L’esprit du Bauhaus

2_bauhaus-meister_2The Bauhaus masters on the roof of the Bauhaus building in Dessau. From the left: Josef Albers, Hinnerk Scheper, Georg Muche, László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Joost Schmidt, Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Vassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Gunta Stölzl and Oskar Schlemmer.

“The ultimate aim of all visual arts is the complete building”, Walter Gropius in the introduction to the Bauhaus manifesto.

For anyone interested in the history of design, the exhibition ‘L’Esprit du Bauhaus’ at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs is an absolute must-see. With over 900 works on view (furniture, objects, textiles, drawings and maquettes), the exhibition traces the ideology and development from 1919-1933 of the Bauhaus, the most important school of art, architecture and design of the 20th century. The exhibition is beautifully presented and clearly leads you through in a chronological pattern, explaining the development of the ideology from Early Modernism in Germany, developments in Vienna, the Bauhaus in Weimar and then Dessau, and on towards the school’s eventual dissolution in Berlin in 1933. It terminates with a wonderful tribute to the international legacy of the ideology and far-reaching influence of the Bauhaus on the next generation of designers (more below).

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Early Modernism in Germany. Deutsche Workbund,  founded in 1907 in Munich by Herman Muthesius,  admired mechanized production and the industrial aesthetic.

Founded in 1919 in Weimar in the interwar period following Germany’s defeat in WWI, Bauhaus director Walter Gropius’s aim was to create a universal environment in which the students and professors could work as part of a communal effort – artists alongside ceramicists, craftsmen, metalworkers and eventually manufacturers – to build a new world. This ideology was loosely inspired by the communities created by Medieval Guilds. The school’s mission was to revolutionize the way people think with the emergence of a new society and to do away with the boundaries between artistic disciplines by combining the fine and applied arts in its teaching program, far from the dogmatism of the 20th century Avant Garde movements. In this utopian world of communal living, the teachers and students lived together so that artistic practice and collaboration was continuous. There were workshops for metalwork, stained glass, ceramics, wall painting, photography and woodwork among others, and eventually in 1930 architecture.

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Stained glass window, Josef Albers, 1921. Created in the Bauhaus Stained Glass Workshop.

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Metal and woodwork workshops

rietvelt-and-breuer-chairs-1918-1923(Left to right) Militaire chaise, 1929 and Red-Blue chair 1918 by Gerrit Rietvelt;  Lattenstuhl chair, 1923 by Marcel Breuer

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Reclinable chair, 1928, Marcel Breuer

The 14 years of the Bauhaus’s existence were marked by raging conflicts and disputes due to the wide variety of opinions of the professors and the development of the school’s programs. In 1923 Gropius, recognizing industry as the defining force of the age, moved the focus of the program away from its founding expressionist tendencies towards collaborations with industrial manufacturers and formulated a new approach with the motto, ‘art and technology – a new unity’ . The ensuing conflict resulted in the resignation of Joseph Itten (expressionist painter, designer, teacher and part of the core of the Weimar Bauhaus) who was succeeded by Lazslo Moholy-Nagy (an artist influenced by Constructivism). 1923 also saw the important exhibition ‘Staatliches Bauhaus Ausstellung’ with its presentation of the house ‘Haus am Horn’ on which all the different workshops of the Bauhaus collaborated in the spirit of unity envisioned by Gropius. There is a wonderful old black and white film of the house with still images at the exhibition which is fascinating.
Outside influences played their part. In 1923 Theo van Duesburg (co-founder of the De Stijl movement with Piet Mondrian) was offering an independent course in Weimar which the Bauhaus students attended,  so spreading De Stil’s radical ideas of abstraction and simplification of forms.
Gropius left as director in 1928, to be succeeded by Hannes Meyer (who established the Architecture program) and finally by Mies van der Rohe in 1930. The Nazi party ordered the closure of the school in Dessau in 1932. Van der Rohe consequently moved it to Berlin but the school itself voted for its own dissolution in 1933 when the Gestapo made unreasonable demands in order to keep it open.
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‘Bottine tricolore’ by Pierre Hardy, various works by Fabio Viscogliosi, Fabien Cappello, Ligia Dias, Liam Gillick, Franck Scurti, dress by Courrèges, sink and toilet by Atelier van Lieshout.
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Works by Leonor Antunes, Bojan Sarcevic, Sebastien Bergne, Muller van Severen and Comme des Garçons.
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As you move into the final rooms of the exhibition you see the pieces chosen by French artist Mathieu Mercier to show the legacy of influence the Bauhaus has left on successive generations of artists and designers. The students and teachers emigrated all over the world and so spread the spirit and teachings of the Bauhaus. In 1938 MOMA in New York had an exhibition on the Bauhaus. Mercier has chosen 100 objects created by 40 international artists and designers (born mostly after 1960) arranged in such a way as to suggest a collective workshop. It creates a strong and impressive impact.
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I can’t recommend the exhibition highly enough!! I left feeling inspired, and in profound awe of the vision and commitment of Gropius and the other Bauhaus directors, teachers and students to build a new world.
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Wishing you all a great weekend.
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