This episode commemorates the hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Bauhaus, the influential school founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany. Revered for its experimental art and design curriculum, the Bauhaus sought to erode distinctions among crafts, the fine arts, and architecture through study centered on practical experience and a variety of traditional and experimental media. Two exhibitions from the Getty, one of which is online, explore the Bauhaus curriculum from the point of view of the instructors and students, largely through pedagogical exercises, notebooks, and images.
In this episode, Getty curator Maristella Casciato, research assistant Gary Fox, and head of web and new media at the Getty Research Institute Liz McDermott discuss these exhibitions, Bauhaus Beginnings and Bauhaus: Building the New Artist.
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Bauhaus Beginnings and Bauhaus: Building the New Artist
JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
MARISTELLA CASCIATO: This exhibition gives the opportunity to talk in a way of a new narrative. Students and masters, teaching and learning.
CUNO: In this episode, I speak with Getty Research Institute curator Maristella Casciato, research assistant Gary Fox, and head of web and new media Liz McDermott about their exhibitions, Bauhaus Beginnings and Bauhaus: Building the New Artist.
The Bauhaus was founded in 1919, one hundred years ago this year, in Weimar, Germany in the wake of the destruction of the First World War. Fabled for its radically modern pedagogy and curriculum, the Bauhaus attracted a faculty of distinguished designers and artists, from its founding director, Walter Gropius, and theater designer Oskar Schlemmer to the artists Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee.
The Getty Research Institute exhibition Bauhaus Beginnings focuses on the work of Bauhaus teachers and students—color wheels, grids and triangles, photographs and photograms—that reveal the learning experience at the Bauhaus.
Accompanying the gallery exhibition is an online, interactive exhibition, Bauhaus: Building the New Artist. This includes dozens of documents and images not included in the gallery exhibition, and allows the online visitor to experience the color and shape exercises that formed the basis of the Bauhaus pedagogy and curriculum.
To experience both exhibitions first hand, I met with senior curator Maristella Casciato, research assistant Gary Fox, and head of web and new media Liz McDermott.
Maristella, tell us about the early years of the Bauhaus. Who founded it, and how did it get started?
CASCIATO: Well, thank you, Jim, for visiting the exhibition with us. The Bauhaus was founded in Weimar, 100 year ago. So basically, we are celebrating a very important anniversary. It was founded in a relatively small town in Germany, Weimar, and by Berlin-born architect Walter Gropius. Gropius, at the time, was thirty-five years old, had been already involved in some major projects in architecture and design.
CUNO: As an architect or as a teacher?
CASCIATO: As an architect. He was an architect trained, and had worked with one of the major institutions about art, design, and architecture. It’s called Werkbund. And within the Werkbund, he had designed two relatively known, basically marking-modern-architecture buildings that in a way, are originally the foundation not of the Bauhaus, but the whole idea of modern architecture.
The Bauhaus, for various reasons, will be at the beginning, for him, a different story. And why a different story? Because between his accomplishment as architect and 1919, we had World War I, between 1914–1918 a major break in German culture and German state and politics in general.
CUNO: What was the training system for an architect at that time in Germany?
CASCIATO: Training system was rather complex. Specifically, in the Prussian-German history, there is still a relatively Beaux-Arts old-fashioned teaching, though he comes, Walter Gropius, from a well-educated family of engineers and architects. So maybe we can say that he had a kind of specific training within his family. Then the other aspect that is very important Germany at the time is where architects, or young people who will be becoming architects, is the apprentices, I mean. And Walter Gropius specifically had a very good training period as an apprentice with a very relevant, well-known at the time German architect in Berlin, whose name is Peter Behrens.
CUNO: So he trained as an apprentice. Did he go to a school? Was there a school to which he could have gone?
