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Bauhaus

3. Final period and later influences, from c 1928

Source: Oxford University Press

As the new Director, Meyer, socially committed and a strong adherent of Marxist ideology, fully spelt out his concepts regarding the Bauhaus and society (Meyer, 1929): ‘Building and creating are indivisible and they are a social occurrence…. The Bauhaus at Dessau is not an artistic phenomenon, but a social one. As creative designers our work is conditioned by society, and society makes its mark on the whole range of our tasks.’ Under Meyer’s direction the Bauhaus’s programme moved decisively away from the original concept of a unified art school towards that of a centre of production to satisfy social needs. The department of architecture now became the central focus of the Bauhaus, not, however, in the integral way announced in its founding manifesto but largely as an autonomous specialized department dissociated from other departments.

Meyer promoted a rigorous Functionalism in architecture, asserting that buildings should be organized according to economic, technical, social and psychological factors, although it is arguable whether his buildings met these ‘functional criteria’. However, his Marxist commitment was expressed in such buildings as the workers’ housing estate in Törten, Dessau (begun 1926), in which the houses were entered from communal balconies, and the Allgemeiner Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund school at Bernau near Berlin, the architect’s major work from that period, for which he won a competition in 1926. Within the Bauhaus the influence declined of those artists with innovative ideas in solving problems of applied creative design. The independent painting classes set up by Klee and Kandinsky had no institutional connection with the rest of the work at the Bauhaus and can be seen only as a relapse from Gropius’s original master-plan for a new unity of art and technology. In these circumstances it was inevitable that the Bauhaus should start to disintegrate: Schlemmer, who had attempted to provide an anthropological basis for the Bauhaus system of teaching with his course Der Mensch, resigned from the school in 1929. In 1931 Klee went to the Kunstakademie at Düsseldorf, and Kandinsky became Meyer’s main opponent within the Bauhaus.

At the same time it cannot be denied that between 1928 and 1930 the Bauhaus worked with unsurpassed efficiency as regards performance and economics. This was partly due to Meyer’s transformation of teaching workshops into places of productive design in order to underline the social justification of the Bauhaus. In 1929 a department of photography was set up under the professional photographer Walter Peterhans (1897–1960). It concentrated not on experimental photography (as had been typical of Moholy-Nagy) but on commercial work, through its strict attachment to the advertising department led, after Bayer’s departure, by the extremely versatile but now almost forgotten Schmidt.

In 1930 Meyer was dismissed from his post as Director of the Bauhaus because of his Marxist commitment. The new Director, recommended by Gropius, was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, another exponent of Functionalism. However, he was anxious to bring the school back on to a non-political course. He combined the demand for social efficiency with a high aesthetic standard. Nonetheless, he remained loyal to Meyer’s course in that the Bauhaus under his leadership retained the characteristics of a school of architecture with a few courses in design, two in fine-art painting and one in photography. In contrast to Meyer, however, Mies van der Rohe favoured teaching over the Bauhaus’s programme of production.

After the victory of the National Socialists in the local elections in 1932, the Bauhaus in Dessau was closed down. The school moved to Steglitz, Berlin, where it continued to operate as a private institution under more difficult conditions in a former factory building. However, after Adolf Hitler seized power in 1933 the National Socialists put a final end to the continued existence of the Bauhaus, which had been vilified as culturally Bolshevist. After unsuccessful attempts by Mies van der Rohe to save it, with repression from the police, the Sturm-Abteilung (SA) and the Gestapo it was forced to close down.

After the closure of the Bauhaus, its members were dispersed across Europe and the USA. Some became highly influential teachers: for example Gropius took up a professorship at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, in 1937, while in 1938 Mies van der Rohe settled in Chicago, becoming Director of the College of Architecture, Planning and Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. However, most important was the involvement of Albers in the Black Mountain College, NC. Through the workshops and courses they disseminated Bauhaus design and teaching methods in the USA. Internationally numerous establishments came to model themselves on the Bauhaus, for example the New Bauhaus or the School of Design in Chicago, both founded by Moholy-Nagy, and after World War II the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm. As well as setting standards for the development of modern design and the International Style, the Bauhaus established concepts for the teaching of art and design that remained relevant more than half a century later.

Rainer K. Wick
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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