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MoMA

BAUHAUS LOUNGE: WHEN THE COUCH MATCHES THE ART

November 11, 2009  |  Bauhaus, Behind the Scenes, Events & Programs
Bauhaus Lounge: When the Couch Matches the Art
Bauhaus Lounge, The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Center

Bauhaus Lounge, The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Center

Matching the artwork with the living room couch is one of the perennial concerns of any collector. But when it comes to the Bauhaus, which was as much about designing couches as it was about artworks, finding the right furniture piece shouldn’t be a problem. Or so it seemed to us at the Education Department. During the exhibition Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity, we imagined turning the reading room space in MoMA’s Cullman building into a Bauhaus Lounge, equipped with Bauhaus furniture for visitors to relax on while they watch a video of a reconstruction of Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet or browse through Bauhaus literature. We thought we had enough original Bauhaus-designed chairs lying around MoMA’s buildings that it couldn’t be too hard to put such a lounge together. We do have a Wassily chair (no one remembers where it came from) that sits in the Education offices; we also snatched away a few other chairs from a conference room and two Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs from outside of Glenn Lowry’s office waiting area (his office wants them back after the show).

Marcel Breuer with textile by Gunta Stözl, "African" or "Romantic" chair, 1921

Marcel Breuer and Gunta Stölzl. "African" or "Romantic" chair. 1921. Painted oak and cherry wood and brocade of gold, hemp, wool, cotton, silk, and other fabric threads, interwoven with twined hemp ground. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. Acquired with the support of the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung

But as it turns out, it’s not so easy for a non-expert to do a Bauhaus period room without falling for knockoffs or historically inaccurate pieces. Bauhaus furniture was so successful in creating simple and easily-reproducible designs that it’s easy to mistake an authentic piece for an inspired but false offspring. For many of us here, every piece of furniture around MoMA seemed Bauhausian, but as we went through our list of items around the buildings and checked with Chief Curator of Architecture and Design Barry Bergdoll, he quickly deflated our hopes. That stool? That’s an Alvar Aalto. That chair? That’s a Danish piece from the 1990s—nothing to do with Bauhaus. Those tables? They were designed by our talented Director of Exhibition Design Jerry Neuner, but alas, they are not Bauhaus.

The exhibition will definitely help clarify what is Bauhaus design, and it may come as a surprise to viewers that some of the items on view don’t look at all like the commonly held idea of Bauhaus furniture. One of Barry’s favorite pieces in the show is the recently recovered “African” chair by Marcel Breuer and Gunta Stölzl, with an aesthetic far removed from from tubular furniture. That chair, however, is only for viewing.

Comments

Regarding Bauhaus, whose artists are among my favorites!

My mother, Ethel Wiesinger, owned a gift shop in the Beverly Hills Hotel from 1936 to 1949. When she moved in, the hotel was in bankruptcy and owned by the Bank of America. Her store was in the lobby just to the left of the front door and her merchandise included jewelry, Chinese imports, china. She also had a stand for magazines, newspapers, comic books, candy and cigarettes. (I particularly liked the comic books)

In the 1930s, residents of the hotel were wealthy widows–Mrs. Huntington, Mrs. Astaire and about a dozen others. Looking back at that time, I realize that the hotel was a form of what we would now call assisted living for the elderly. The high point of the day was 4:00 Tea, when everyone came down for tea and socializing, and occasionally buying something from mother’s shop. At that time, the lobby had oriental carpets and leather couches arranged along the walls, There was a radio in the corner–where I heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941.

I was a kid who roamed the hotel much like NY’s Eloise. I visited the upholstery workshop in the basement, the flower shop, the attic where artists painted, the pool where I swam, the photography shop downstairs, and the cottages in the rear.

I liked to occasionally hang out with one of the artists, Vally Wieselthier, who worked outdoors on one of the hotel balconies. She liked my mother since they both spoke German. She was always nice to me, offering this 8 or 9 year old cookies. One day I saw her sculpting a hippopotumus lying on a chaise lounge, and she commented that she was sending it to Walt Disney. I admired it and ran off, never dreaming that I would see her figure in FANTASIA, the dance of the hippopotamuses.

Years later I realized that she was a well-known Bauhaus artist! I wish i had spent more time with her (I am not sure how long she stayed at the hotel)…I only wish I could see your MOMA Bauhaus exhibit!!

Margot Smith
Berkeley, Ca 94709

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