Meet me in the Bauhaus

a newspaper shelf by Walter Gropius. I'd love to sit a stack of Sunday Times on this

Okay, confession time again, folks: I’m an art historian who knew didly-squat about Bauhaus, one of the most important and influential design movements of the modern era.  And frankly, I didn’t care to know much more than it happened in Germany and that it was important. Man, was I ever missing out…

MoMA’s fall exhibition Bauhaus: Workshops for Modernity, 1919-1933 sandblasts misconceived notions that German design is gray and industrial. It is a stunning exhibit, beautifully curated and cock-full of stuff to covet (there’s a few textiles I’d love to own as skirts and several pieces of furniture would look smashing in my dream flat). Illustrated books, ceramic pots, paintings, photographs, bookcases, light fixtures, tables, puppets, tea kettles, and chess sets — Bauhaus artists had their fingers in everything, and at least one of everything is on display on the 6th floor of MoMA.

a colorchart study by Paul Klee

Bauhaus was formed in Weimar in 1919 and was the brainchild of architect Walter Gropius who envisioned a school of design that brought the worlds of fine arts and industry into one. It was a Renaissance idea — all branches of the arts working harmoniously together — reborn in the 20th century in an economically devastated Germany. Over the next decade and a half, the Bauhaus would become home to some of the best-known names in 20th century art and design — Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Laszol Moholy-Nagey, to name but a small few. It would relocate twice, once in 1925 to Dessau and again in 1932 to Berlin, before being closed by the Nazi government in 1933. The exhibit is organized along these three periods in Bauhaus’ history, and the changes in leadership over time and place are easily traced through the works on display.

Color and shape abounds in “Bauhaus: Workshops in Modernity”; geometry and color charts are both toys and tools of the artist. Where “Tim Burton” is MoMA’s show for the masses, “Bauhaus” is its exhibition with more academic aims. The curators, Barry Bergdoll and Leah Dickerman, got their hands on objects from the Bauhaus archives that haven’t seen a public venue since they were made. Undoubtedly, Bauhaus is a scholarly show — the catalog costs $75 and features essays from the leading scholars on the school. This is not to say the exhibit requires some sort of background in the history of 20th century art or Germany to be enjoyed. Rather, it manages to be both scholarly and approachable (I think the colored walls help a lot — yes, orange walls in a museum!).

Oskar Schlemmer. Bauhaus Stairway. 1932.

Of all the exhibits on display at MoMA over the fall and winter months, Bauhaus is the shining jewel in the program’s crown. It has been called “one of those exhibits that comes along in a rare while,” and indeed it feels like a one-in-a-lifetime-landmark-kind-of-show. Bauhaus should be slowly savored, and luckily with everyone crammed into Burton, you’ll probably have most of the 6th floor gallery to yourself. So get going and tell a friend to meet you in the Bauhaus.

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