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COME ON-A BAUHAUS

IT’S ALWAYS RISKY paraphrasing old song titles, but it seemed too good to pass up “Come On-A My House” by singer Rosemary Clooney, George’s aunt. In truth, I’m early in celebrating the centenary of the Bauhaus architectural movement coming in 2019. On the other hand, I am encouraged by a piece in The New York Times, August 13, 2016, titled “On the Bauhaus Trail in Germany,” by Charly Wilder.

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Walter Adolph Georg Gropius, 1883 – 1969, German architect, founder of the Bauhaus School. Image, c. 1919, from germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org.

The Staatliches Bauhaus was established in Weimar, Germany, by architect Walter Gropius; he, the middle husband of Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel nee Schindler. The goal of the Bauhaus School was to achieve a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art. Just as the earlier Arts and Crafts emphasized arts based on the work of artisans, Bauhaus celebrated the arts combined with technology.

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The Bauhaus Building, Dessau, Germany. Image from greatbuildings.com.

Bauhaus’s characteristic flat surfaces, expansive glass and exposed metalwork are ubiquitous in designs today. However, in the mid-1920s, following the opulence of Art Nouveau, Bauhaus was radical indeed. Tom Wolfe wrote in From Bauhaus to Our House, 1981, “It was a commune, a spiritual movement, a radical approach to art in all its forms, a philosophical center comparable to the Garden of Epicurus.”

Bauhaus lecturers and students were renowned for legendary parties, often with themes demanding outrageous action and dress. Oscar Schlemmer was the head of Bauhaus theater workshops and put on avant-garde stage productions. His Triadic Ballet, 1922, featured the music of Paul Hindemith and dancers in wildly geometric getups. The New York Times author Charly Wilder writes that these dancers “became living sculptures moving mathematically, like marionettes, over fields of color, a plastic metaphysical vision that would haunt the performance art of Robert Wilson, David Bowie, Lady Gaga and others.”

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Schlemmer’s Bauhaus theater. Image from charnelhouse.org.

Bauhaus students, long- haired and androgynously attired, were the hippies of their era. They were international and diverse, with about half of them of the fair sex. Alas, reflecting the times, the women were directed into weaving workshops, with pottery and bookbinding as other preferred choices. Some resisted this; Marianne Brandt, for example, took up metalworking and designed what came to be iconic teapots.

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A Brandt teapot. Image from techolumen.com

Johannes Itten taught an important Bauhaus course on the fundamentals of color, form and material. He was the school’s resident mad priest, with shaven head, dressed in robes, member of a Zoroastrian fire cult originating in the U.S. He was a vegetarian too.

The Bauhaus School thrived for just 14 years, ending with the rise of the Third Reich in 1933. At its first official exhibition, Weimar, 1923, Gropius stated the movement’s motto: Art and Technology–a New Unity. The conservative Weimar government didn’t appreciate this free thinking. The nascent Nazi movement thought even less of it. And, in 1924, Bauhaus relocated to Dessau, Germany, about 100 miles southwest of Berlin, which is now the home of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation hosting exhibits, student exchanges and other events.

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Nazi harassment continued. In 1927, Bauhaus built the Weissenhof Estate, near Stuttgart, with 21 buildings establishing what came to be the International Style of modern architecture. Swiss-French Le Corbusier took part in this. Another motto arose: Licht, Luft und Sonne, Light, Air and Sun.

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An extension of Berlin’s Bauhaus-Archiv. Image from dezeen.com.

In 1932, Bauhaus’s Ludwig Mies van der Rohe set up shop in Berlin. Within a year, the Gestapo shut it down. However, as author Wilder observes, “The great irony of Nazi persecution of the Bauhaus is that driving it out of Germany only served to spread its ideas.”

Gropius was hired by the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Others founded what evolved into the Chicago Institute of Design and also North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, now renowned for helping to launch careers of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller and Robert Rauschenberg.

Not bad for what some thought was a Weimar party school. ds

c Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016

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