CASCIATO: Yeah, he went to a school, I mean, for technical instruction in architecture and engineer[ing], but to really to form the architect, the most relevant component was the time he spent with an architect. And in his case, Peter Behrens was really the cradle of this education. There is a small detail that we can add to this, that when he entered, 1909, Peter Behrens’ office, he was with two other architects who will become, as he did, the masters of twentieth century architecture. The young Mies van der Rohe was in the office, and the even younger at the time, what we call then later Le Corbusier was even in the office. So this idea of this very magical triangle of three young practicing, who then will really shape the history of architecture in twentieth century, they all met at Peter Behrens’ office.
CUNO: So Gary, how did Gropius go from that kind of training to establishing the Bauhaus, and who was his patron?
GARY FOX: So Walter Gropius was thirty-five years old when he’s asked to lead the new institution. He had been involved in the Deutscher Werkbund before his time at the Bauhaus. And one of the key founders among the leaders of the Deutscher Werkbund, the association of German craftsmen seeking to bring architects and designers into collaboration with capitalists and industrialists, was Henry van de Velde. Van de Velde had led a series of schools in the context of Weimar Germany before the First World War, including the School of Applied Arts.
Before the First World War, van de Velde recommends Gropius to take over as his successor, director of the institution. The school, however, remains closed through the First War. And after it reopens, van de Velde’s recommendation of Gropius is enacted and Gropius is hired as director.
CUNO: So van de Velde established the precedent for the Bauhaus in Weimar? Or was it in Berlin and then it was Gropius who brought it to Weimar?
FOX: So Henry van de Velde is hired by the local government, the Thüringian government in Weimar, to advise how local craftsmen can improve their methods of design, their approaches toward industrialization. And so he founds a number of institutions, in fact. He founds the School of Applied Arts; he leads a seminar; he encourages reforms among industrialists more broadly, outside of pedagogical systems. And so he’s kind of deeply involved, very close to the local government for a short period from about 1904 to about 1914, when he is forced out.
CUNO: Well, what was it about the local government that led them to support and patronize the founding of the Bauhaus in Weimar?
CASCIATO: Well, van de Velde reaching Weimar before World War I, at the beginning of the twentieth century, he arrives with a kind of aura of being one of the masters of modern design and modern craft. He’s a Belgian. And he’s also credited to be the mind behind what we call Art Nouveau.
So he reaches Weimar really because the government thinks that German younger people should be educated in both fine arts and craft and design, in a general sense, in a strong way. The whole idea of education in early Germany, early twentieth century, is specifically—which was then the foundation of the Bauhaus—to reunify different components. So van de Velde is important as a major figure before the Bauhaus, to conceptualize this idea of a more holistic education.
CUNO: So was the pedagogy of the Bauhaus that much more radically different than that of its predecessor?
CASCIATO: I would say that it was not radically different. It was the way Gropius reconceptualized certain ideas as a consequence, also, of his experience in World War I. I mean, the idea of the destruction, the need for reconceive[ing] an identity of the German culture, was really the gear, the major motor. So there are more conceptual and, I would say, theoretical background that are definitely intertwined with the van de Velde early conceptual idea of arts and crafts together.
CUNO: Yeah. Gary?
FOX: One of the radical propositions that Henry van de Velde lays out is that art and artistic spirit should be brought into everyday life; that art shouldn’t be restricted to the walls of the gallery or the space of a museum, but in fact, can be imbued through design objects, things like cabinets and lamps, into everyday life, making it available to working-class citizens.
This is a radical proposition, one might argue in 1904, that is brought into the ethos of the Bauhaus, which Gropius picks up on. Gropius, however, along with the early masters at the school, including Johannes Itten, will propose a reformulation of the pedagogical structure, so the structure of workshops persists from the earlier school; however the introduction of a preliminary course, the first-year curriculum, will be foundational to the reformulation of the institution.
CUNO: Was there a hierarchy within the pedagogy?
CASCIATO: There was no hierarchy at all at the Bauhaus, in a certain way. Not even a hierarchy between masters and students. That’s one of the concepts that Gropius brings into the idea. Also—
CUNO: Is that what makes it truly radical then, that kind of lack of hierarchy?
