, “Art and Technology: A New Unity.”

Thus the philosophy of the Bauhaus passed beyond the Werkbund spirit that the artist should be a craftsperson first and any aesthetic must be based upon sound craft. The whole notion of “craft” and making had to get beyond the medieval mystique and into mass manufacture. 1923 was the year that Walter Gropius invited the Hungarian artist, László Moholy-Nagy to join the faculty. Moholy-Nagy embodied the new industrial spirit of the new Bauhaus. A photographer, painter and typographer, Molholy-Nagy pioneered in what his called “New Vision,” his version of “the grammar of modern design” sought by Gropius. Like many designers, Moholy-Nagy knew that the visual forms of the nineteenth century had to be updated for the new century. Most importantly, he understood that the modern mind perceived the world in a fundamentally different fashion.

Other Bauhaus posts on this website include: Bauhaus, The Founding, Bauhaus: Modern Design, Bauhaus: Internal Tensions, Bauhaus the End, and Bauhaus: the Fate of the Bauhaus

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

 

Bauhaus: The Founding

Das Staatliche Bauhaus

Founding the Bauhaus, 1919-1923

Historically as an art school and as a design movement, the Bauhaus stands as a counterweight to the solipsism and Surrealism in Paris and the anger and turmoil in Berlin. To a certain extent, the Bauhaus can be linked to New Objectivity in its rejection of Expressionism, but the school set itself apart from the mainstream art world in Germany by redesigning the world for the twentieth century. The goal of the Bauhaus was to create the kinds of design that would lend itself to mass production and that would be accessible to the masses. To a certain extent, the Bauhaus also shared the post-war utopianism that clean modern design would have a beneficial impact on society, but the goals were more practical than dreamy. From the beginning the school was split among factions—art versus craft—and individual creation and corporate ownership—hand work verses factory production. The school also reflected the tensions in early twentieth century society, controversies over the Jewish members of the faculty and the dis-ease over having so many female students. Divided at its heart, the Bauhaus nevertheless created the “modern.”

As an art school, the Bauhaus was the continuation of a long-held dream of reforming the bad design and bad taste unleashed by the Industrial Revolution. Its precedents were the Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic Movements in England and the Art nouveau styles in Europe and America and, more locally, the Deutscher Werkbund, founded in Munich in 1907. In their desire to return to the integrity of medieval craft, these predecessor movements were flawed in their core, for the products, hand-crafted by artists, were far too expensive and rarified for the ordinary person to afford. Only the Werkbund, fully engaged in the twentieth century, was positioned to join art and craft and industry. In contrast, the nineteenth century reform movements, for all their good intentions, were expressions of luxury, and the Werkbund established the most immediate precedent for the Bauhaus.

In fact, it was one of the founders of the Werkbund, Henry van der Velde, who was head of the School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar, and it was his post that Walter Gropius took over. Van der Velde was forced to leave Germany and return to this homeland of Belgium, but, after the war, it seemed clear that his medieval sensibilities had become obsolete. By the time the Bauhaus was formed by Walter Gropius in 1919 in Weimer it was clear that it was impossible to return to an imagined medieval paradise and that design needed to express the modern industrial world that had come so horribly into fruition during the Great War. Gropius combined arts and crafts into one school, under one roof, combining all the arts under one roof in the name of architecture: Bauhaus or “house of building.” Gropius stated,

“Let us collectively desire, conceive and create the new building of the future, which will be everything in one structure: architecture and sculpture and painting, which, from the million hands of craftsmen, will one day rise towards heaven as the crystalline symbol of a new and coming faith.”

Although we tend to think of “the Bauhaus” as an organic unity that created a “look” that is read as “modern,” the school actually went through numerous stages. Existing during the span of the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933, the Bauhaus lived a precarious existence, and, like the wider German art world, evolved out of Romanticism and Expressionism into the modern era. Far more than any other movement in the period between the two wars, the Bauhaus was actively engaged in an attempt to redefine “art” and “artist” for the modern period of mass production and mass communication for mass audiences.

The school went through its founding phase from 1919 to 1922, shifting to a more rational and less medieval approach to design, only to be disrupted by the move to Dessau in 1925, where Gropius brought in László Moholy-Nagy, who had a profound impact on the philosophy of the Bauhaus. Gropius was succeeded by Hannes Meyer in 1928, but he was considered politically unsuitable and was removed in favor of Mies van Der Rohe in 1930. After that final transition, the Bauhaus went into survival mode and Mies presided over its final demise in Berlin in 1933.

Other Bauhaus posts on this website include: Bauhaus, The Founding, Bauhaus: Modern Design, Bauhaus: Internal Tensions, Bauhaus the End, and Bauhaus: the Fate of the Bauhaus

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]