By Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau
Walk of the objects from the Bauhaus building to the construction site of the Bauhaus Museum Dessau, 4.12.2016 (2016) by Thomas Ruttke (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Sphere, cylinder, cube. Yellow, red, blue. Wassily Kandinsky, Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee. Marcel Breuer’s tubular steel armchair, Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s lamp, Marianne Brandt’s teapot. Philosophy, manifesto, lifestyle. School, community, art, craft. Human being, machine, experiment. New Vision. New Objectivity. Modern. Revolutionary. Timeless. International.
The Bauhaus was ahead of its time and its utility items are now design classics. The world’s second-largest Bauhaus collection in Dessau has around 49,000 objects. We asked the Director to tell us about her ten favourites.
Dr. Claudia Perren is an architect and has been the head of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation since 2014. Having studied in Berlin, New York and Zurich and taught for a long time in Sydney, she is especially fascinated by the international nature of the Bauhaus. She finds the idea of an avant-garde school to which teachers and students came from all over the world and which united their various different contexts, cultures and approaches, further developing them and handing them on, still very relevant as a model, and that is what makes studying it still interesting today.
Marcel Breuer with his Harem (from l. to r.: Marcel Breuer, Martha Erps, Katt Both, Ruth Hollos) (1926) by Erich Consemüller (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Marcel Breuer with his "Harem"
Erich Consemüller, 1926. (from l. to r.: Marcel Breuer, Martha Erps, Katt Both, Ruth Hollos)
This is my favourite photo from the Bauhaus era. It reminds me of my youth in the 1980s, when we wore our hair like that as well.
It must have been really revolutionary in the Bauhaus era for girls to take an active part in life with such short, scrubby hair. I think it was a huge provocation.
At the same time, it shows that the Bauhaus was not just a school. It was a school community and it was a life community. You can also see in this the role of women. They were not, as is unfortunately often the received wisdom today, pushed off into the corner, nameless and oppressed by men.
Of course, it was a difficult time, but women were already strong enough to assert themselves. They produced a lot of what we now identify as Bauhaus and contributed a great deal to this school.
Bauhaus, workshop wing (Bauhaus building, Dessau) (1926) by Lucia Moholy (née Schulz) (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Bauhaus, Workshop Wing
Lucia Moholy, 1926
Lucia Moholy’s photograph of the workshop part of the Bauhaus building shows a crucial aspect of the Bauhaus. The architecture was programmatic, and we can read the curriculum from the building itself.
The workshop wing was very special because it introduced a completely new school model into the teaching of design. Rather than the traditional teacher-centred, I-learn-from-the-master style of the typical painting studio, we develop, test and craft together.
And precisely that is what happened, transparently, behind glass. This means that anyone can look in and see us, everyone is welcome. You could look in and see what was going on in the metal workshop, the preliminary course, the carpentry workshop or the weaving shop.
Up and down (1932) by Wassily KandinskyBauhaus Dessau Foundation
Back and Forth
Wassily Kandinsky, 1932
Wassily Kandinsky’s picture shows that the role of artists was really big at the Bauhaus.
Walter Gropius did not just bring together a wide range of people as far as their artistic, political and social attitudes were concerned, but also a high proportion of artists, especially at the beginning, in relation to designers or architects, although he fundamentally did not make that distinction.
What comes out beautifully in this etching is the idea of abstraction. We can see that forms move ...
... float ...
... break up ...
... without our specifically seeing an aeroplane or anything like that. That was very important even in the foundation course – trying out and testing movement and forms using certain techniques.
Sound-absorbing reversible curtain (1927) by Frida Margaret LeischnerBauhaus Dessau Foundation
Sound-absorbing reversible curtain fabric
Frida Margaret Leischner, 1927
This is a fabric that is very representative of the Dessau period – weaving for industrial production. A great deal was tested by hand so that it could subsequently be industrially manufactured.
What this actually means is that the fabric is simple and repeatable, while being of great aesthetic quality.
A great many different materials were combined.
This sound-muffling curtain fabric involved technical and aesthetic considerations.
At the same time, it was a departure from the Weimar Bauhaus period, in which weaving still tended to be very pictorial.
