The Bauhaus in Germany (1919-1933) was one of the most influential art and design schools of the twentieth century. Founded just after the end of World War I, on April 1, 1919, in the city of Weimar, its modernist approach, including the teaching of the hence unknown abstract art and the new architecture, caused so much controversy that various factions including artisans, Weimar artists, and emerging rightWing groups forced the Bauhaus from the city just a few years later. In 1925 it moved to Dessau and seven years later to Berlin, where the National Socialists initiated its final closure in 1933. Its radical and controversial impact was due to the fact that it was the only art school at the time that taught exclusively modernist art such as abstract painting, design, and architecture. Its three directors were the architects Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Mies van der Rohe. Among its masters were eminent modernist artists such as Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Anni and Josef Albers, Oskar Schlemmer, Marianne Brandt, and Gunta Stölzl.
Conceptually, the school followed new ideas, many of which had been developed by the German Werkbund (Work Federation), in that it combined an arts and crafts school with a fine arts academy. Wanting to unite all the arts and crafts into a total work of art (a Gesamtkunstwerk) under the leadership of architecture, they intended not only to produce a new design but also to create a new world. What the Bauhaus actually created was a new profession, that of the designer, a term that only made its way into the German language after World War II when this profession slowly gained more recognition.
The Bauhaus's importance rests on its relentless promotion of the idea of modernism, making it a controversial focal point for debate during the economic crisis and the stormy political developments of the Weimar Republic. The Bauhaus under Walter Gropius's leadership endorsed Abstract Art at a time when this form of representation was not well accepted as art. When the school hired some its most significant representatives, such as Feininger, Schlemmer, Klee, and Kandinsky, this caused further dismay. The Bauhaus propagated not only modern architecture but also a new style of life and, correspondingly, a new interior design at a time when people still preferred eclecticism and heavy, velvety drapes surrounding opulent furniture. Eclecticism commonly identified a style that also implied a set of bourgeois tastes and way of life. While most manufacturers wanted to continue to individually produce this kind of ornate interior design, Bauhaus members participated in the development of the Deutsche Industrie Norm (DIN), which aimed to standardize the construction and design of buildings as well as furniture to aid less-expensive mass production. This would put out of work manufacturers who oftentimes attacked the Bauhaus movement in the contemporary press. The Bauhaus responded by publishing ideas of their own in a series of 14 books, the so-called Bauhausbücher, and in the Bauhaus Journal.
The Bauhaus reflects more or less all of the different tendencies of the Weimar Republic. In its early days, between 1919 and 1923, it was still very much influenced by Expressionism and had a strong spiritual component with the Mazdaznan life reform movement. Bauhaus master Johannes Itten was a follower of this sect, which prescribed vegetarianism, fasting, breathing exercises, and other disciplines. The title of master, which was used to refer to teachers in the school, connected the Bauhaus to the influential medieval tradition and Gothic forms that influenced its early phase. The idea of a total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk) also belongs to this phase.
Once Johannes Itten left the Bauhaus in 1923 and the Hungarian constructivist Lászlo MoholNagy took his post, the school changed directions. The road to this change had been paved by the Dutch artist and writer Theo van Doesburg, founder of the Dutch De Stijl group that had strongly influenced the Bauhaus since 1921. Others, such as the influential architectural critic Adolf Behne, also urged the school's director to turn away from Expressionism and the arts and crafts and to focus more on industry. Gropius thus put out the slogan "art and technology, a new unity." This dictum, in combination with Louis Sullivan's motto "form follows function," led to the reduction of design to minimalist forms, including the use of simple black and white interiors as well as simple basic colors. All of these elements combined capture the popular interpretation of the Bauhaus legacy still current.
But the Bauhaus was about more than simple geometric forms, flat roofs, or polished interiors. When Walter Gropius left the institute in 1928 he was succeeded by the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer, who had a more radical approach and reformed the school's program in order to promote more socially responsible design. The Bauhaus, Meyer thought, should help to improve the living conditions of the poor, raise hygienic standards, and build affordable houses. He captured this in the slogan "Volksbedarf statt Luxusbedarf" ("to design for the masses and not for the rich"). During Meyer's brief time as director, from 1928 to 1930, the Bauhaus workshops focused on industry and mass production. He also established the first workshops that taught architecture specifically in 1927 and a much-longedfor photography workshop in 1928. They complemented the other workshops in Dessau, which included typography and advertisement, carpentry, metal, weaving, wall painting, sculpture, and a stage workshop. The more arts and crafts-oriented workshops, such as pottery and bookbinding, remained in Weimar.
Although Meyer was quite successful, he lost his position in 1930 to Mies van der Rohe due to the rising rightWing forces. In order to save the Bauhaus from its political opponents, Mies van der Rohe tried to calm the school's intense political discussions, but he could not prevent the National Socialists from closing down the school. However, becoming a prominent victim of the new fascist regime turned out to be a stepping stone for the posthumous international fame of the Bauhaus.
As an architectural school, the Bauhaus was always a predominantly male institution, but even so, one-third of its 1,250 members were female. Women mainly worked in the weaving workshop, the pottery workshop, or the bookbinding workshop. Exceptions included Marianne Brandt, who was a member of the metal workshop, and Alma Buscher, who designed children's toys. Despite the rather conventional gender stereotypes present at the Bauhaus and within the modern movement in general, many courageous female artists left their mark during that time.Bibliography
- The Gendered World of the Bauhaus: The Politics of Power at the Weimar Republic's Premier Art Institute, 1919-1931. Frankfurt and New York: Peter Lang, 2001. .
- Bauhaus. Los Angeles: Taschen America, 2005. , and , eds.
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture. New York: Quatro Publishing, 1991. .
- Teaching at the Bauhaus. OstfildernRuit, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2000.
- The Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986. .
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