Tag Archive for Oskar Schlemmer

Celebrating the Bauhaus’ Centennial

The Bauhaus, 1919–1933

In the wake of the First World War, conceptions of art, mechanization, and technology were becoming much-discussed subjects by aestheticians. German architect Walter Gropius attempted to synthesize these subjects in 1919 when he opened the Bauhaus, a studio in Weimar, Germany that would eventually become eponymous for the ideals of the school. Now, a hundred years after the Bauhaus was founded, people are returning their gaze to the avant-garde artistic school. Lars Müller Publishers has collaborated with Bauhaus-Archiv and Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin to publish a facsimile edition of bauhaus journal, a publication that ran from 1926-1931. The recirculation of bauhaus journal addresses the methods and focal points of Bauhaus teachings, and it touches on how the Bauhaus became the movement that it was in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Proclamation of the Bauhaus, made in 1919, stated that the Bauhaus was a utopian craft guild that would combine architecture, culture, and painting into one creative expression. By focusing on creative expression, artists aimed to reimagine the material world as a reflection of the abstract arts. By 1923, the Bauhaus changed their philosophy on design—instead of focusing solely on the material as a reflection of the abstract, artists began to make “Art for Industry,” concentrating on how technology can change the way that material is created. Crafts like cabinet-making, weaving, metal-working, and typography became focal points for Bauhaus innovation throughout the 1920s.

Textile sample, ca. 1945. Cellophane and jute, 91 x 101.5 cms.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Anni Albers, 1970. c. 1998 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Selected Writings on Design by Anni Albers (Wesleyan University Press, 2000)

For Anni Albers, a former student at the Bauhaus, the Bauhaus style taught artists to be “unburdened by any considerations of practical application.” As Albers describes in Selected Writings on Design (Wesleyan University Press, 2000), “this uninhibited play with materials resulted in amazing objects, striking in their newness of conception in regard to use of color and compositional elements—objects of often quite barbaric beauty.”

Design for wallhanging, 1926. Gouache on paper, 31.8 x 20.6 cms. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer. Photograph c. 2000 The Museum of Modern Art. In Selected Writings on Design by Anni Albers (Wesleyan University Press, 2000)

The Bauhaus continued until 1933, when many important figures of the movement and school emigrated to the United States before the outset of World War II, including Albers herself. Bauhaus figures would go on to influence important movements in arts and architecture following the Second World War.

Design for tablecloth, Bauhaus, Germany, 1930. Watercolor and gouache on square-ruled paper, 26 x 24.1 cms. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer. Photograph c. 2000 The Museum of Modern Art. In Selected Writings on Design by Anni Albers (Wesleyan University Press, 2000)

The Theater of the Bauhaus

Bauhaus theater was also a form that attempted a synthesis of art and modern technology, trying to achieve “the aim of finding a new and powerful working correlation of artistic creation to culminate finally in a new cultural equilibrium of the visual environment.” (The Theater of the Bauhaus, Oskar Schlemmer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Farkas Molnár, Wesleyan University Press, 1961) What that meant was experimenting with all visual aspects of theater, from the way an actor moved to how actors interacted with the stage. Theater was considered to be an artistic material shaped by the artist in order to convey a specific message or emotion, and conceptions of theatrical material was divided into form and color. This form and color took motion on stage, and the actor became the bearer of material to the audience instead of being independent of the stage. Thus, Bauhaus directors experimented with “de-humanizing” the actor, as seen in the piece “The Circus,” where the actors face and body were covered completely by costumes and masks.

Alexander Schawinsky, “Scene from the Circus. First performance 1924 at the Bauhaus.” From The Theater of the Bauhaus by Schlemmer, Moholy-Nagy, and Molnár (Wesleyan University Press, 1961).

These conceptions of “theatrical forms” would also become influential in avant-garde theater in the later parts of the century, and it marked a departure from more traditional theater that focused on the actor as a human form instead of the messenger of form and color. Now, a century since the inception of the Bauhaus, one can still see Bauhaus influence on modern day theater, from imposing, architectural set design to more abstract pieces that focus on substance in form.

For additional reading on innovative theater, check out Wesleyan University Press’ Open Book collection online.


The Bauhaus, 1919-1933, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Online

Selected Writings on Design, by Anni Albers

The Theater of the Bauhaus, Oskar Schlemmer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and Farkas Molnár

bauhaus journal 1926-1931, facsimile edition, ed. Lars Müller

László Moholy-Nagy Retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum

The Theatre of Bauhaus by Walter Gropius and Arthur S Wensinger“You would hardly know, from this show, that Moholy-Nagy shared an era with Picasso and Matisse. Perhaps chalk it up to the First World War and the Russian Revolution and a fissure in Western culture between art that maintained conventional mediums and art that subsumed them in a romance with social change and new techniques. The former held firm in France; the latter flourished in Germany. Americans could thrill to both at once, as interchangeable symbols of the ‘modern.’ It was in America, while he was dying, that Moholy-Nagy seemed to realize and begin to remedy the imbalance, exposing the heart that had always pulsed within the technocratic genius. To be a student of his then must have been heaven,” writes The New Yorker’s art critic  in “The Future Looked Bright”, reviewing the Guggenheim’s current retrospective exhibit on Bauhaus master László Moholy-Nagy.

Few creative movements have been more influential than the Bauhaus, under the leadership of Walter Gropius. The art of the theater commanded special attention, and its greatest commanders were none other than Oskar Schlemmer, Laslo Moholy-Nagy, and Farkas Molnár. Theater of the Bauhaus (edited by Walter Gropius and Arthur S. Wensinger, translated by Arthur Wensinger) is a reissued classic on theater design and presentation. Originally published in 1924, Wesleyan’s edition was its debut in English. The text in this volume is a loose collection of essays by Schlemmer, Molnár, and of course Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, with an introduction by Bauhaus leader Walter Gropius. For scholars of Moholy-Nagy’s late work in America, and scholars of Bauhaus in general, it is a necessary read and a collector’s item. The book is an accurate reproduction, from the lay-out and illustrations down to the book’s typography, so that Schlemmer and Moholy-Nagley’s thoughts and ideas come through just as they are meant.

Moholy-Nagy: Future Present is organized by and will be presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.