Oskar Schlemmer. Bauhaus Stairway. 1932

Oskar Schlemmer Bauhaus Stairway 1932

  • MoMA, Floor 2

The Bauhaus school was premised on a utopian vision of society based on the integration of tech­nology, art, design, and life. Originally founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius in Weimar, Germany, the school moved to Dessau in 1925 and finally to Berlin in 1932. Schlemmer, who taught at the school from 1920 to 1929, made Bauhaus Stairway in response to an announcement that, under pressure from the Nazi party, the school was to close. The Bauhaus shut its doors in 1933, the year after he created this painting.

Best known as a choreographer and as the director of the Bauhaus theater workshop, Schlemmer dedicated his life’s work to investigating the relationships between the human body and its surrounding space. Bauhaus Stairway depicts these interactions in the contrast between static architectural forms and dynamically shifting figures, epitomized by the dancer balancing en pointe. Schlemmer’s bodies are composed of cones, spheres, and cylinders—simplified into almost modular geometric units rather than rendered as individual identities. The three central figures are pictured from behind; those whose faces we do see reveal no expression or emotion. The streamlined bodies on this pivoting staircase seem to move away from us—as if marking the turning point between past hopes and a dark future.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

Bauhaus Stairway depicts the Bauhaus, a school founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, famous for its visionary integration of technology, art, and design. Although Schlemmer made this painting three years after he left his teaching position at the Bauhaus, the works gridded structure, streamlined modular bodies and predominant palette of primary colors capture the schools vibrant design spirit. The carefully choreographed arrangement of the figures and the man en pointe at the top of the stairs reflects Schlemmers role as the creator of many important dance and theatrical productions at the Bauhaus. Schlemmer painted this work as Hitler assumed power, shortly before the Nazis closed the Bauhaus for good. He was among many artists persecuted by the Nazis, whose work they deemed "degenerate" and often destroyed.

Gallery label from 2008.
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
63 7/8 x 45" (162.3 x 114.3 cm)
Credit
Gift of Philip Johnson
Object number
597.1942
Department
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

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This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.

The artist, Breslau, Germany. Until 1933
Philip Johnson, New York. Purchased in Stuttgart, March 1933 - 1942 (on extended loan to MoMA 1933-1942)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Philip Johnson, December 1942

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