Bauhaus Construct
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Bauhaus Construct

Fashioning Identity, Discourse and Modernism

Jeffrey Saletnik, Robin Schuldenfrei, Jeffrey Saletnik, Robin Schuldenfrei

  1. 288 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Bauhaus Construct

Fashioning Identity, Discourse and Modernism

Jeffrey Saletnik, Robin Schuldenfrei, Jeffrey Saletnik, Robin Schuldenfrei

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About This Book

Reconsidering the status and meaning of Bauhaus objects in relation to the multiple re-tellings of the school's history, this volume positions art objects of the Bauhaus within the theoretical, artistic, historical, and cultural concerns in which they were produced and received.

Contributions from leading scholars writing in the field today – including Frederic J. Schwartz, Magdalena Droste, and Alina Payne – offer an entirely new treatment of the Bauhaus. Issues such as art and design pedagogy, the practice of photography, copyright law, and critical theory are discussed. Through a strong thematic structure, new archival research and innovative methodologies, the questions and subsequent conclusions presented here re-examine the history of the Bauhaus and its continuing legacy. Essential reading for anyone studying the Bauhaus, modern art and design.

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Part 1

Chapter 1
The Bauhaus Manifesto Postwar to Postwar

From the Street to the Wall to the Radio to the Memoir
Karen Koehler
This essay will investigate the strange and complex history of the Bauhaus Manifesto—a small, ephemeral document that has functioned as a symbol of the institution for ninety years. A four-paged broadsheet with a woodcut on the cover, the Manifesto has been misidentified, blown out of proportion, and seen as both a seditious and an innocuous piece of paper. From the beginning the Manifesto was problematic, and confusions have persisted through the cold war to the present. In order to unpack this complicated ambivalence, it is important to explore the Manifesto as both a material object and a mode of address—as a woodcut of a fractured and fragmented Cathedral, and as a pedagogical and political treatise that Walter Gropius continued to return to throughout his life (Figure 1.1). As the founder of the Bauhaus, Gropius is the one figure most associated with the school, and although he was replaced as director in 1928 by Hannes Meyer, and later by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gropius had a clear interest in controlling how the Bauhaus program was historically positioned, and therefore he continued to redraft the history of the school throughout his life. As a German émigré and later as a German-American emissary, he was also compelled to rewrite his own biography. This revisionist project (both that of Gropius and that of current scholarship) makes it clear that one must always be on the alert to scrutinize Bauhaus facts and fictions, as well as to acknowledge the interstices between the two.
To that end, this essay considers the Bauhaus Manifesto as a moving object, emerging and (re)emerging at a series of extremely potent historical junctures: 1919, 1923, 1938, 1944, 1947, and 1957. However, it is important to view these sightings as more than a mere chronology, and instead as part of a mutable historical and theoretical dialogue in which these later versions of the Manifesto—both visual and textual—were always operating with a memory of the previous one.
1.1 Lyonel Feininger, Cover of the “Bauhaus Proclamation,” 1919, woodcut printed in black ink on green wove paper, 117⁄8 × 75⁄16 in