CASCIATO: This is one of the radical aspects. But I would say that the ethos of the Bauhaus is also very strongly related to a kind of spiritual component that Gropius keeps into the school, also, not only by the Werkbund experience, the more, let’s say, industry or industrial architecture, but also the German Expressionism is an important component, in terms of adding the spiritual to the material.
And those two poles, spiritual and material, are very relevant in one of the first masters who reaches the Bauhaus, Kandinsky. Kandinsky had already published a very well-known book at the time that speaks about the geist, the spirit, in the art.
CUNO: Now, we’re standing in the first gallery of the exhibition, in which we’re looking at works of art that are from the earliest days of the Bauhaus. Describe them for us and tell us how they represent these early ambitions of the Bauhaus.
CASCIATO: Well, the first gallery offers you an overview of precedents like the Expressionist group, who were extremely active in Berlin and Hamburg. And Gropius was one of the member[s] of those groups. And we are presenting an interesting selection of, for instance, of Frühlicht. Frühlicht is the journal of the Expressionist group. The founder, the editor is Bruno Taut.
And we show, also, an open page from Frühlicht, where you see one aspect of Expressionist architecture. It’s transparency, it’s the idea of the glass, the idea of the crystal, the fact that architecture can show what is around the world, through this reflection into architecture. And we show a very early work of Mies van der Rohe, a skyscraper, completely glass skyscraper. Mies van der Rohe belongs to the same group, and will be the third director of the Bauhaus.
The first gallery, it’s a kind of thinktank for the Bauhaus, what is coming before the Bauhaus, and is taking into the teaching curriculum some of the early work and the manifesto of the Bauhaus.
FOX: I think one of the important aspects to highlight here is the fact that World I has just closed, 1918. Artists and designers are returning from the war, characterized by unprecedented horrors, as the narrative often goes. Things like aircraft bombing, armored tanks, mustard gas. And there’s a reconsideration by 1919 on what it means to be modern. Is modernity meant to be tied to the machine and objects of industry? Or is it, in fact, something else?
And so we see German Expressionists, designers, architects in the period reconsidering what it means to be modern, and looking to different sources of inspiration, mainly spirituality and medievalism.
CUNO: So what about this work, this woodcut or linocut by Lyonel Feininger? This is in the context, Gary, of what you were just describing to us.
FOX: It precisely is. So we’re looking at the manifesto announcing the opening of the school in 1919, published just slightly later, in April of that year. In the text, Walter Gropius promises a reformulated vision for modern architectural, artistic, and design pedagogy, a vision in which designers and artists of all kinds could come together to produce socially and spiritually gratifying collective works. Gropius describes these works as buildings of the future, the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art.
And somewhat counterintuitively then, he asks one of the very first hires to the Bauhaus, the artist Lyonel Feininger, to illustrate this idea of a building of the future with a Neogothic cathedral. And so we look at a woodcut of an image of a cathedral replete with flying buttresses, pointed arches, and rays of light emanating outward to signal the spiritual importance of this architectural vision.
Why the woodcut? The woodcut is considered to be a technology introduced to Europe in the early Renaissance. Twentieth century designers will consider it to be a preindustrial form of imagery production. And it would make sense that artists and designers rethinking their commitment to industry and to machine would look to a form of imagery production, a technology, considered to predate the introduction of machinery and industrial techniques into modern design.
CASCIATO: Woodcut would be also an important component of German culture. Already, I mean, at the beginning of the idea of the printmaking, woodcut will be really something that represents the identity of German culture. The Bauhaus comes in after World War I. And the Bauhaus also needs to find a way to give younger generation the idea that the German identity can be reconsidered and rejuvenated in a new modern context.
So we don’t have to think that the medievalism is only looking backward. Actually, this medievalism is looking forward. And the workshop on woodcuts is one of the first workshops at the Bauhaus who was extremely successful, because it’s fostering an ancient art, but it’s fostering an ancient art with new imagery. This whole initial gallery is about this polarity between an old culture and looking forward for a future modern identity.
