Bauhaus Beginnings
June 11 – October 13, 2019

Joost Schmidt, Form and Color Study, ca. 1929–1930, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Almost mythic in status, the Bauhaus is seen as one of the most influential schools of art and design of the twentieth century. Established in 1919, the Bauhaus sought to erode distinctions among crafts, the fine arts, and architecture through a program of study centered on practical experience and diverse theories. Until the school’s forced closure by the Nazi regime in 1933, students and masters worked with a variety of traditional and experimental media and continually re-conceived the role of art and design in contemporary society. Despite its relatively brief, itinerant existence, the Bauhaus occupies an outsize position in the cultural imaginary.

 

Alfred Ehrhardt, Material exercises in paper, ca. 1928–1929. The Getty Research Institute © Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung

Alfred Ehrhardt, Material exercises in paper, ca. 1928–1929. The Getty Research Institute © Alfred Ehrhardt Stiftung

Marking the one hundredth anniversary of the school’s opening, Bauhaus Beginnings reexamines the founding principles of this landmark institution. The exhibition considers the school’s early dedication to spiritual expression and its development of a curriculum based on elements deemed fundamental to all forms of artistic practice.

 

Herbert Bayer, Postcard for the Bauhaus Exhibition of 1923, 1923, Lithograph, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, VG, Bild-Kunst, Bonn / Erich Consemüller, photographer Material Exercise in Paper, ca. 1926–1929, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles © Stephan Consemüller

Benita Koch-Otte, illustrator Georg Muche, architect Einfamilienwohnhaus auf der Ausstellung des Staatlichen Bauhauses 1923 (Single-family house at the exhibition of the State Bauhaus 1923) Chromolithograph / Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles © By friendly permission of v. Bodelschwingh

Founding the Bauhaus

The Bauhaus officially opened in Weimar, Germany, on April 1, 1919. Director Walter Gropius’s manifesto announced a bold vision for the newly reformed, state sponsored school of art and design. In a text laden with spiritual and romantic imagery, Gropius outlined a model of education that bridged the fine and applied arts. He hoped that various forms of artistic practice – especially painting, sculpture, architecture, and design – could produce socially and spiritually gratifying collective works.

 

Léna Bergner (German, 1906–1981) Carpet Design, ca. 1925–1932 / Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles © Heirs of Léna Bergner

Erich Mrozek, Study for Vassily Kandinsky’s Farbenlehre (Course on color), ca. 1929–1930 / Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles © Estate Erich Mrozek

Lyonel Feininger illustrated Gropius’s future-oriented vision somewhat counterintuitively through a woodcut depicting a Gothic cathedral with flying buttresses, pointed arches, and rays of light emanating from its steeples. A preindustrial building form, the cathedral represented the total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk), in which designers, artists, and artisans collaborated in service of a single spiritual goal. The internationally circulated manifesto idealized the medieval past as a model for the transformation of modern arts education, attracting students from as far away as Japan to the school.

 

Hilde Reindl, Color Wheel and Tone Study for Paul Klee’s Course, ca. 1927, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Lyonel Feininger, Villa am Strand (Villa on the shore) From Bauhaus Drucke: Neue Europaeische Graphik; Erste Mappe; Meister d. Staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar (Potsdam: Müller, 1921) Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles © 2019 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

German Expressionism and the Bauhaus

Influenced by industrial architecture and standardization, Walter Gropius had by the mid-1910s developed a reputation as a leading modernist architect committed to rationalism, an ethic that considered architecture to be an objective science. The unprecedented atrocities of mechanized warfare experienced in World War I, however, motivated the architect – and many others of his generation – to rethink these commitments. Gropius rejected the burgeoning “machine aesthetic” and, by 1919, had become increasingly focused on the architectural possibilities of expressionism, a movement that foregrounded the subjective, emotional, and spiritual aspects of design.

 

Léna Bergner, Durchdringung (Penetration) for Paul Klee’s Course, ca. 1925–1932 / Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles © Heirs of Léna Bergner

Paul Häberer, Postcard for the Bauhaus Exhibition of 1923, 1923 Lithograph, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Gropius’s earliest hires at the Bauhaus included prominent international figures associated with expressionism and spirituality. Lyonel Feininger, Gertrud Grunow, Johannes Itten, and Gerhard Marcks were among the first faculty members. In the following years, Gropius recruited other leading artists associated with influential groups such as Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in Munich and Der Sturm (The Storm) in Berlin, including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Lothar Schreyer. It was Gropius’s conviction that a revolutionary form of spiritual expression should not be constrained to the domain of fine art; through the Bauhaus curriculum, he sought to imbue objects of everyday life with an artistic spirit.

 

Bauhaus Beginnings
June 11 – October 13, 2019 / Getty Museum, Getty Center
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