Working through the Past

Any work of art history is one of reconstruction. At our best, we examine the layered lives of objects, and consider successive and diverse historical moments with precision: we analyze materials formally, and as social, political, economic, and cultural constructs. If we see the work of art as the product of a specific historical moment (that is to say, situated synchronically) then its continued life is nonetheless based in some measure on its autonomy and authenticity—its diachronic perpetuation as a work of art, worthy of our attention and capable of acquiring new meaning. Yet, the specific history of the Manifesto—and of Bauhaus historiography, generally—challenge us to do more: to work creatively with the dialectical notion that art is both tied to and separate from its social construct. In part, this is because the story of the Bauhaus is inextricably fused with the complicated function that history and memory play for Germany. In part, it is because the Bauhaus itself presented us with an imperfect paradigm—as a real school made up of classrooms, teachers and students, yet also as an idea, as something timeless and without physical substance. Is it possible to situate specific Bauhaus things in this highly charged conglomerate of realities and abstractions? Certain critical theorists, themselves part of Germany’s historical trajectory in the twentieth century, offer fertile methodologies. A specialized interpretation of dialecticism, drawn from Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, is perhaps a methodology that can be applied to, yet is also determined by, the Manifesto itself.1
The process of uncovering the strata of Bauhaus objects, what the editors of this book refer to as a “Bauhaus palimpsest,” is akin to Adorno’s questioning of “origins”—of the impulse to “trace” aesthetic forms as a reinforcement of their autonomous stature.2 It is tempting to view a Bauhaus palimpsest as something made of subsequent historical or interpretive layers, or as passive forms, that one could simply excavate to reveal an original meaning made at the moment of conception—what Adorno refers to as “sedimented content.”3 It is important to search for historic specificity, and to situate works of art as truthfully as possible into their original context. But Adorno’s dialectic challenges us to do more than that. Works of art exist as suspended moments, according to Adorno; yet the meaning of any individual work of art, and moreover of the concept of “art” itself, is located in an evolving constellation of elements. Art’s essence cannot be deduced from the original, Adorno warns us, “as if the first work were a foundation from which everything that followed were constructed and would collapse if shaken.”4 Aesthetic forms can be traced back to their origins (in this case, to Berlin in 1919), but the idea of a pure artistic essence is still in opposition to itself, that is, to its historically positioned original. Furthermore, the dialectic here is legitimized, for Adorno, only by what art became with regard to what it wanted to become.5
What did the Bauhaus Manifesto become with regard to what it wanted to become? It is tempting to conclude that the closing of the Bauhaus by the National Socialists, the diplomatic moves of Gropius, and the postmodernist discrediting of any perceived Bauhaus utopia all lead to the conclusion that the Manifesto (and its author) was a failure. However, what if it is ultimately the wanting to become something, the declaration, which mattered? According to Adorno, “Artworks recuperate, neutralized, what was once literally and directly experienced in life… Artworks do not lie, [they] do not feign the literalness that speaks out of them.”6 Furthermore, if the processes of layered historicity, of the critical reconstruction of artworks, are viewed as a form of remembering—and if those works are in fact German artworks made in the Weimar period, viewed through the lens of World War II and the cold war—then it is essential that we as writers and as historians recognize that we are knowingly raising the specter of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, of the loaded postwar practice of “working through the past.”7 Evidence suggests that Gropius surely needed to.

The Bauhaus Manifesto, 1919

In 1919, in the immediate aftermath of the revolutionary end to World War I and the subsequent civil war between the Spartacists and the Reformists, the newly formed Bauhaus in Weimar issued its Manifesto, the Programm des Staatlichen Bauhauses in Weimar. On the first page is a proclamation, in which Gropius wrote of a need to bring an end to the class distinctions that existed between the handcrafts and the fine arts, and asked all artists to join him in creating the complete building:
The ultimate aim of all visual arts is the complete building! To embellish buildings was once the noblest function of the fine arts They were the indispensable components of great architecture. Today the arts exist in isolation, from which they can be rescued through the conscious, cooperative effort of all craftsmen …
Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all return to the crafts!… Let us then create a new guild of craftsmen without the class distinctions that raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist! Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.8
This twentieth-century version of a broadsheet was illustrated by Lyonel Feininger, whose woodcut of a faceted, fragmented Cathedral on the title page was a visualization of the ideas expressed within the text—an illustration of the “crystal symbol of a new faith.” Yet it was, as well, a historically charged image—an architectural symbol of the Germanic past that had been faceted and fragmented. Gropius and Feininger chose to construct a symbol, part rubble, part crystal, that was meant to be an inspiration to young artists to build a new Germany out of the refractory bits and pieces of Germany’s past—to build a cathedral of the future.
The Cathedral is symbolically perhaps the single most important image for the early years of the school, yet the Manifesto was first and foremost a pamphlet, a genre of printed material that played a crucial political role in 1918–1919. There are two known versions. In the first preliminary design, which was not published and distributed, the woodcut appears with the words “Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar” printed below (Figure 1.2). In the second print—widely distributed to art schools, magazines, and newspapers—the cathedral is much larger, covering the entire paper, and there is no wording on the cover at all (Figure 1.1). Most importantly, the treatment of the building has changed considerably—the cubo-futurist fragmentation is much more insistent and all-encompassing. In the preliminary design, the use of space around the image sets it apart, while including the title, the name of the school, immediately below the image suggests that it represents the actual building where the Bauhaus was to be housed, or perhaps the type of structure the school would design. In the published print the framing device is removed, and the cathedral becomes a metaphor rather than a representation.
Throughout the Revolution the streets were covere...

Table of contents

  1. Contents
  2. Contributors
  3. Acknowledgments
  4. Introduction
  5. Part 1 Agents
  6. Part 2 Transference
  7. Part 3 Object Identity
  8. Coda
  9. Illustration credits
  10. Index