This shows beautifully the development of the rug as picture to an industrial component of a room that can be a blanket, a curtain fabric, a chair cover or an overlay.
Vista (1933) by Josef AlbersBauhaus Dessau Foundation
Josef Albers, 1933
Joseph Albers was very important for the foundation course. He is representative of this experimenting with forms. There were a great many folding exercises which the students did, quite simply with paper.
This was a really simple principle of black and white, alternating like positive and negative,
but just by virtue of this simple arrangement it becomes incredibly complex with such a wealth of form.
Co-op. Construction 1926/1 (1926) by Hannes MeyerBauhaus Dessau Foundation
Co-op. Construction 1926/1
Hannes Meyer, 1926
In this photo we can see the scientific approach of Hannes Meyer, who was the second Bauhaus director after Walter Gropius.
He took a much less artistic approach and combined various areas of science for his buildings, such as the incidence of light and studies of materials and hygiene.
Meyer also grasped the idea that a collective comprises people who do not all do the same thing but come together with various different areas of expertise to achieve higher quality.
He combines this egg, which is a natural product with a large shadow, with a glass,
which has no shadow at all and follows a quite different construction principle.
He tries to combine things which do not on the face of it belong together and put them in a new relation. He tries this out in an abstract way, but convincingly and daringly.
Armchair (Weißenhof-chair) (1927) by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (design) and Berliner Metallgewerbe Josef Müller (made)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1927
This cantilever chair stands for a series of quite different models.
At the Bauhaus people were fundamentally not afraid to use materials in different ways and to reject a function or concept of a utility object completely and rethink it:
a chair without four legs, a chair which has no firm base, which even moves when you sit on it, which includes completely new materials like, at that time, steel.
Today we are used to it, but if you think how it was 100 years ago – it was not just something new for the eye, but a challenge functionally as well.
Bauhaus stage. Pantomime 'Treppenwitz' by Oskar Schlemmer (1927) by Erich Consemüller (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Bauhaus stage. Pantomime "Treppenwitz" by Oskar Schlemmer
Erich Consemüller, 1927
This is a posed photo of Oskar Schlemmer, who was the head of the stage workshop at the Bauhaus. The stage was part of the curriculum, one teaching module among many.
On the Bauhaus stage in Dessau, the only one in the world, Schlemmer worked with his students mainly in the room. They tested the relationship between body, form, space and movement in a very playful way,
with costumes extending their limbs or restricting their freedom of movement. All this was a testing ground for production, for prototypes in architecture.
The Bauhaus people did not just see the Bauhaus stage as a stage, but also, as we can see here, the roof as well. As part of an architecture it became stage and testing ground for further architectures.
Malville apples (wallpaper design) (1930/31) by Elsa Thiemann (née Franke)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Elsa Thiemann, 1930/31
Wallpaper was the absolute hit product of the Bauhaus. The patterns were created by students like Elsa Thiemann. She developed her designs in the photo workshop.
She called this design Malville apples. You can see it as a picture, but it is actually more of a structure that can be endlessly reproduced.
The abstract circular form is broken up, overlapped a little and its colouring reduced to black, white and yellow. This composition may be an artistic and aesthetic design, but it was made for the factory belt, for industrial production.
Glass high-rise by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, model with landscape features by Oskar Herzog in front of the former Deutsche Kolonialmuseum building in Berlin (1922) by Curt Rehbein (?) (Photo)Bauhaus Dessau Foundation
Glass high-rise by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Curt Rehbein (?), 1922
This glass model with its curved forms was a utopia. Even though Mies van der Rohe was not yet at the Bauhaus at this time, this picture is a good description of what the Bauhaus was, namely a constant attempt to come to terms with form and function.
It is often oversimplified today – it was all straight lines and then it just worked. But there were a lot of test phases leading up to that.
It is as glazed as is at all possible. It casts no shadow at all.
It reflects. It is a pure structure of light.
It is totally exaggerated and could never have built like this. But of course, it was also combined with a vision – of an open, transparent society as we would say today.
Text / Concept: Dr. Claudia Perren, Astrid Alexander
Realisation: Astrid Alexander
Editing: Astrid Alexander, Cornelia Jeske
Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt
© Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau