(Berlin.) Twenty-nineteen being history soon, it’s about time to visit a Bauhaus centennial show should you not have done so yet. Quite a few of those have popped up in Berlin and beyond over the past months, and why not pick original bauhaus at Berlinische Galerie?
This one wants to remind us that the trademark was in first place not a style, an artistic movement, but a school, established by Walter Gropius in Weimar, 1919. For the following fourteen years, Bauhaus, relocating first to Dessau, then to Berlin, exerted a considerable and lasting influence on architecture, art, and design. To celebrate the big anniversary, three main events take/took place in these same three cities, one of which you will have heard of, and as regards the others... maybe a good reason to explore the German outback. The official programme also includes events all over Germany and abroad, reaching as far as Chicago (Illinois Institute of Technology), Israel (White City Centre, Tel Aviv) and Japan (Come to Bauhausu touring the country), they add to a lot more, only semi-official, exhibitions, such as an – by all means excellent! – event at Berlin Museum of Photography in spring (sadly ended by now).
Berlinische Galerie divides its contribution into fourteen chapters, to – superficially - mirror the fourteen years of Bauhaus (in Germany), which could already tell you a thing about the exhibition’s size. The main goal appears to be making visitors relieve the experience of a Bauhaus student, and by this to understand how that “typical” style came about: It’s all about education on Bauhaus education.
The original Bauhaus was a school, and also originally, the definition of an original gets difficult when it comes to Bauhaus that taught to mass produce series of artefacts. Examples for that output range from exteriors to interiors, from furniture to tea kettles and even carpets, as patrons may discover here at Berlinische. The show offers a reminder on how vast the practice of Bauhaus was, and how important the influence still is, yet despite of being huge, it feels as if much of this were done by documentation instead of examples. Which is odd, as apparently there are almost a thousand(!) exhibits on display, eighty per cent of which have been sourced from the collection of Berlin’s Bauhaus Archive, the world’s largest in the field. Bauhaus Archive by the way has been promised a new permanent home with a proper exhibition space a while ago, but well, have you heard about that new Berlin airport? Same story. They otherwise take care of promoting Bauhaus, sending so called “Bauhaus agents” to schools, &ct.
One thousand exhibits, that’s huge alright, and (almost unavoidably) kind of labyrinthic, too. More than once you will find yourself wondering, “Have I been here before,... and over there?!”
As mentioned above, curators opted against a chronological presentation; yet still there are timelines covering the walls – several, not merely referring to the institution itself, but to topics such as speeches, lectures, and conferences of Bauhaus teachers elsewhere. The occasionally dry exercise gets loosened up - this is the 21st century after all! cannot say education without entertainment - with participative elements. In this case, it’s an adventure playground where we may draw patterns, make collages, or only sort geometric forms, all digitally on screen. Learning and doing, and one by the other.
It seems nigh impossible to remember more than fragments of original bauhaus after a single visit. You'll find short biographies of Bauhausers, Josef Albers, Wassilij Kandinsky, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee to name but a few, their teaching materials and attempts at reconstructing the subject matter of every course, but also digressions such as “Has Mies van der Rohe visited the ‘First International Dada Fair’ 1920?” (a blurry photo might suggest he did so), then there’s photography by colleagues, contemporaries, and (much) later fans: Man Ray, El Lissitzky, Thomas Ruff, and even true crime stories: “Who invented the photogram?” (spoiler: nobody in particular, but several different artists simultaneously, and independently of each other, experimented with "film-less" images) or: “Who was the woman behind the mask?” (once photographed in an iconic Marcel Breuer chair). There’s Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet in film snippets and documentation, and the same artist’s painting of people on a Bauhaus stair with later remakes by various photographers, Thomas Demand being the most famous among them. Finally the attempt at rebuilding a 1933 exhibition by Hannah Höch that had to be cancelled after the Nazis’ rise to power. And still so much more, up to a film documentary by Academy Award winner Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s little sister(?) Anna on two Bauhaus designed villas, shown in a sort of cube with projections changing from one wall to another, thus forcing visitors to continually move their head like birds which is highly impractical and thus not Bauhaus at all. - A mistake, Berlinische Galerie in general takes care to avoid: Even the army of audioguides is arranged in rank and file here!
You certainly don’t need to like Bauhaus (ever again, it feels strange how rational, efficient, inhumane, this architecture for the masses is, despite the all around magnificent artists), but you need to know about it. bauhaus original however is not the best introduction for a casual museum-goer, it's just too extensive. They might have wanted too much here, the show seems like an exhaustive university course crammed into – well, how much time do you spend in a museum on average? For the seasoned expert on the other hand, it might be a whole different experience.
bauhaus original, 06 September 2019-27 January 2020, Berlinische Galerie
World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism