Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Bauhaus 1919-33

• Weimar: initially handicraft based with debates on suitability of industrial and commercial design.
• Dessau: new buildings, new timetable, more commissions and an emphasis on “constructivist” style and theory.
• Berlin: short-lived 1930-33 Closed by Nazis April 1933.
• Chicago: modern movement architecture and design.

Bauhaus Basics
• Founded in 1919 the “Staatliches Bauhaus in Wiemar, United former Grand-Ducal Saxon Academy of Fine Art and former Grand-Ducal Saxon School of arts and Crafts.”
• Launched with a nationally published Manifesto which set out the programme of the school in which artists and craftsmen would work together to create the building of the future.

• Important personalities involved included Walter Gropius (1883-1969), Johannes Itten (1888-1967), Josef Albers (1888-1967),Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956), Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Paul Klee (1879-1940), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), Oskar Schlemmer (1888-1943).

• English influence: Ruskin’s critique of the social and aesthetic impact of Nineteenth century capitalism; William Morris and Arts and Crafts movement.
• Hermann Muthesius: 1896 appointed attaché for trade and industry to the German Embassy in London
• Produced Das Englische Haus (1904-5)
• Based on his widespread research and contacts with the English workshops and architects.

German art school reforms
• End of 19th Century saw English-inspired reforms at Dusseldorf, Breslau and Berlin.
• Arts and crafts based however they also developed industrial design using factory methods.
• Formation of German Werkbund to promote quality work.
• Education reform (“Reformpädagogik”) encouraged activity based teaching.

Arbeitstrat für Kunst
• Begun 1918 as an “art soviet” alternative to the Werkbund.
• 1919 Gropius approaches Weimar authorities with a plan for a new school.
• Permission granted March 1919.
• Bauhaus manifesto published April 1919.
• This was inspired by a revolutionary spirit: artist, craftsman and layman would be brought together in the intellectual, symbolic and social act of building.
• Feininger contributed a woodcut of a cathedral to launch the manifesto.

• “The dominant spirit of our epoch is already recognizable although its form is not yet clearly defined. The old dualistic world-concept which envisaged the ego in opposition to the universe is rapidly losing ground. In its place is rising the idea of a universal unity in which all opposing forces exist in a state of absolute balance. This dawning recognition of the essential oneness of all things and their appearances endows creative effort with a fundamental inner meaning. No longer can anything exist in isolation. ..”

• We perceive every form as the embodiment of an idea, every piece of work as a manifestation of our innermost selves. Only work which is the product of inner compulsion can have spiritual meaning. Mechanised work is lifeless, proper only to the lifeless machine. So long, however, as machine-economy remains an end in itself rather than a means of freeing the intellect from the burden of mechanical labour, the individual will remain enslaved and society will remain disordered. The solution depends on a change in the individuals attitude towards his work, not one the betterment of his outward circumstances. And the acceptance of this new principle is of decisive importance for new creative work….” From Theory and Organisation of the Bauhaus 1923.

Alma by Tom Lehrer. Click here to go to You Tube.

Johannes Itten
• Gymnastics and breathing exercises.
• “intuition and method”
• “subjective experience and objective recognition”
• Taught in three areas: studies of natural objects and materials, analysis of Old masters and life drawing.
• Students would subjectively respond to found materials. They would also be required analyse in terms of contrast, form and colour.
• Itten was a follower of the “Mazdaznan” movement.

• “The guiding principle of the Bauhaus was therefore the idea of creating a new unity through the welding together of many arts and movements: a unity having its basis in Man himself and significant only as a living organism.”

• 6 month preliminary course “Vorlehre”
• Three years of workshop training and form theory.
• Between 1919 and 1922 the masters increased the amount of theory offered. However “bau” was as yet unavialable.

Paul Klee
• By 1921 Klee was well known in radical circles but unheard of by the public.
• Although his art is often thought of today as frivolous and decorative, his teaching was based upon a strict analytical approach to coloured panels and natural observation.
• His essay “On Modern Art” was written in 1924. It cryptically outlines the theories of Colour, form and tone followed by Klee.

• Line, tone and colour he speaks of in terms of Measure, Weight and Quality.
• The motivation of his theories was to produce an art which was “pure”, rising above the “chaos and confusion” of the moment.
• He sought an art in which “I” and “Eye” were united.

Wassily Kandinsky
• Klee had been associated with Kandinsky in the pre-war Blaue Reiter. Kandinsky’s lengthy statement of theory is “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” published 1912.It was inspired by his theosophy beliefs.
• A Russian from a wealthy background he had returned to his homeland during the revolution and took part in the new art teaching which was being developed there. However he was soon seen as too subjective and insufficiently social.
• His Bauhaus teaching revolved around the exploration of the process of abstraction from nature or the object which he had made the basis of his own art.
• The object was to be reduced to a memory or simple motif.

Oskar Schlemmer
• A painter who taught in the theatre workshop during the nineteen twenties.
• Triadic Ballet : a dance, costume, pantomine and music performance combined.
• The costumes dominated the dancers, restricting their movements.
• Students at Bauhaus developed a “Mechanical Cabaret” 1924.

• Dissolved in 1933 many of the teachers moved to the US.
• Gropius and Breuer to Harvard
• Mies van der Rohe to Chicago
• Albers to Black Mountain College
• Moholy Nagy opened a “New Bauhaus” in Chicago.

Links: Bauhaus Today
Bauhaus Archive and Museum of Design in Berlin
The Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Chicago Bauhaus and Beyond.
Farnsworth House
Zentrum Paul Klee Bern.

Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity (November 8, 2009–January 25, 2010)
MoMa New York. Exhibition site: Click Here

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