With prized pieces on loan from New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the avant-garde movement’s biggest-ever exhibition, “Bauhaus – A Conceptual Model,” showcases the famed school and its huge impact on modern aesthetics.
Since its opening last month, the anxiously-awaited show has drawn more than 20,000 people – “a little more than we expected,” one of the exhibition’s organisers, Klaus Boesl, told AFP.
The Bauhaus legacy can be seen in everything from the UN headquarters building in New York to mass-market Ikea tables, with clean lines and the marriage of the work of “artists and artisans,” its signature characteristics.
The design school, which counts among its disciples Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, regarded as the creator of abstract art, and Swiss surrealist Paul Klee, had at its core the idea of making art accessible to all social classes.
Its idealism was rooted in the modernist ideology of Germany between the wars, inspired by leaps in technological development, and aimed to remake not just the face of design.
The movement’s founder, Walter Gropius, “did not want Bauhaus to become a style – it simply aimed to offer an artistic direction, to enable art to be available to all,” said Ulrike Bestgen of the Weimar Classics Foundation, one of the show’s organisers.
Faithful to the school’s socialist ideology, Gropius “wanted the painter and the architect no longer to work for himself but within the wider artistic community,” Bestgen added.
The exhibition with 1,000 objects charts the history of the movement from Gropius’ founding of the school in 1919 in Weimar, 250 kilometres (155 miles) southwest of Berlin, to the Nazi ban in 1933.
Hitler persecuted the movement as “degenerate art” and closed the school which ironically only served to propagate Bauhaus as its practitioners fled Germany and spread around the globe, taking their ideas and designs with them.
Prime examples of its architecture can be seen in the United States, Canada and Israel. Tel Aviv’s stunning collection of Bauhaus buildings was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 2004.
On a smaller scale, the iconic “Wassily chair” designed by Marcel Breuer in 1926 is among the pieces on display in Berlin.
The chair was seen as revolutionary at the time for its use of bent tubular steel and leather and is still a huge hit in the design world although it was not, as often thought, designed for Kandinsky, explained Bestgen.
“It was only in the 1980s, when the chair was being re-edited by other designers, that they christened it the ‘Wassily Chair’ for marketing reasons,” she told AFP.
Kandinsky’s influence is evident in another popular exhibit – Peter Keler’s 1922 wooden crib – made from basic shapes such as triangles, discs and rectangles and painted in primary colours.
But fans will be disappointed if they are hoping to view one of the movement’s most celebrated works – Oskar Schlemmer’s “Bauhaus Staircase” painting of 1932 – which has not left the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) as it is the object of an ownership dispute in Germany.
Visitors will have to make do with a copy.
The 90th anniversary of Bauhaus coincides with the 20th year after the fall of the Berlin Wall which was a key factor in being able to host the show, said Bestgen.
Before German unification “it would have been very difficult to organise such an exhibition,” she said, as two of the key locations in Bauhaus’ history – Weimar and Dessau – were on the communist-controlled side of the Iron Curtain.
The exhibition will be hosted by Berlin’s Martin Gropius Bau museum, named for Walter’s great-uncle, another famed architect, until October. It will transfer to the MoMA in November.
Exhibition: Modell Bauhaus
The Martin Gropius Bau, Niederkirchnerstrasse 7
July 22 – October 4, 2009
Iconic pieces from Germany’s three Bauhaus institutions, the Bauhaus Foundation Dessau, the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin and the Bauhaus Museum Weimar provide a comprehensive overview of the Bauhaus’ contributions to 20th century design and examine the movement’s influence on the present day.