CUNO: So this first gallery introduces us to some of the earliest teachers at the Bauhaus—Johannes Itten, Gerhard Marx, Lyonel Feininger. How did they all come? How did all these international artists come to the Bauhaus so early in its life?
CASCIATO: I would say that this is, quote/unquote, “the genius” of Walter Gropius, but also his incredible network already. He’s young, but in the years he was in Berlin, and also within the Werkbund, he really created a very strong network. So Gropius reaching Weimar, he’s able immediately to contact artists that are already well-known at the time and convince them, which is not an easy job, to come to Weimar, a small town, to initiate really a new endeavor, something that is visually, in a way, utopian, in the context of the German culture.
Johannes Itten, an artist from Switzerland, he is among the first hired at the Bauhaus. At the time, he’s in his thirties. He’s still relatively young. But one and a half year[s] later, Kandinsky comes. And Wassily Kandinsky is a Russian artist who at the time was already well-known, not only in his country, but also in Germany. He’s much more advanced in his career, but also in age. And you see how interesting it’s to have artists, different generation, different background, to be together at the Bauhaus. It’s this really new mix of ideas that make the Bauhaus, and Gropius at the beginning, so important, so revolutionary.
CUNO: Well, in addition to the initial teachers in the Bauhaus, the exhibition also begins with an accounting and a representation of the curriculum and the radical nature of that curriculum.
Gary, maybe you could describe what we’re looking at then. Not only is it a round wheel, but at the center of the wheel is the bau itself, the building. And extending from that, then, are different elements related to it.
FOX: Yes. The curricular diagram designed by Walter Gropius would suggest a roadmap for how a student would proceed through the Bauhaus. So one would begin at the outside of the circle in their first year, entering the preliminary course, and would move progressively toward the center of that curricular diagram, moving through more specialized research into things like nature study, material study, still within that first year, finally then entering into a specialized workshop. Students would specialize in things like weaving, metalwork, stage, glass, different materially-organized workshops.
And then finally at the very center, only the most advanced students would have been admitted to the study of building. So bau is placed very centrally at the center of the curricular diagram. And what’s interesting to point out here is the fact that architecture was not actually taught at the Bauhaus until 1927. One would be admitted to the study of architecture only by way of earning an apprenticeship at Walter Gropius’ office. So very much like Walter Gropius studied with Peter Behrens himself, so too would students at the Bauhaus, after completing their study in a workshop, enter into the study of building.
CASCIATO: One aspect of the curriculum is also that students enter the school, they progress. And the way they learn allowed them to become first a kind of assistant, and then what is interesting, some of the students then become masters. So you see there is also a continuity, not only in the teaching diagram, but also in the way students become involved also in higher position. This tells you also that the Bauhaus, it’s really a kind of— not a school you enter, you go out, and you forget, but forming a kind of new group, a new society.
CUNO: So we have a representation of a range of artists who taught at the Bauhaus, and who came from different parts of Europe and even from the United States. Is that true also of the students of the Bauhaus in the early years in Weimar? Did they come from all over the world?
CASCIATO: Bauhaus, at the time, after World War I, is also exceptional for being an international school. Of course, initially, you have Germany and all the countries in the neighborhood of Eastern Europe. But you also had students, from the very beginning, coming from other countries. Then the idea of the internationalization became more and more relevant, with few students from the US, students from Japan, other countries in Europe, including Italy.
So you need to think about this idea of the school after 1923, with the well-known Bauhaus exhibition, reaches such an international audience that it becomes extremely attractive.
CUNO: Was the Bauhaus, in its first incarnation in Weimar, in a building designed by the architects of the Bauhaus? Would I have recognized that building as being as radical as the school itself?
CASCIATO: Well, initially, the Bauhaus is hosted in Weimar in a school designed by van de Velde, the very initiator of this idea of the arts and crafts reunion, he[’s] also the architect of the building. The school in Dessau, its second location, will also become relevant because Walter Gropius will have the great opportunity to design and build, very quickly, the building of the school.
