Summary of Bauhaus
The Bauhaus was arguably the single most influential modernist art school of the 20th century. Its approach to teaching, and to the relationship between art, society, and technology, had a major impact both in Europe and in the United States long after its closure under Nazi pressure in 1933. The Bauhaus was influenced by 19th and early-20th-century artistic directions such as the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as Art Nouveau and its many international incarnations, including the Jugendstil and Vienna Secession. All of these movements sought to level the distinction between the fine and applied arts, and to reunite creativity and manufacturing; their legacy was reflected in the romantic medievalism of the Bauhaus ethos during its early years, when it fashioned itself as a kind of craftsmen's guild. But by the mid-1920s this vision had given way to a stress on uniting art and industrial design, and it was this which underpinned the Bauhaus's most original and important achievements. The school is also renowned for its extraordinary faculty, who subsequently led the development of modern art - and modern thought - throughout Europe and the United States.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- The origins of the Bauhaus lie in the late 19th century, in anxieties about the soullessness of modern manufacturing, and fears about art's loss of social relevance. The Bauhaus aimed to reunite fine art and functional design, creating practical objects with the soul of artworks.
- Although the Bauhaus abandoned many aspects of traditional fine-arts education, it was deeply concerned with intellectual and theoretical approaches to its subject. Various aspects of artistic and design pedagogy were fused, and the hierarchy of the arts which had stood in place during the Renaissance was levelled out: the practical crafts - architecture and interior design, textiles and woodwork - were placed on a par with fine arts such as sculpture and painting.
- Given the equal stress it placed on fine art and functional craft, it is no surprise that many of the Bauhaus's most influential and lasting achievements were in fields other than painting and sculpture. The furniture and utensil designs of Marcel Breuer, Marianne Brandt, and others paved the way for the stylish minimalism of the 1950s-60s, while architects such as Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe were acknowledged as the forerunners of the similarly slick International Style that is so important in architecture to this day.
- The stress on experiment and problem-solving which characterized the Bauhaus's approach to teaching has proved to be enormously influential on contemporary art education. It has led to the rethinking of the "fine arts" as the "visual arts", and to a reconceptualization of the artistic process as more akin to a research science than to a humanities subject such as literature or history.
Overview of Bauhaus
In his early career Walter Gropius worked for an international conglomerate designing everything from architectural and industrial projects to office lighting and stationery - this led him to envision a total design ethos, employing "a new guild of craftsmen," that he later embodied in founding the Bauhaus.
Important Art and Artists of Bauhaus
Paul Klee was one of the most talented and enigmatic artists to be associated with the Bauhaus, a visionary whose work combined stunning formal innovation with a curious kind of primordial innocence. In this canvas from 1922, delicate, translucent geometric shapes - squares, rectangles and domes - are picked out in gradations of primary color. A single red circle floats in the upper center, revealing itself, on inspection, to be the titular hot-air balloon. This illustrative flourish exemplifies Klee's whimsical, associative use of the geometric compositional arrangements for which the Bauhaus became famous. In the artist's unique idiom, emphasis shifts restlessly between the abstract and the figurative, between narrative association and esoteric symbolism. The glowing shapes, reminiscent of stained glass, are placed asymmetrically to create a visual rhythm, conducted by vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, that seems both ordered and spontaneous.
Born in Switzerland in 1879, Klee had been associated with various Expressionist and modernist groupings in Northern Europe during the 1900s and 1910s, including Der Blaue Reiter group, before taking up a post at the Bauhaus in 1921, teaching mural painting, stained glass, bookbinding, and various other subjects. He published his art lectures in his Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch (Pedagogical Sketchbooks) (1925) in the Bauhausbücher series. Famously beginning with the line "[a]n active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal," this work became hugely influential, establishing, as the critic Mark Hudson puts it, "[Klee's] reputation as one of the great theorists of modern art...[as] he attempted to analyze every last permutation of his wandering lines." For Klee, the line, developing from a single point, was an autonomous agent, spontaneous, which through its movement forged the development of the plane. This metaphor for the germination of compositional form became a fundamental tenet of Bauhaus design philosophy, influencing many of Klee's contemporaries, including Anni Albers and Klee's lifelong friend Wassily Kandinsky.
Klee's presence at the Bauhaus from 1921 until his resignation in 1931 gives the lie to stereotypes of the institution as overly preoccupied with rationality and dry, formal methods. Klee's work - both sophisticated and primitive, figurative and otherworldly - had a noted impact on later artists in America and Europe, including Jackson Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Nolan, Norman Lewis, and William Baziotes. As Clement Greenburg wrote in 1957, "[a]lmost everybody, whether aware or not, was learning from Klee."
This complex work is built up around three key visual areas, dominated by yellow, red, and blue shapes respectively. These in turn form two overall zones of visual attention, one on the right-hand side of the canvas, formed from the interlocking red cross and blue circle, and one around the yellow rectangle to the left, embossed against a deeper shade of ochre. Variance in visual weight and positioning in space is implied by effects of color and shading, as the buoyancy of the yellow contrasts with the darker red tones, deepening further into purple and blue. A meshwork of straight and curvilinear interact across the canvas, as if playing out the battle of energies established between the different primary colors.
