100 YEARS OF BAUHAUS
Bauhaus Year 2019 – Taking stock
New scholarly insights into the Bauhaus – something that many people interested in art and design doubtless hoped for and perhaps even expected on the occasion of this 100thanniversary. After all, a great deal of money was earmarked for the purpose. New museum buildings were erected in Weimar and Dessau and the kind of advertising and information campaign mounted, the likes of which have surely not been seen before to commemorate the establishment of a school of art.
The circumstances were thus ideal for a major joint exhibition at the Bauhaus’ places of activity – Weimar, Dessau and Berlin. A show based on the several years of research that preceded the events, one that would accord a prominent role to the leading experts in the field. A catalogue comprising several volumes was expected, one which would not only provide a comprehensive survey of all the Bauhaus’ artistic output but also present the results of the preparatory research that preceded it.
None of this has come to pass – at least not yet. Admittedly the Bauhaus cooperation between Berlin, Dessau and Weimar has been concluded, under the terms of which the major collections at the school’s three former places of work have joined forces. However, there has obviously not been a proper collaborative work. To be fair, of the four exhibitions organized by the members of this network only two have opened to date, namely the opening show at the new Bauhaus Museum in Weimar and “Bauhaus Imaginista” in Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. The new building in Dessau is not opening until September 8, 2019, the Berlin Bauhaus archive that has had to move into a temporary home at the Berlinische Galerie because its own premises are being extended, will be showing the exhibition “Original Bauhaus” there as of September 6, 2019.
Bauhaus goes home
Let’s start by taking a look at the show in Weimar. For Heike Hanada’s new museum building Holzer Kobler Architekturen have come up with an exhibition scenography which, with its understated shapes and material vocabulary, is bang up to date in terms of aesthetics. However, when it comes to functionality, it is obviously not designed for the volume of visitors that the museum is currently experiencing. In the multimedia section in particular, people are constantly getting in each other’s ways.
One of the exhibition’s special focuses is on the school’s work on the experimental festival and stage performances at the Bauhaus, with much space being devoted to this section. The explanatory texts in this section allow for an extremely detailed classification of the work. But although the visitor receives extremely comprehensive information in this section of the show design itself really does receive extremely short and superficial shrift. The collection’s inventories are shown almost without comments. Unlike the situation with the theater section, in this part of the show, the subject of the relationships between the works and the circumstances of their genesis is not broached at all. Neither is the Bauhaus approach to architecture discussed at all. Whether this is something to do with an agreement with the new museum in Dessau is never explained to the visitor. At times the inanity of some of the texts in the exhibition can be really irritating, for example when a section about Gropius is labeled with the phrase “He fought like a lion”. At any rate, critical classification of any kind is not the objective of this opening show. And the slim volume containing xy pages fits in here as a logical conclusion, to date the only accompanying publication, which also functions as a catalogue, architecture guide and survey of the collection. Obviously, the organizers do not expect their visitors to handle anything more than this little book which retails at just under €10.
By contrast, a catalogue containing over 300 pages has been published by Scheidegger & Spiess to accompany the exhibition “Bauhaus Imaginista” in Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW). Designed by the HKW in collaboration with the Goethe Institute, this show is the result of a three-year global research process summarized by the exhibition and the catalogue. The central intention of "bauhaus imaginista" is to highlight the "transcultural" character of the Bauhaus. But in the exhibition the visitor is left in the dark because the format is scarcely more than a complete muddle of exhibits that have been thrown together. It is unfortunate that in this case the opportunity to investigate international influences on the Bauhaus and the latter’s international influence has been completely neglected. It is to be hoped that the exhibition of the Bauhaus archive which is also devoting itself to this question, amongst others, will be able to achieve more.
Bauhaus – old, new, or neither
How to seriously place the Bauhaus in an international art-history context was demonstrated earlier this year, also in Berlin, by the Bröhan-Museum. The exhibition “Von Arts und Crafts zum Bauhaus” relied on the museum’s own collection plus loans that were well worth seeing (most of them from private collections) to make a well-grounded argument for placing the Bauhaus in the European art and culture renewal movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The show offered an informative introduction to the subject matter for anybody who is not particularly familiar with the connections as well as offering completely new information for visitors who were already familiar with the subject.
Something similar can be said about the exhibition “Bauhaus_Sachsen” (Bauhaus Saxony) in Leipzig’s Grassimuseum, a well curated show that struck an admirable balance between the main topic of Bauhaus and the regional focus on Saxony. One of the reasons why this was so successful was that it focused on the presence of members of the Bauhaus and their products at the Grassimessen fairs, handcraft fairs established by the museum in 1920. For the Bauhaus staff, the Grassimesse rapidly became an important showcase for their products. Here, the exhibition makers have been able to show a large number of items without having to subject themselves to criticism about the disjointedness of their choice of exhibits. Another aspect of the Leipzig exhibition deserves a few words of praise. In the gallery spaces, the Bauhaus exhibits have been contrasted with a number of works by contemporary artists, some of which were produced especially for this show. Many of the exhibitions for the Bauhaus year have taken a similar approach. With very few of them have the results been so impressive. Something particularly noteworthy is the work of Felix Martin Furtwängler, who has fictitiously reconstructed a portfolio of graphic art planned by Gropius and Feininger, one that was never published. The artist that spins a highly entertaining yarn about the rediscovery of the portfolio, narrated through the agency of a correspondence that is equally fictitious.
The curators of the “Reflex Bauhaus” exhibition in Munich’s Neue Sammlung have also invited five artists to each tackle on Bauhaus object included in the museum’s collection, among others fashion designer Ayzit Bostan and author Barbara Köhler. It is the sheer quality of the Bauhaus exhibits that makes the greatest impression – presented here in a small, low-key installation courtesy of Tilo Schulz.
To conclude, a quick glance at Frankfurt, where this year in addition to the Bauhaus celebrations there are three exhibitions that address the New Frankfurt phenomenon – that wide-ranging urban renewal project inspired by Modernism spear-headed in Frankfurt in the inter-War years. Things kicked off with the “Moderne am Main” show at Museum Angewandte Kunst, which focused on the creations and cultural context of the New Frankfurt movement. The exhibition was a little constrained by the fact that the topic of architecture was avoided, as it fell within the ambit of Deutsches Architekturmuseum. As a result, there were inevitably a few lacunae, as construction in line with Modernist principles formed the very core of the urban project. However, possibly for precisely this reason, namely the exclusion of architecture, the curators served up a veritable array of new insights into many other disciplines. From music and the applied arts to the project’s presence in the media of the day – the research findings on display were truly destined to expand our idea of New Frankfurt and its protagonists, something which certainly cannot be said of many of the exhibitions marking the Bauhaus jubilee. One can only hope that the exhibitions still to come will go some way towards correcting this state of affairs.
Das Bauhaus kommt aus Weimar
9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (Mon.)
9 Uhr bis 18 Uhr (Tue.-Sun.)
Haus der Kulturen der Welt
until 10 June 2019
11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst
until 29 September 2019
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Reflex Bauhaus. 40 objects – 5 conversations
Die Neue Sammlung – The Design Museum
until 2 February 2020
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Tue., Wed., Fri.-Sun.)
10 a.m. to 8. p.m. (Thu.)
Neuer Mensch, Neue Wohnung. Die Bauten des Neuen Frankfurt 1925-1933
60596 Frankfurt am Main
until 18 August 2019
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Tue., Thu.-Sun.)
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Wed.)