CUNO: That’s the celebrated building that we all think of as the Bauhaus. What caused them to move from Weimar to Dessau?
CASCIATO: Basically, a political reason. And the Thüringen state, the situation of the fight between the left and the right wing, even within the republic, was extremely tough. And there were constantly, constantly critics to the school, critics to the actions of the students. Walter Gropius had even asked the students not to be politically involved in this fight, where right wing/left wing— There was a moment where definitely, the Bauhaus was not any longer welcome in Weimar. But Gropius, with his great network, was able to connect to the mayor in Dessau, a rather industrial city, very different from Weimar at the time. And they were really supporting the idea of an innovative technical school also for architecture.
That’s the big changes from when architecture really becomes part of the curriculum, and thus giving Gropius the opportunity to build the famous, well-known, almost all-glass building of the Bauhaus in Dessau.
CUNO: So having introduced the transition from Weimar to Dessau, how do we see that in the exhibition, and how do we see it in the continuation of the pedagogy of Weimar?
FOX: One of the things that the exhibition hoped to do was to establish a line of continuity, understanding what principles were established in Weimar and were connected or carried through into the next phase in Dessau. So we stand in a larger gallery space, where we see studies from the first-year curriculum, the preliminary course, established as a required course for all students entering the school. Johannes Itten, the Swiss Expressionist painter, will propose the idea of a preliminary course in 1919, again still in Weimer. In 1920, it becomes required for all first-year students.
The idea behind the preliminary course, it’s hoped, will establish a shared foundation of aesthetic knowledge among all artists and designers moving through the school. If they’ve been trained in a shared set of principles, they could go on to design what Gropius describes as buildings of the future, the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art, in which objects of all skills would combine and produce a total environment.
CUNO: Tell us how that’s evident in what we’re looking at.
FOX: So we consider studies of things like color, considered to be a fundamental issue to any form of artistic or design practice. On the wall, we see studies by students in the preliminary course, working through ideas of color. Students like Hilde Reindl, a woman student, developing a color wheel, in which she places the pure colors along a circle, and then on the outside, has placed a secondary wheel of tints, tones, and shades, grays, whites, and blacks, to understand how those tints, tones, and shades relate to the pure colors.
We see other formats for studying color, as well. Not only color wheels, but things like color grids, color spheres, color triangles, representing the wealth of ideas around representing color as a totalizing system, considered to be requisite for these first-year students at the school.
CUNO: We’re in this gallery. We’re surrounded by examples of the work of masters and students. And in the context of other collections of Bauhaus material, whether it’s in Cambridge, Massachusetts or it’s in Berlin, this is unique because it focuses on the work of students; is that correct?
CASCIATO: The Bauhaus collection at the GRI, came together through many years and very different acquisitions. But what is unique of the collection is that what we receive beginning are students’ work. Students’ work are probably the one[s] that are not usually collected, because I mean, they don’t have the aura of being the important artist or Kandinsky or Klee.
The idea of the work of art, it’s basically not the foundational component of this collection. The idea was to be able to collect those kind of unexpected documentation that then became part of and became to relevant as a work of art. That’s why the freshness of the exhibition comes to the fact that sometimes some of these notebooks are signed, some are not signed. But they reveal the labor, the learning and the teaching at the Bauhaus.
Now, it is true that there are other collection[s] and there are very extensive collection[s] in Germany. This is not something that it’s totally different. But the way we could assemble in this exhibition gives, I mean, the opportunity to talk in a way of a new narrative. Students and masters, teaching and learning.
CUNO: So Liz, tell us about the online exhibition and why it was was necessary to have an online exhibition with this exhibition.
LIZ MC DERMOTT: Well, in early conversations that I had with Maristella, it became very clear that our materials were so rich and so dense that we couldn’t tell all the stories that there are to tell in the gallery. Combined with the fact that many of the materials that they discovered really benefitted from closer looking in an online environment, where we can bring in digital tools
CUNO: We should say for the podcast listeners that we have in front of us a laptop, and on that laptop is the online exhibition.
