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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Bauhaus: Art as Life at the Barbican Art Gallery

The Barbican Art Gallery celebrates the most influential art and design school there ever was…

Written by Matt Bramford


T. Lux Feininger’s Sport at the Bauhaus by Scott Nellis

A retrospective of a German modernist design movement seems like a slightly curveball choice whilst London is busy boasting about everything British. Even Tate, notorious for shunning British artists at its Modern site, celebrates Damien Hirst this summer. In Hirst fashion it’s rumoured that he kicked up a fuss at the thought of exhibiting at Tate Britain, and even paid for the floors of Tate Modern to be reinforced to accommodate his dead animals in tanks, leaving Tate Britain tenuously linking Picasso to British artists (and, hilariously, dealers) in its Picasso in Britain major exhibition. Even so, the theme of London’s galleries seems to be how great Great Britain is. Except, it seems, for the Barbican.


Bauhaus by Sam Parr

Nevertheless, I was excited to see what this new retrospective would offer. A visit to the Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin is a must for any design perv. I’d clocked that this Barbican showcase was in association with said archives so my feelings were mixed – would it be pieces I’d already seen, rehung in a different fashion?


The Barbican from above, by Morgane Parma

Unusually (I think) this exhibition begins on the upper floor of the gallery, which had punters looking a bit bemused at the bottom of the stairs, most of them deciding to begin on the ground floor and bottle-necking one of the lower exhibition rooms. I stifled giggles as I crept upstairs where it was relatively quiet. I couldn’t help thinking that Gropius, Mies Van Der Rohe, Moholy-Nagy and pals would be pretty happy that their work and influence were being celebrated in the Brutalist concrete alcoves of the Barbican Art Gallery. The first room charts the opening of Bauhaus at Weimar and Walter Gropius‘ educational approach, particularly the Programme of the State Bauhaus in Weimar, a hefty text which has since become known as the Bauhaus manifesto. There are a few interesting pieces in these early rooms – particularly Lyonel Feininger‘s woodcut for the manifesto cover, on loan from MoMA.


Walter Gropius by Scott Nellis

The rest of the upstairs takes us on a tour of the early years of Bauhaus the ‘return to crafts’, showcasing the school’s impressive roster of teachers including Klee and Kandinsky; ‘salute to the square’, discussing the turning point in 1923 where Bauhaus progressed from emphasis on craft to its more rational aesthetic with which we associate the school today. One room, ‘instruments of communication’ got me particularly hot under the collar, showcasing some of Bauhaus‘ incredible typographic and editorial design work and many examples of Bauhausbücher produced between 1925 and 1930. The eclectic style of early Bauhaus print had by this point been replaced with a slick, efficient design aesthetic – geometric shapes, simplified information and even printers’ marks. In my humble/honest opinion, it’s some of the sexiest graphic design ever created.


All photography by Jane Hobson courtesy of the Barbican Art Gallery

It’s downstairs where the exhibition really comes alive, though, through tangible design, photography and costume, charting the move to Dessau, Bauhaus’ final home. Vibrant photographs document life at the school – sport, recreation, teaching, socialising. Dramatic photographs of the building itself show what a marvel it must have been, from Gropius‘ futuristic design to Marcel Breuer‘s tubular-steel furniture. The exhibition opens up here and it feels slightly overwhelming at first, particularly as you’ve been guided so carefully around the upstairs rooms.


Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadisches Ballett by Niki Groom

It was a challenge not to go wild as I surveyed the space, with costumes from Oskar Schlemmer‘s Triadisches Ballett that I hadn’t seen in Berlin, Josef Albers‘ nest of tables and club chair, Marcel Breuer‘s Wassily chair… it was a feast for any design fancier. Pig in proverbial shit, you might say.


Bauhaus (with Marcel Bruer chair) by Gilly Rochester

I could talk more about the pieces but any of the Bauhaus publications do it much better, so I’d recommend, if you can, to just go and bloody see it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.


Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe by Sandra Contreras

In 1933, after only 14 years, the Bauhaus dissolved under Mies Van Der Rohe‘s leadership. The Nazis grew ever anxious about what the school represented. Hannes Meyer was dismissed due to Communist leanings; Kandinsky‘s work had to be hidden because of his Russian background and funding was withdrawn. A poignant letter hangs as the last exhibit, written by Mies Van Der Rohe to the final students of Bauhaus, detailing its closure. It’s a poignant end to an exhibition that celebrates the enduring legacy and worldwide impact of the school.


All photography by Jane Hobson courtesy of the Barbican Art Gallery

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