Wassily Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866, and had settled in Germany before the close of the 19th century, becoming a key figure in the development of Northern-European Expressionism over the following years; his 1903 painting Der Blaue Reiter was the inspiration for the Expressionist art group of that name. Following a six-year spell in Soviet Russia bookending the revolution (1914-20), Kandinsky returned to Germany and began teaching at the Bauhaus in 1922, by which time his work had moved towards a purer form of abstraction. As a tutor on the preliminary course, he introduced his students to the analysis of primary colors and the nature of their interaction. In 1923, hoping to establish an underlying qualitative relationship between particular shapes and colors, he developed a questionnaire in which participants were asked to fill in a triangle, square, and circle the most appropriate primary color. The resulting yellow triangle, red square, and blue circle became a classic Bauhaus motif, one which Kandinsky explored and subverted in this famous work, transforming it into a lyrical evocation of the relationship between visual and musical expression. The same ideas informed his famous text Point and Line to Plane (1926) influenced by new research on Gestalt psychology, a key discussion-topic at the Bauhaus at this time. Kandinsky was interested in how certain combinations of color, line and tone might have innate spiritual and psychological effects, which were in turn connected to certain musical motifs.
As the art historian Annagret Hoberg notes, however, the connotations of this painting extend beyond this, taking in more figurative realms: "[the] two centers...conjure anthropological associations. While in the yellow field one might see a human profile due to the structure of the lines and circles, the intertwining of red and blue form with the black diagonal is reminiscent of the theme of the battle between Saint George and the dragon" It is perhaps these more human associations which explain the iconic status of Kandinsky's abstract paintings in modern art history: as Hoberg notes, Yellow-Red-Blue "exerted an influence on later modernism, including, for example, Barnett Newman's series Who's Afraid of Yellow, Red and Blue (1966-69)."
Marcel Breuer's classic Model B3 chair is a revolutionary take on the classic upholstered 'club chair' of the nineteenth century drawing room, a sleek amalgamation of curving, overlapping stainless steel tubes, with taut rectangular fabric panels floating like geometric forms in space. The artist himself described the chair as "my most extreme work . . . the least artistic, the most logical, the least 'cozy' and the most mechanical." But it was also his most influential, exemplifying the groundbreaking developments in functional design that were marking out the Bauhaus by the mid-1920s. Lightweight, easily moved, and easily mass-produced, it met all the requirements of the school's design philosophy, its components arranged with a clarity that made its structure and purpose immediately legible.
Born in Hungary in 1902, Breuer was amongst the youngest members of the original Bauhaus generation. Leaving his home-town of Pécs at the age of eighteen, he enrolled at Gropius's revolutionary new school in 1920, becoming one of its first students. Singled out as a prodigy, he was placed in charge of the woodwork shop, and after a sojourn in Paris returned to the Bauhaus as a teacher in 1925. A committed cyclist, Breuer saw the bicycle as the paragon of modern design, and was fascinated by his bicycle's curved handlebars, made of a new kind of tubular steel developed by the Mannesmann manufacturing company. He realized that the same material, which could be bent without breaking, might be used in furniture design: the 'club chair' is in part the result of this moment of inspiration. In order to produce his furniture on a large scale, Breuer started the company Standard Möbel in 1927. The colloquial name for the chair honors the painter Wassily Kandinsky, who admired the piece when he first saw it in Breuer's studio.
As the art historian Seamus Payne notes, Breur's was "the first ever chair to feature a bent-steel frame...it marked the beginning of a new era in modern furniture with a design that maintains a progressive look even today." After World War II the Italian firm Gavina began producing the chair, ensuring its longstanding influence on design history, and marketing it as the "Wassily Chair." In 1968 the American company Knoll bought out Gavina and began manufacturing the Model B3, which, as a result, can still be purchased today.
Useful Resources on Bauhaus
- Bauhaus 1919-1933By Barry Bergdoll, Leah Dickerman, Benjamin Buchloh, Brigid Doherty
- Bauhaus 1919-1933 (Taschen 25)Our PickBy Bauhaus Archiv, Magdalena Droste
- The Bauhaus: 1919-1933: Reform and Avant-Garde (Basic Art Series)By Magdalena Droste
- The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of ModernismOur PickBy Nicholas Fox Weber
- Bauhaus (World of Art)By Frank Whitford
- From Bauhaus to Our HouseOur PickBy Tom Wolfe
- A Vast Bauhaus Museum Opens in the German City Where the Famous Art School Came of AgeOur PickBy Quynh Tran / ArtNet News / September 9, 2019
- How Bauhaus Was Shaped Into GreatnessOur PickBy Alice Rawsthorn / The New York Times / December 2, 2007
- Bauhaus: Ninety Years of InspirationBy Sharon Ross / Smashing Magazine / August 2, 2009
- Bauhaus - History of Modern Architecture, International StyleOur PickThoughtfully put together overview of the building, school, and the various personalities attracted to its ethos.
- Bauhaus: The Face of the Twentieth CenturyWorks in textiles and contributions by female members of the Bauhaus
- ABCs of the BauhausA motion graphic animation made by SVA student
- The Face of the Twentieth Century: BauhausOur PickDocumentary film / 2010