Bauhaus_ Defining a Century: Introduction
“The ultimate aim of all visual arts is the complete building! To embellish buildings was once the noblest function of the fine arts; they were the indispensable components of great architecture. Today the arts exist in isolation, from which they can be rescued only through the conscious, cooperative effort of all craftsmen. Architects, painters, and sculptors must recognize anew and learn to grasp the composite character of a building both as an entity and in its separate parts. Only then will their work be imbued with the architectonic spirit which it has lost as ‘salon art’.
The old schools of art were unable to produce this unity; how could they, since art cannot be taught. They must be merged once more with the workshop. The mere drawing and painting world of the pattern designer and the applied artist must become a world that builds again. When young people who take a joy in artistic creation once more begin their life's work by learning a trade, then the unproductive “artist” will no longer be condemned to deficient artistry, for their skill will now be preserved for the crafts, in which they will be able to achieve excellence.
Architects, sculptors, painters, we all must return to the crafts! For art is not a “profession.” There is no essential difference between the artist and the craftsman. The artist is an exalted craftsman. In rare moments of inspiration, transcending the consciousness of his will, the grace of heaven may cause his work to blossom into art. But proficiency in a craft is essential to every artist. Therein lays the prime source of creative imagination.
Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist! Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.”
Hans Maria Wingler, Bauhaus. Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago, Cambridge 1978, pp. 31-33
Sotheby’s is pleased to present Bauhaus_Defining a Century, an auction which demonstrates the breadth of the artistic endeavour undertaken at and inspired by the Bauhaus. Comprising painting, design,photography and metallurgy the sale intends to use the interdisciplinary nature of the school to avow the importance and influence that the Bauhaus still has on visual culture today. Bauhaus_ Defining a Century will herald the wave of international events planned in celebration of the forthcoming Bauhaus centennial in 2019; honouring its creativity, innovation and legacy in the 20th century and beyond.
Walter Gropius (1883-1959) founded the German art school Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919, now known simply as the Bauhaus. The school set out to propagate a new form of collective artistic endeavour which - through its emphasis on harmony and assimilation - might heal the world of some of the psychological damage it had wrought upon itself during the First World War. Influenced heavily by the British 19th century Arts and Crafts movement established by William Morris, Gropius’s Bauhaus
(literally translated as ‘house of building’) sought to re-establish the principles of shared learning which, like Morris, he felt had been lost; unlike Morris, however, Gropius wished to apply the principles of modern technology and design. From the outset, the Bauhaus was an innovative and revolutionary movement that pioneered a new approach to the practice of art which encompassed architecture, design, visual art and photography. Although the school was closed in 1933, under pressure from the burgeoning Nazi regime, it is recognised as one of the most important schools for the arts in the 20th Century. The history of the school can be split into three phases:
Weimar (1919-22), Dessau (1923-32) and Berlin (1932-33); forced by political circumstance to close and reopen twice meant the school had to continuously reinvent and re-establish itself. It did so successfully each time through the charisma and vision of its three directors, who apart from Walter Gropius were Hannes Meyer (1889-1954) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). The need to re-envisage the arts and crafts through modern technology and design not only paved the way into Modernism, but is also the reason why the “experiment Bauhaus” continues to resonate today.
Synonymous with the rapid modernisation of life, the core objective of the Bauhaus was certainly a radical concept: to reimagine the material world, reflecting the unity of all the arts. Walter Gropius expanded on his vision in the ‘Proclamation of the Bauhaus’ (1919), which described a utopian craft guild. The frontispiece of the manifesto was a woodcut by Lyonel Feininger of a cathedral surrounded by three stars. The stars - representing the three arts of painting, sculpture and architecture - are symbolically interlaced by their own rays. Arts and crafts had already been an integral part of each other in the “Bauhütten” of medieval cathedrals (artist gilds attached to Cathedrals). At the newly founded Bauhaus, the cathedral was now to be seen as a symbol of the Gesamtkunstwerk - the uniting of architecture, arts and craft in an ideal entity. With this, the Bauhaus set itself against the concept nof the established Academies which had strictly separated art forms, instead pushing towards a united, modern form of art and architecture.
Following their immersion in the Bauhaus theory, all students were subject to a variety of specialised workshops, including metalworking, cabinet-making, weaving, pottery, typography and wall painting. The great challenge was to turn the grand ideas of the Manifesto into an educational course. Although a number of the original Masters were able to adapt their talent to the new style of schooling, it was
not until a swathe of new artists joined the faculty, that it was able to implement its ideas effectively. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the arrival of Wassily Kandinsky and László Maholoy-Nagy in 1922. Kandinsky brought with him links to the Russian schools of Vkhutemas and Constructivism which combined with Maholoy Nagy’s ambition to create art in new mediums and shape the future in the image of a modernist Bauhaus style, saw a change in its direction.
The relocation of the school to Dessau in 1925, which unfortunately left behind some members who were more sympathetic to the political regime, cemented the school’s change in a direction towards a pure modernist aesthetic. Nowhere is this clearer than in Gropius’s design for the Dessau campus and buildings. Imbued with the aesthetics of futurism, eschewing the paired down neoclassical architecture of Weimar, the school sought to create an entirely modern pedagogy focused exclusively on modernist design, craft and art. The move to Dessau heralded the arrival of two new additions to the faculty: Josef Albers (1888 –1976) and Marianne Brandt (1893 – 1983), both of whom had been students in Weimar. Josef Albers had excelled as a student at the school in Weimar and was invited by Gropius to teach alongside Paul Klee in the glass workshops. It was here that Albers was to begin his study and interest in the pure geometry of the square, which would come to define his later career. The school’s focus on geometry and geometric abstraction was further enhanced by Wassily Kandinsky, whose 1926 publication Point to Line and Plane set out to explain the basic nature of the artistic language and its relationship with pure geometric drawing. Kandinsky’s work intertwined with the principles of architecture created a crucible for modernist learning. The philosophical nature of the work being undertaken by the master of the Bauhaus would eventually inspire the artists and artistic movements of Post-War America. Marianne Brandt’s influence on modern domestic design cannot be overstated. Having joined the Bauhaus as a student she soon captured the attention of Moholy-Nagy. Through his mentorship Brandt was able to enter the Metallwerkstatt and begin her lifelong work in the refinement of domestic
metalwork. Brandt’s legacy exists within every aspect of ‘clean design’ which has come to dominate the 20th century. Her work stands as a true testament to
the manifesto laid out by Gropius of a modern world designed by the artists of the Bauhaus.
It was in Dessau that the Bauhaus was at its most prolific and successful. Following the rise of the National Socialist party in Germany, an immense pressure was put on the Bauhaus to close. Considered by the party to be left-leaning and spreading the theories of communism the Dessau Bauhaus shut its doors in 1932. The third, and last, Director Mies van der Rohe tried to build a new school in Berlin but this was short lived and the Bauhaus shut its doors in 1933.
Forced out of Germany, many key figures of the Bauhaus emigrated to the United States, where their work and teaching philosophies influenced generations of young artists, architects and designers. Walter Gropius went on to tutor at Harvard's design school, whilst Josef Albers and his wife Anni, as well as Xanti Schawinsky taught at Black Mountain College. The lasting impression of the school can be seen in the great buildings of modern America, Gropius’ Pan Am (now MetLife) building in Manhattan and Van der Rohe’s Lake Shore apartments in Chicago celebrate the pure modernism that the Bauhaus gave to the world. It is therefore evident, that “the Bauhaus started much that we now take for granted” (Fiona MacCarthy, The Guardian, 17 November 2007, online).
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