The Bauhaus is considered one of the most important modernist art schools of the 20th century. Drawing from earlier movements such as Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement, Bauhaus emphasizes the unity of art, industrial design, and technology, and its ethos and approach to the artistic process continues to influence artists and art education to this day. This year the Bauhaus marks the centenary of its founding, and the whole world is celebrating!
The Beginning of Bauhaus
Founded in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, the Bauhaus school was named after the medieval Bauhütten, or stone masonry lodges, alluding to one of the movements that inspired its foundation: the Arts and Crafts movement, which believed in producing quality items in a workshop setting. Walter Gropius, a pioneer of modern architecture and the founder of the Bauhaus school, believed design should be approached systematically and intellectually through research and problem solving, as well as be applicable and useful for the everyday person. He believed that older styles of architecture and art no longer represented the modern times:
“We cannot go on indefinitely reviving revivals...Neither medievalism nor colonialism can express the life of the 20th-century man. There is no finality in architecture—only continuous change.” -Walter Gropius
Because of the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement and the ideas of designer William Morris and art critic John Ruskin—whose beliefs were that everyday objects should be beautiful and well made, and that the health of society was linked to the way items were produced, respectively—the Bauhaus is well known for reinstituting the practice of training in workshops over the traditional art studio. Its ultimate aim was to embrace technology and reconcile fine art and functional design in order to combat the lifelessness and unartistic modern manufacturing of the time. Painting, photography, and sculpture were all very important media within the Bauhaus school, but unsurprisingly, furniture, utensil design, and architecture were the areas in which the movement channeled its greatest and most enduring achievements. Buildings designed by Bauhaus architects can be found all around the world, including in India, the Middle East, Argentina, Nigeria, the United States, and throughout Europe. The University of Baghdad’s mosque designed by Walter Gropius, the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria designed by Arieh Sharon, and the Kibbutz Tel Yosef dining hall designed by Leopold Krakauer are just several examples.
Despite its lasting legacy, the Bauhaus school only existed for fourteen years. It was located in Weimar from 1919 to 1925 before it moved to Dessau between 1925 and 1932, and from 1932 to 1933 it was relocated to Berlin. During this time, there were some that opposed the school and its bohemian, radical nature. Many female students also attended the school, outnumbering the men in the classroom, and this was difficult for political movements to swallow. Several famous female artists came from or taught at the Bauhaus school, including Anni Albers, Marianne Brandt, and Gertrud Arndt. In 1933, the school was forced to shut down by the growing Nazi powers, who saw its ideals as intellectually threatening to the state, forcing the school’s teachers, artists, and architects to spread around the globe, taking the Bauhaus aesthetics and principles with them.
One such artist who was faculty at the Bauhaus, Laszlo-Moholy Nagy, greatly emphasized the marriage of art and technology and worked in many mediums, including photography, painting, film, typography, sculpture, graphic design, and writing. His best known work is Light Prop for an Electric Stage (1930), which was never intended by Nagy to be an art piece, but was meant to be functional for theaters and festivals. The artist also founded the School of Design, later to become the Institute of Design at IIT in Chicago, which was dubbed the “New Bauhaus”, and saw many American modernist photographers pass through.
Paul Klee, a famous artist associated with the Bauhaus, believed the material world was one among many realities of human awareness, and he used art as a window to demonstrate his beliefs. He was a musician and often included written letters, musical notes, and symbols into his work while playing with color and the geometric shapes strongly associated with Bauhaus.
Geometric shapes and strong lines were the more prominent subject matter for Wassily Kandinsky, who taught advanced theory and the basic design class at the school. While teaching, he requested that his students fill out a questionnaire, asking them to assign primary colors to a triangle, a square, and a circle. The results of the questionnaire, a yellow triangle, a red square, and a blue circle, are featured prominently in his famous work Yellow—Red—Blue (1925).
100 Years of Bauhaus
One hundred years after the founding of the Bauhaus school, its influence is still widely present today. Special exhibitions are happening all around Europe and in the United States celebrating the Bauhaus legacy in the art, architecture, and design worlds. Weimar, Germany, the birthplace of the Bauhaus school, is less famous than the school’s second location in Dessau. This year, however, Weimar has opened a new museum in honor of the centenary, showcasing some of the earlier works that came from the school and delving into the history of Bauhaus and its significance.
In the Chicagoland area, the Elmhurst Art Museum just hosted the internationally touring exhibit titled “The Whole World a Bauhaus.” The museum’s campus also contains a structure designed by the former Bauhaus director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who designed many buildings throughout Chicago. Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge, MA and The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, CA are also hosting their own exhibitions about the Bauhaus. Germany is offering a country-wide travel and tour program designed to highlight festivals, museum exhibits, and buildings associated with Bauhaus. Other museums in European cities like London, Rotterdam, and Bern are highlighting Bauhaus artists and putting on exhibitions. China, Japan, Russia, and Brazil are also hosting traveling exhibitions about the Bauhaus movement.
A worldwide celebration of the Bauhaus school truly exemplifies the Bauhaus’ lack of borders. Students from all over the world studied at the school, and upon its closure, brought what they learned back to their home countries, giving the Bauhaus its international influence.
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