Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity at MoMA doesn’t knock you over with huge masterworks (despite the presence of some big name painters), or with pop culture bribes, like the Tim Burton exhibition elsewhere in the building (recently reviewed for the SundayArts blog here). What this kind of sprawling survey does convey is how that design movement—which officially lasted just the duration of Germany’s Weimar Republic—has insinuated itself into our lives so much so that it’s frequently taken for granted. This may be the highest compliment to pay the artists and designers, many of whom worked in applied arts. The exhibition, which runs through January 25, was organized by Barry Bergdoll and Leah Dickerman.
The movement’s influence is pretty much unavoidable in our daily lives. Boxy glass and metal skyscrapers, industrial furniture design, streamlined designs of functional items. (And perhaps foremost of importance around holiday gift buying time, the MoMA and Muji stores.) It was begun by Walter Gropius in 1919 in a period that was reacting to emotionally wrought expressionism by pursuing rational objectivity, and moved from Weimar to Dessau to Berlin under the subsequent directorships of Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, before it was closed by the Nationalist Socialists in 1933.
Many pieces are beyond familiar, such as Marcel Breuer’s Thonet and Club chairs. A few of the most interesting works are exercises by students, such as Wils Ebert’s endless loop of steel wire, and Heinrich-Siegried Bormann’s Visual analysis of a piece of music, from a color-theory class with Vasily Kandinsky. The breadth of the movement can be seen in the graphic design and typography items, exemplary of clean, clear design. I found most beautiful the textiles by Anni Albers and Gunta Stölzl, as well as Josef Albers’ pieces incorporating flashed glass. Interspersed among paintings by Kandinsky, Moholy-Nagy, and Klee, they demonstrate how the qualities embodied in such examples of “high art” can be experienced on a more practical, economical level. And that the basic tenets of modernism continue to inform the little things that improve our lives, bit by bit, from iPods to furniture and housing design.
Supplementing the show is the Bauhaus Lab, a series of humanity events including lectures and practical workshops on various mediums. The Bauhaus Lounge puts to use some of the movement’s furniture designs.
Image: (top) Gunta Stölzl. Tapestry. 1922–23. Cotton, wool, and linen. 8′ 4 13/16″ x 6′ 2″ (256 x 188 cm). Harvard Art Museum, Busch-Reisinger Museum. Association Fund. Photo: Michael A. Nedzweski © President and Fellows of Harvard College © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn.