BAUHAUS: THE SHAPE OF ART TO COME
Roughly translating to "Building House" the german Bauhaus school was founded by architect Walter Gropius. The school's principles were derived from the idea that all art forms should converge into one core aesthetic ideology that would merge arts and crafts with function. The movement's main principles pre-dated and laid the foundation for Modernism. This included a new perspective on how art should play into larger social conversations, industrialism, as well as technological advancements in manufacturing.
The school first opened its doors in the city of Weimar in April 1919, where Gropius resided. The original staff included Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, as well as other renowned artists and architects. It was at this first institution that Gropius laid the foundation for the movement's core ethos. He stated that art should serve a social purpose and that interdisciplinary practices between crafts should be integral to the curriculum at the school. Thus, one of the goals of the movement was to bring art back into everyday places, like residential buildings, offices, and public spaces.
The students in attendance went through a preliminary theory course taught by Johannes Itten, where they would learn the principles of the movement. Following the theory course, each student would partake in specialized training in painting, pottery, metalwork, weaving, and typography.
Due to a lack of funding from the Thuringian State, the Bauhaus was forced to relocate to Dessau in 1925. The curriculum had changed by then to incorporate a more practical approach to the arts. Gropius sought to make everyday functional objects and buildings into artistic sculptural forms. This was in line with the growing socio-economic ideas about the arts in Germany and western Europe.
In Dessau, Gropius erected an entirely new building for the school. The Dessau building shared similar design characteristics to Gropius' Fagus Factory, in its use of glass and cubic-shape. The building consisted of a 3-story studio building, a 3-story vocational school, and a 5-story studio building. The studio building was used to host the masters and students alike, in 28 assigned flats.
During the Bauhaus' time at Dessau, the school would undergo many administrative changes. The first being the departure of Gropius in 1928, leading to the appointment of Hannes Meyer, who shifted the direction of the school further left. His focus on utilitarianism overshadowed the more arts-centered departments, leading to the resignation of Herbert Bayer and Marcel Bruer.
In 1930, facing pressure from the local municipalities, Meyer was fired by the mayor of Dessau and was consequently replaced by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies shifted the direction of the school again, focusing more on the educational aspects of the institution and foregoing politics altogether. By 1931, the National Socialist party had seized power throughout Germany, resulting in the forced closure of the school in Dessau.
The school's relocation to Berlin was shortlived. Mies used his money to purchase a run-down factory in the capital of Berlin. The school stayed open for only a few months with the majority of instructors and students helping with building renovations. The Nazis viewed the school as an institution that was promoting dangerous modernist and communist ideologies. The Nazi party would allow the school to reopen under the condition that they fire any staff who they viewed as dissidents to the party. Unwilling to forgo the integrity of the establishment, Meis, along with his instructors decided to close the institution permanently.
A predecessor to the abstract art movement, the Bauhaus style was a mixture of arts and crafts intertwined with modernism. The modes of composition showcased geometric forms and how they complement space within a painting. These compositions typically featured abstract shapes, typography, and collages in harmony.
While typography was not at the center of the movement, it has since become incredibly relevant to present-day advertising. The father of the Bauhaus Style was instructor Herbert Bayer, who's universal alphabet exemplifies the functionalist aesthetics of the movement. Bayer viewed the typography as something that should be simplified and legible.
Bayer's Universal typeface sought to mimic the everyday use of language. Thus he rejected the use of capital letters since they are not used in everyday speech and made the alphabet exclusively out of lowercase letters. The typeface was also devoid of any serifs to make each letter more pleasing to the eye.
The paintings that emerged from the Bauhaus were that of abstract expressionism. There was an emphasis on the use of primary colors like red, blue, and yellow. Josef Albers was among the many Bauhaus masters who developed a new theory of color, emphasizing the social and psychological aspects of color and their relationship with light.
Wassily Kandinski's abstract geometric patterns would go on to influence many groups in the abstract expressionist movement. One of the seminal paintings of the Bauhaus was his Yellow-Red-Blue (1925) painting. The piece featured numerous intertwined geometric shapes, showcasing their relationship with color to create feelings of chaos and harmony.
The Bauhaus' most enduring contribution was to the world of architectural design. The schools simplified forms and function over adornment ethos made for some of the most innovative pre-war architecture. The structures were made with, sparse interiors, and lacking color and unnecessary embellishments.
Longstanding structures like Gropius' Fagus Factory (1910) building were the preeminent form of modernist architecture. Constructed out of modern industrial materials like steel beams, concrete, and glass, the factory exemplifies all of the ideals Gropius would instill in the Bauhaus. The cubic form and glass windows brought an element of the outdoors into the building while providing ample light to factory workers who were accustomed to the dimly-lit cramped quarters of the past. Gropius' concern for the factory workers reflects his socialist ideologies and how they also play into his design and aesthetic philosophy.
A figure whose work quite literally rose from the ashes of his former triumphs, Helmut Lang is not to be boxed in. The last few decades saw the man lead a menswear evolution through his austere sartorial prowess. He brought new life to American fashion, moved the industry forward, and set the standard for innovation in fashion ads and campaigns. Now he sets about instilling his creative sensibilities within the world of art.
Marcel Breuer's designs were among the most influential to emerge out of the Bauhaus school. His ideas regarding functionality and mass production informed his practice to create some of the most iconic designs in furniture.
Among his many contributions to the world of furniture were his steel and cantilever designed pieces. First seen on his B3 Club Chair (1925), the chair was a deconstruction of a cozy lounge design. Its steel construction was an homage to bicycles and their curved tubular design. The legs intertwine with the rest of the chair as if the metal tubed hardware is the exoskeleton of the form itself. The B3 continues to be reproduced to this day, considered a classic of modernist furniture.
Marianne Brandt was another rising star to emerge from the Bauhaus during the Weimar and Dessau periods, she worked in painting, photography, sculpture, and design. Brandt became the head of the metalworking department at the Bauhaus leading her to create some of the most innovative modern designs for table and kitchenware. One of her more famous contributions to the field was her metal tea sets and ashtray. In a sense, these pieces exemplified the aesthetics of the Bauhaus more than any other work produced. Their simple sculpture-like design alluded to mass-production and ease of function.
The Bauhaus masters shaped the world in their appreciation for practicality, forms, and functionality. The school's progressive ethos lived on through other institutions and remains influential in modern and post-modern architecture. Since the school shuttered, there have been numerous liberal arts institutions that have built on the curriculum that the Bauhaus set as a foundation for contemporary education. The Bauhaus helped spawn several art movements abroad, though its most enduring quality continues to be the idea that art should exist within everyday objects and spaces.