Exploring The Bauhaus Archiv: A Total Work of Art

Rather than follow the masses to overcrowded, sun-soaked locations around the city this summer, why not instead follow the breadcrumbs of sophistication on a quintessential German art tour of the early twentieth century.

At its peak between 1919 and 1933 the relatively short-lived Bauhaus movement was plagued by war, social pressures and internal struggles but is nevertheless one of the most influential social, cultural, political and economic movements of modern times. Inspiring designers like Charles and Ray Eames and Le Corbusier as well as being the launching pad for artists, Kandinsky, Klee and Breuer the Bauhaus lead by founder Walter Gropius changed modern and conventional art forever.

With a simple philosophy, a “total work of art” and a schoolhouse to make it happen, the emphasis on German expressionism—dictated by middle class socio-economic patterns permeating the traditional methods of craftsmanship and materials—reflected the economic and political environment in Germany after the First World War.

Enabled and encouraged by the Weimar Republic, which briefly celebrated art experimentation after a long period of conservatism, the self-proclaimed apolitical Bauhaus movement quickly defined their “art” as society’s need for usable form and function in everyday objects. Focusing not on the ornamentation of something but the practicality of design, the reigning pillars of convention in Bauhaus design—rationality, functionality and simplicity—resulted in end products of stripped-down, raw materials, simple colour palates and a practical, industrial beauty.

As policy changes within the Weimar Republic developed, and as the Nationalists took power, the Bauhaus school was forced to move around, becoming more covert and discrete before officially disbanding in 1933. Although the movement subsided as Germany entered War, the artists and teachers of the school moved across the globe and continued to spread their philosophy.

Unifying different art methods into the same final product from craft, technology, architecture, painting, pottery, and furniture designs, Bauhaus became not only a unique production line but an education in design.

The building at Dessau is a UNESCO world heritage site and has been since 1996 where, after years of languishing in disrepair, the school was restored to its former glory. Here you can visit the former school building, see the grounds as well as former Masters’ houses, and you can stay in the former student housing apartments in the famous studio Bauhaus building or Prellerhaus and dine in the former cafeteria.

The Archive in Berlin opened in 1979 and gives visitors an opportunity to experience key pieces and original objects which shaped the movement. The exhibitions feature works from the graphic arts, architecture, furniture, metal works, ceramics, and paintings from students and teachers of the school, including pieces by Gropius, Kandinsky and Klee during and after their Bauhaus involvement. In preparation for the 2019 centenary celebration of the Bauhaus, the Archive will be intermittently closed from 2017 to accommodate drastic renovations and new construction to be ready in 2021.

Between guided tours and self-directed visitations (although please respect the no-photo policy), both the Bauhaus at Dessau and the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin are the perfect locations to experience an unforgettable art movement and a monumental cultural insight into a very poignant way of life.

Words & Photography by Ella King

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