Friday, 25 May 2012

The Bauhaus Place Brand

I spent a very enjoyable afternoon this week immersing myself in the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican art gallery in the City of London. When I studied architecture and planning at the Glasgow School of Art this was one of the schools of design that most interested me, especially so as my one of my lecturers at the time, Eric Meuller Ashmann, had an intimate knowledge of its activities and had spent time at its final location in Berlin. 

Over the years I have slowly come to realise just how strong this school of design was, surviving  both the harsh economic climate of the Weimar years and the rise of the Nazis until, in the early thirties, it had to close as a result of pressure exerted by them. 

And, after I had feasted on the exhibits and the accompanying commentary, I was again left wondering why we currently do not have a movement or institution like this in modern Britain, a place to explore the art of place, inside and outside of buildings. If place truly matters we would benefit from such an initiative. I know that I bang on about this (witness my recent blog on the current design exhibition at the V and A which is also worth going to) but its a question we do need to address.

The exhibition is a feast for the eye and the brain containing examples of the work of the school's founders, lecturers and students over a thirteen year period (1919-1932), covering the fields of ceramics, glass, furniture, printing, graphics and, of course, architecture. It's difficult in a blog to do the contents justice but for me the highlights were the textile designs of Gunta Stozl, the silversmithing of Thomas Bogler, the typography and posters of the rightly celebrated Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, the work of graphic designer Herbert Bayer who designed the one million mark banknote for the Bank of Thuringia (worthless by the time it was in circulation), the sculptures of Johannes Iten, the photography of Lucia Moholy (who captured engaging images of student's life in the school - and it was a way of life to be there), the architecture of Walter Gropius and Joseph Albers, especially the design of the school's buildings at the campus at Dessau, built between 1926 and 1928, and the 1932 designs by Hans Wittwer and Hannes Meyer for the headquarters of the German Trade Union Federation at Bernau, another institution that the Nazis would not tolerate for very long.

Along with the school's founder, Walter Gropius, many of the school's lecturers and students fled Germany with the rise of the Nazi's and one of the principal beneficiaries of this forced migration of design talent was the USA, the city of Chicago in particular, where the school's architectural tradition and approach heavily influenced the development of the city centre and its buildings, an ex-Germania testament and monument to the vision of its founders.

Go see this exhibition while its still on, wonder and marvel at the concentration of talent, the flowering of genius and the product of creativity and ask yourself where all this might have gone without prejudice and intolerance. And do consider what we have to do to create a modern British equivalent.

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