MC DERMOTT: One of the challenges we had is taking these materials and taking the curatorial narrative, and how can we convey a gallery-like experience and the wonder of stepping into four walls and a room and looking at beautiful materials, and bring the experience to a computer or mobile phone? And what we decided to do was work with the curriculum wheel that they spoke of earlier, and arrange the materials in a way that was sort of parallel to the process of the teachings at the Bauhaus.
And it’s organized into various gallery rooms or sections, according to how the students learned these various aspects of the Bauhaus in the school thematically. So each section culminates in an interactive exercise that’s a digital representation in a modern era of an exercise that a student would have done back in the day at the Bauhaus.
CUNO: Is the exhibition, as we’re seeing it online, a replica of the exhibition that we’re seeing in the galleries, or is it supplementary to the exhibition we see in the galleries?
CASCIATO: It’s supplementary to the exhibition in the galleries. Basically, the two exhibition[s], they respond to each other. And also, they allow our visitor of the web exhibition to get, as we said, a much closer looking at the objects. Some of the objects in the exhibition can— could not be introduced. Some— Sorry. Back.
Some of the objects from our collection could not be included in the exhibition. Not only for [the] issue of space, but also because they are very delicate, color-sensitive. But the richness of the collection also allows us to show more documents, if we go on a new media like the web exhibition. Considering the number of documents that are in the web exhibition, more of a half of them, they are not visible in the gallery exhibition. So there is a kind of complementarity, but also an enrichment of the knowledge, not only of the collection, but also of the Bauhaus narrative.
MC DERMOTT: So one of our goals with the online exhibition was to bring these materials out globally and to give anybody with a mobile phone an opportunity to experience what it was like a little bit back in the time period.
CUNO: What other aspects of the online exhibition might the online visitor experience most fruitfully?
MC DERMOTT: Well, the second room or section of the online exhibition, Matter and Materials, there’s a second interactive exercise. And the culmination of that section is called the Albers Paper Exercises. And it’s based on an exercise that Josef Albers gave to his students. And he would give them these interesting challenges. And in this particular one, he would ask them to take an eight and a half-by-eleven-inch piece of paper, without using glue or anything else, to create a 3-D work of art. And we thought they were so fascinating and beautiful that we worked with a designer on our team, who created a pattern based on one of those student works of art, that anyone can download. There’s two of them they can download from our website. And then we also created two tutorial videos that explain how anybody can create one of these works of art.
CUNO: So this is exactly what a Bauhaus student would’ve been charged with by the master, to have created a silhouette like this.
FOX: So the assignment that Josef Albers offers or develops in the context of the preliminary course would have students take a single piece of paper and to test its material essence. So the assignment is actually quite simple. They can use cuts and folds, minimal glue, minimal tools, and produce no waste. And the assignment then is through these very kind of easy constraints, to produce a possibility of invention. And that’s exactly what characterizes many of the studies that we see in the context of the preliminary course. Through a constrained set of variables, a constrained set of possibilities, would come the possibility for invention.
CASCIATO: In fact, those are very ephemeral pieces, so they don’t— we don’t have them in the collection. What we have are instructions and an incredible, very large set of photographs that have been sometimes presented in the exhibition, sometimes in publications, but really never experienced again three-dimensionally. So we thought this is a way also for any kind of global visitors to really experience something which was the ethos of Josef Albers.
You have to understand the materiality of the material. So a piece of paper, if you don’t have to waste paper and you cannot use glue, how do you fold and cut in order to start building a three-dimensional object? This allows you also to understand, like through those studies that are really at the very bottom level of the teaching curriculum, you start also learning three-dimensionality, and then maybe architecture.
MC DERMOTT: One of the challenges of creating the video is after we made the patterns— They actually are not so easy. We had to practice five, six, seven times, in order to figure out actually how they were constructed, so that we could then make it into basically, a recipe that anyone could follow in the video.
