Bauhaus at the Barbican

Filed in Reviews by on May 5, 2012

Bauhaus – Art As Life

Barbican Centre

3 May to 12 August 2012

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There is just so much to see here. I had a bit of a panic as I neared the end about how I would manage to capture all the different elements of the exhibition in a short review. I can’t recall ever before seeing such a variety of mediums. But, this reflects what Bauhaus stood for. Founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius, the Bauhaus was an art school that sought to bring a focus back to craft, to bring the artist and the craftsman together on level terms, and to, as the exhibition title suggests, bring art into the everyday. There were functional pieces of furniture on show, sturdy pieces such as chairs, stacking tables, even a pretty impressive swivel bookcase, but also a vast array of tea pitchers and even a chess set. It seems no corner was left unturned by the productive fervour of Bauhaus.

The focus of this exhibition was undeniably on production. The art course was laid bare for us to see. Work was shown from the array of specialties that could be studied, from print to weaving to cabinetry. There were photographs of the rooms that were dedicated to the production of stained glass windows and stonework; there were exercises on the wall from special courses that explored the specific uses of colour, form and composition. These classes were run by familiar names, Wassily Kandinsky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. The Bauhaus was a treasure trove of names and prolific making. It made me ache; the focus on learning and exploring processes reminded me of my foundation course. Of course, Stafford College didn’t really have to budget or the facilities to enable furniture making or glasswork but this exhibition is testament to what can be achieved, and what was achieved, with access to these different types of making.

The exhibition chronicles the history of the Bauhaus school, the necessitated location changes from Weimar to Dessau, and finally to Berlin, and the turn away from craft to focus on more industrial design, as in keeping with the advance of mechanical production. Not only were objects created that could be sold commercially (there was a poster on the wall that would have not looked out of place in an IKEA catalogue) but there was also a focus on creating a global type of design. Beautifully coloured papers were adorned with new typesets, different modes of conceiving the alphabet were on show and the slick graphic design, seemingly influenced by Constructivism, de Stijl and its crisp clean lines and shapes, seemed almost contemporary.

I think this was the major pull of this exhibition, in showing the history of an art school that existed between 1919-1933 what we were really being shown is the impact of Bauhaus. As was mentioned in the exhibition, the Bauhaus school was a movement that was said to have kick-started modernism. What is on display is the source of influences that have been filtering down into the arts, into graphic design, illustration, film, costume and textiles today. Gunta Stolzl’s striped wall hangings looked like rainbow printer glitches, Herbert Bayer’s simple magazine designs looked as though they were the inspiration for the vintage wave in illustration at present. The work of the Bauhaus has seeped into contemporary visual culture. The Barbican has shown the breadth of work, and also looked into the lives of those working at the school, at no point does it feel like a history lesson or a museum. It offers an insight that complements the broad production of the Bauhaus, and all the issues it faced in a time where its aims were being scrutinized.

Perhaps it is the vitality of Bauhaus itself that makes this exhibition so enlivened. I left with a definite memory of metal parties that involved dressing in tin foil and saucepans, and images of big bulbous colourful costumes made by Oskar Schlemmer for dance performances. My review definitely doesn’t do all the objects in the exhibition justice. For me, the highlights lay in Hajo Rose’s design for fabric print pattern that was made entirely from typewriter type and the photographs of the daily life in the Bauhaus. Yet, this is merely one opinion. There really is so much to see, it has to be seen. Judging from this exhibition, the Bauhaus really did kick start modernism, and set the scene for contemporary visual arts as we know it.

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Ann-Marie Rayney

About the Author ()

Ann-Marie Rayney is a printmaker based in London. Recently graduated from Goldsmiths with a Fine Art and Art History degree, she will most likely be found exploring London's cultural offerings or covered in ink at Sonsoles Print Studio in Peckham. To see some of her work, have a sneaky peak at her website here. http://cargocollective.com/annmarierayney

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