In April 1919, Walter Gropius (b. 1883) emphasised the importance of “returning to the crafts”, and with that the iconic Bauhaus movement began. Providing inspiration for a whole host of disciplines, The Spirit of Bauhaus, published by Thames and Hudson, historicises the movement’s origins, reminding readers of the roots which led to the phenomenon’s ongoing legacy. Created in response to the 2016 exhibition of the same name, hosted by Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, the book realigns attention onto forgotten narratives, detailing the students, objects and contemporary manifestations which categorise the movement’s aesthetic philosophy.
More than 300 illustrations are presented alongside personal tales and analytical essays produced by a number of creative experts, contextualising an often mystifying history. The publication harks back to the school’s 1919 opening in Weimer, Germany, as well as its untimely closure in 1933, when the institution, then based in the artistic hub of Berlin, was forced to shut by the Nazi regime.
Furthermore, an examination of the unique learning programme offered by the faculty of Bauhaus is detailed, showing how conventional workshops on subjects including architecture, photography, sculpture and textiles were offered alongside unexpected practices such as book binding, stained glass and theatre. Linking all of the topics was an ethos of creative freedom and a group of late 20th century pioneers-come-teachers, including Paul Klee (b. 1879), Lyonel Feininger (b. 1871) and Wassily Kandinsky (b. 1866), who offered a high level of expertise available nowhere else in the world.
Beyond looking at the personas who dominated the school, a section entitled The Spirit of the Forms examines how practitioners active during the 21st century are still inspired by the school. Curated by French artist Mathieu Mercier (b. 1970), this chapter compromises over 40 works form a visual catalogue, including pieces from designers, fashion designers and visual artists from recent years. Examples of these include Playing Problems 01 (2015) by Nuria Fuster (b. 1978) imitates the uncanny nature of twentieth century theatre and negotiates contemporary attitudes towards the female form whereas Franck Scurti’s (b. 1965) Working Table III (2012-2015) exemplifies an obsession with simplistic, functional design and a controlled use of primary colours.
Further tracking Bauhaus’ legacy to the current day, the book includes a chronological survey of works created by the school. Archival items are compared to masterpieces from religious, Asian and decorative backgrounds, suggesting how are awareness of wider styles is integral to understanding the resulting Bauhaus style. As Nicholas Fox Weber (b. 1947), Director at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Connecticut, notes: “The ability to make the everyday utterly beautiful, transforming what is ordinary into a source of aesthetic satisfaction” was one of the Bauhaus’ biggest achievements.
Ultimately, the publication indicates how a cultural legacy has become mythicised in recent years, however, by engaging with the socio-political context and recounts of everyday, somewhat mundane activities alive within the school, the term is humanised. The Spirit of Bauhaus offers a refreshed perception and understanding of the movement for a new generation.
Olivier Gabet and Anne Monier, The Spirit of Bauhaus, Published by Thames and Hudson. Find out more here.
1. Bauhaus – Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin | 2012