CUNO: And there’s also in the exhibition and on the online exhibition, representation of how the students inhabited this kind of experimentation. Not only did they cut things out of paper or paint things on paper, but they actually performed the works that they were charged by the teachers to make.
CASCIATO: The Bauhaus was extremely important, also, as daily life were[?] students. Student really spending eight hours, even more, in the classes and then enjoying their life. So even in the gallery exhibition, we have many murals, photos from the GRI collection, where we show the students’ life. Now, among the many activity of the students, masters supported the idea that dancing and exercising the body within the space will also be part of their learning process. So some of the masters, specifically Schlemmer, was very much in favor of allowing the student to express their creativity through the dancing. And we have many of these exercise[s].
CUNO: In this particular one that we’re looking at, this is by Oskar Schlemmer, just as you described it, the Triadic Ballet.
CASCIATO: The Triadisches Ballett is one of the first dancing performance[s] by Schlemmer. He already prepared this when he was still a professor in Stuttgart in 1922, but then experienced and stage[d] it many times in Weimar. What we see in our online exhibition is a very rare clip of a stage of the Triadisches Ballett in Dessau, for the opening of Walter Gropius’ new building. What you see in this clip is the man dancing is Schlemmer himself. He was used to be part of the dancing group in most of his performances.
CUNO: But it’s quite like his rather abstract paintings come to life onstage.
CASCIATO: It is an extract, a figurine, or one of his costume[s]. And the idea of the Triadisches Ballett comes also from the idea that you have three backgrounds of your stage, though you see here a black and white, because it’s rare. But in fact, I mean, you have an abstract stage of three different color[s] and the figurines that move on this stage.
FOX: One of the key aspects that both the in-gallery and online exhibition hoped to highlight was how the principles developed in the first-year education, the preliminary course, would translate to a variety of media being experimented and worked through in the context of Bauhaus workshops. One of those workshops, very clearly, was the stage workshop led by Oskar Schlemmer about 1923, 1924. And so we see how a lot of the principles, experiments, and investigations into things like form and color would translate to the design of a stage, theatrical production, the design of music, stage sets, costumes, choreography, all mobilizing the very many principles being tested in that first-year curriculum.
CUNO: Okay, let’s continue in the other galleries. Now we’re in gallery two, and we see examples of weaving. Gary, tell us about them.
FOX: So after a student would complete the first-year curriculum, the preliminary course at the Bauhaus, they would apply to be admitted to specialized workshops like weaving. Weaving was one of the most successful workshops of the Bauhaus. The school was state sponsored, but hoped to turn a profit from the sale of objects designed at the school. That ambition is never quite realized, with the exception of the objects from the weaving workshop, which were, in fact, financially viable and successful.
The issue of gender becomes very important to raise here. The student body, from the beginning, was about half women. And yet in large numbers, they were either encouraged to or forced to take up weaving. Some of the masters at the school thought that or argued that women could not think in three dimensions. And so in large numbers, they were relegated to the weaving workshop.
There are some notable exceptions. Marianne Brandt makes it into the metalworking workshop; Alma Siedhoff-Buscher makes it into the cabinet-making workshop. But if we look very closely, in fact, to the objects from the weaving studio, we recognize quite immediately that weaving involves a great deal of three-dimensional thinking, and is in fact, quite mathematical and technical in its execution.
So we stand in front of a few objects being produced from weavers in the weaving studio, designs woven, textile samples, demonstrating the full expression of experimentation with the medium, mobilizing principles of color, interactions of color, form, formal composition, through the development of a woven textile.
We see, for example, a design by Gunta Stölzl, the only woman at the Bauhaus to receive the title of master. There were many women teaching at the Bauhaus, but they were only deemed teachers. Gunta Stölzl earns for herself, one might say, the title of master in the weaving studio.
