The Museum of Modern Art presents Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity from November 8, 2009, to January 25, 2010. The Bauhaus school in Germany brought together artists, architects, and designers in an extraordinary conversation about the nature of art in the modern age.
The exhibition brings together over 400 works that reflect the extraordinarily broad range of the school’s production, including industrial design, furniture, architecture, graphics, photography, textiles, ceramics, theater and costume design, painting, and sculpture. It includes works by famous faculty members and well-known students including Anni Albers, Josef Albers, Herbert Bayer, Marianne Brandt, Marcel Breuer, Lyonel Feininger, Walter Gropius, Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Lucia Moholy, Lilly Reich, Oskar Schlemmer, and Gunta Stölzl, as well as less well-known, but equally innovative, artists.
The exhibition is organized by Barry Bergdoll, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, and Leah Dickerman, Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art, in collaboration with a cross-departmental group of MoMA colleagues, in the spirit of the Bauhaus.
Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity opens 80 years after the founding of MoMA, and 90 years after the establishment of the Bauhaus. It brings together a rich group of approximately 150 rarely seen works of art from the three German Bauhaus collections—Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau, and Klassik Stiftung Weimar—and over 80 works from MoMA’s own collection to form the foundation of the exhibition. In addition, major loans come from The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation; the Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne/Centre de création industrielle; the Harvard Art Museum/Busch-Reisinger Museum; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and numerous other public and private collections in the United States and Europe.
This exhibition is the first comprehensive treatment by MoMA of the Bauhaus since 1938. That early exhibition, titled Bauhaus 1919–1928, was organized by the founder and first director of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, and designed by former Bauhaus student and instructor Herbert Bayer. It excluded the final five years of the school under Gropius’s successors, Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. For many years, the 1938 exhibition’s catalogue was the vehicle by which Americans learned about the Bauhaus. No museum was more influenced by the Bauhaus than The Museum of Modern Art itself, whose collections were organized to include an unprecedented range of mediums in both art and design. “I regard the three days which I spent at the Bauhaus in 1928 as one of the most important incidents in my own education,” recalled MoMA founding director Alfred Barr, Jr. in a letter to Gropius. MoMA’s second major Bauhaus exhibition offers an extraordinary opportunity for a new generational perspective on this influential school.
In popular discussion, the Bauhaus is often used as shorthand for a timeless style of international modernism. In contrast, Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity looks at the Bauhaus as a radically new school deeply in tune with its historical moment from 1919 to 1933.
These were the exact years of the tumultuous tenure of the Weimar Republic. The school was led by three different directors—Walter Gropius (1919–1928), Hannes Meyer (1928–1930), and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1930–1933)—each one of the 20th century’s most important architectural minds, but each quite distinct in outlook and philosophy. The school also occupied homes in three cities with distinct cultural and political climates: founded in 1919 in Weimar, the city of Goethe and Schiller, the school was later forced by local political opposition to depart for the industrialized city of Dessau in 1925, where it moved into the internationally acclaimed buildings Gropius designed for the school. In 1932, after the National Socialist-dominated local government closed the school in Dessau, a small core of students and faculty tried to hold on in an abandoned telephone factory in Berlin, but the institution was closed in less than a year.
The exhibition is organized in loose chronological order, with sections dedicated to the Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin years. This historical grounding demonstrates the degree to which the school functioned as a cultural think tank for trying times; its diverse faculty of prominent artists, designs, and architecture engaged in a 14-year conversation about the nature of art in the age of technology, industrial production, and global communication. The exhibition installation focuses on the productive interrelations among diverse mediums, mixing works from the school’s different workshops to trace formal and conceptual ideas as they manifest in objects made of different materials and for different purposes. The focus on cross-pollination makes the show pertinent as a re-evaluation of the Bauhaus in its time, with resonance for our own. The color palette used in the exhibition comes from those that Gropius used in houses he designed for himself and the Bauhaus masters in Dessau in 1925. Along with the standard Bauhaus colors of white, black, and gray, unexpected colors such as gold, pink, and tangerine are used.
A full range of historical work is presented in the exhibition, including such Bauhaus icons as Marcel Breuer’s tubular steel furniture and László Moholy-Nagy’s oblique angle photographs, as well as works that counter expectations, like Lothar Schreyer’s design for a coffin (1920) or Kurt Kranz’s project for an abstract cinema (c. 1930).
Among the many other objects in the exhibition are rare textiles by Anni Albers woven in the Bauhaus period (most seen today are rewoven later) and others by Gunta Stölzl; important paintings by Vasily Kandinsky (including On White II and Black Form, both from 1923), Paul Klee (such as Fire in the Evening and Highway and Byroads, both from 1929), and Oskar Schlemmer (Bauhaus Stairway, from 1932); graphic designs by Herbert Bayer and Joost Schmidt; a superb range of photographs, including a selection of Lucia Moholy's close-up photographic portraits; stained glass windows by Josef Albers; a tea set by Marianne Brandt; and marionettes by Kurt Schmidt from the 1923 Bauhaus production of The Adventures of the Little Hunchback directed by Schlemmer.
Also included is Marcel Breuer’s ―African Chair (1921), created in collaboration with the weaver Gunta Stölzl. Made of painted wood with a colorful woven textile, this chair embodies the spirit of the early Bauhaus in its romantic experimentalism. The chair was presumed lost for the past 80 years—the only documentation available was a black-and-white photograph—until 2004, when its owners offered the chair to the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin. This is the chair’s first appearance outside of Germany.
This exhibition was organized in cooperation with Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin; Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau; Klassik Stiftung Weimar; and the German Federal Cultural Foundation. A version of the show was presented at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin from July 22 to October 4, 2009. The New York and Berlin exhibitions share a core group of loans, but have distinct curatorial perspectives.