In MoMA’s Cullman Education and Research Building, you’ll find visitors sitting at clover-like Bauhaus tables (based on the original workshop photographs) working on drawing exercises devised by Bauhaus masters Johannes Itten and Paul Klee. Interestingly, Klee and Itten themselves were actually not so happy sharing a table—the dinner table, that is.
The radically-styled Itten, who sported a shaven head and crimson robes, was a follower of Mazdaznan, a religious health movement partially inspired by Zoroastrianism that requires a strict macrobiotic diet of grains, nuts, and vegetables. After attending one of Itten’s spare dinners, Klee reportedly said that if he lived on such a punishing diet even his worms would leave him. Fellow Bauhaus master Oskar Schlemmer was even less gracious, saying about Itten’s diet that “focusing so much time on the stomach and to what passed one’s lips may rob one of one’s spontaneity.”
To his students, Itten prescribed a diet of mashed vegetables mixed with garlic into a sort of porridge, along with breathing and meditation exercises, a regime his student followers fervently obeyed. But other students rebelled, maneuvering so that the canteen would serve regular barley soup under the table—literally. Visitors to the Bauhaus during those early years repeatedly commented on the pervasive garlic smell of the facilities (and of the students), and it all must have gotten to the point where the other faculty had had enough.
When Walter Gropius reoriented the activities of the Bauhaus in 1923, Itten’s professorship—and culinary era—effectively ended. Still, we wonder, was there something about this unique diet that helped to produce the most remarkable art school of the modern age? Could it have been the garlic? I thus asked the absolute authority on the matter at MoMA—Gabriel Kreuther, our award-winning master chef at The Modern—if a garlic-heavy diet could be that transformative.
“In the Alsace region, where I am from, we use a lot of garlic,” Kreuther told me. “My grandfather, who was a farmer, would eat raw cloves of garlic during the change of seasons, for four or five days in a row. I was told it was meant to cleanse your system.” Did he try that garlic diet? No, but he does make a garlic soup with thyme and a poached egg. While this soup may not be the magic potion to trigger a new art movement, it would be certain to satisfy the most demanding Bauhaus masters and followers—even, perhaps, Itten himself.