CUNO: So in the exhibition itself and online, one gets a real sense of the instruction of the Bauhaus and the life of the students and the interactionss of students and teacher. It was a heyday of design instruction and design in Germany, and in Europe, for that matter, but it rapidly comes to a close. Tell us about the end of the Bauhaus.
CASCIATO: The end of the Bauhaus, for many reasons, can be a sad ending. The school after Mies van der Rohe is nominated, selected to be the new director, the third director of the school. The school needs to leave also Dessau, the second location.
CUNO: Why does it leave Dessau?
CASCIATO: There is a lot of pressure on the Bauhaus within the same political situation that stressed the moving from Weimar to Dessau. The mayor of Dessau is not any longer supporting the school. The new director of the Bauhaus, the second, Hannes Meyer, a Swiss architect, show[ed] an extremely strong communist approach to his teaching and to the school environment, and the support of the municipality of Dessau basically ended. A new director comes in, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but the school also needs to close.
And it moves quickly, very quickly. Students still recall that during one night, they had to pack and move. And they went to Berlin.
CUNO: What year was this?
CASCIATO: 1932. Difficult year in Germany. The year of the election, the year of National Socialism becoming the major party, after Adolf Hitler coming to power.
Mies has enough connection in Berlin to find a small, small space for the Bauhaus. We are in the neighborhood of the city, Steglitz. It’s a garage, basically. And the school keeps going for now almost another year, until 1933, when the students, even quicker than before that, had to leave because the SS was coming in and basically not allowing not even to collect what was remained in the space.
CUNO: And what about the afterlife of the Bauhaus? Mies goes to Chicago, Gropius goes to Cambridge, Massachusetts.
FOX: Yeah, we consider one of the larger aspects of the Bauhaus legacy to be the diaspora of the many masters and students associated with the school. In some cases, figures are forced to leave Germany; in others, they choose to leave Germany, given the political situation.
So we find figures like Josef Albers, who had been a student and then a master at the Bauhaus, leaving for the United States. He teaches at Black Mountain and then Yale. We have, of course, Walter Gropius, who ends up at the GSD, the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. Moholy-Nagy, who arrives to Chicago to found the New Bauhaus, later IIT.
But elsewhere, we see figures like Hannes Meyer going to Mexico. We have Japanese students returning to Japan and bringing some Bauhaus pedagogy to institutions there. So we see quite an international diaspora of many Bauhaus ideas, pedagogical strategies, the ethos of the school being transmitted the world over.
CASCIATO: Some of the students were also becoming important architects. It’s worth to mention the name of Arieh Sharon, who was a Jewish student who went back to his own country and Tel Aviv and started building, in a very successful way, what we call the White City of Tel Aviv. Basically, an experience of a Bauhaus environment in architecture. We can consider this successful. One aspect of the exhibition is also to underline the fact that students were from international background. They came from various countries. Some of them were Jewish, many of them were Jewish. And we have in the exhibition, some work of a student that then unfortunately ended up their life in concentration camp and they died.
CUNO: Well, it’s an extraordinary exhibition that draws on the great resources of the Getty Research Institute, to tell us about the life of the artists and the life of the students in the Bauhaus, both in Weimar and in Dessau. So congratulations. We should emphasize again that the exhibition has a life after the exhibition, online. So congratulations all of you—Liz, Gary, and Maristella.
CASCIATO: Thank you.
FOX: Thanks so much for having us.
MC DERMOTT: Thank you.
JAMES CUNO: Hello, I’m Jim Cuno, president of the J. Paul Getty Trust. Welcome to Art and Ideas, a podcast in which I speak to artists, conservators, authors, and scholars about their work.
MARISTELLA CASCIATO: This exhibition gives the opportunity to talk in a way of a new narrative. Stu...
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I do hope my students will enjoy this podcast as a part of their task based on it: to express their ideas later in the argumentative paper. Last week they analyzed the brief manifesto by Gropius and “Essay on Typography” by Eric Gill who supported the idea of an artist’s reunion with the craft itself.