Kandinsky, Klee & Other Bauhaus Artists Designed Ingenious Costumes Like You’ve Never Seen Before


Artists of the Bauhaus school—includ­ing founder Wal­ter Gropius, Paul Klee, Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky, Piet Mon­dri­an and others—broke rad­i­cal­ly with famil­iar tra­di­tion and made min­i­mal­ist, abstract, and some­times shock­ing state­ments with their work. We know this his­to­ry, but you prob­a­bly haven’t seen these cul­tur­al fig­ures phys­i­cal­ly embody their aes­thet­ic prin­ci­ples as they do in the pho­tographs here, from cos­tume par­ties the Bauhaus school held through­out the twen­ties.

As Rachel Doyle at Curbed writes, “if you thought Bauhaus folk were good at design­ing cof­fee tables, just have a look at their costumes—as bewitch­ing and sculp­tur­al as any oth­er stu­dent project, but with an amaz­ing flam­boy­ance not oft ascribed to the move­ment.”


The whim­si­cal cos­tume parties—to which, wrote Hun­gar­i­an archi­tect Farkas Mol­nár, artists devot­ed “the great­est expen­di­tures of energy”—represented fur­ther attempts to tran­scend “medieval con­di­tions” and inte­grate “today’s sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal advances… into gen­er­al cul­ture.” So wrote Mol­nár in a 1925 essay, “Life at the Bauhaus,” where he describes the play­ful­ly seri­ous con­di­tions at the school. These par­ties, he asserts, were supe­ri­or to “fan­cy-dress balls” orga­nized by artists in oth­er cities in that “our cos­tumes are tru­ly orig­i­nal. Every­one pre­pares his or her own. Nev­er a one that has been seen before. Inhu­man, or humanoid, but always new.” Every­one par­tic­i­pat­ed, it seems, from the newest stu­dent to, as Mol­nár calls them, “the big­wigs”:

Kandin­sky prefers to appear decked out as an anten­na, Itten as an amor­phous mon­ster, Feininger as two right tri­an­gles, Moholy-Nagy as a seg­ment tran­spierced by a cross, Gropius as Le Cor­busier, Muche as an apos­tle of Maz­daz­nan, Klee as the song of the blue tree. A rather grotesque menagerie…

Might that be Kandin­sky in the pho­to­graph at the top? Just who is this lumi­nous fig­ure? Why did Gropius dress up as Le Cor­busier, and what, exact­ly, does “the song of the blue tree” look like? We can iden­ti­fy at least one of these artists—the bald man in black at the cen­ter of the pho­to­graph below is Oskar Schlem­mer, painter, sculp­tor, design­er, and chore­o­g­ra­ph­er. Schlem­mer gave Bauhaus cos­tume design its most for­mal con­text with the Tri­adic Bal­let, a pro­duc­tion, writes Dan­ger­ous Minds, that “com­bined his work in both sculp­ture and the­ater to cre­ate the inter­na­tion­al­ly acclaimed extrav­a­gan­za which toured from 1922 to 1929.”


The ballet’s “18 cos­tumes,” writes Curbed, “were designed by match­ing geo­met­ric forms with anal­o­gous parts of the human body: a cylin­der for the neck, a cir­cle for the heads…. These elab­o­rate cos­tumes [see pho­to of per­form­ers below]… total­ly upped the ante at the Bauhaus school’s reg­u­lar cos­tume balls.” Schlem­mer “made no secret of the fact that he con­sid­ered the styl­ized, arti­fi­cial move­ments of mar­i­onettes to be aes­thet­i­cal­ly supe­ri­or to the nat­u­ral­is­tic move­ments of real humans.” His bal­let, Dan­ger­ous Minds remarks, may be “the least ‘human’ dance per­for­mance ever con­ceived.”


It may come as no sur­prise then that the Tri­adic Bal­let influ­enced some of the hyper-styl­ized alien cos­tum­ing of David Bowie’s Zig­gy Star­dust tour. Per­haps even more than the pho­tographs of rev­el­ers from the cos­tume par­ties, the Tri­adic Bal­let, which has been peri­od­i­cal­ly revived since its 1922 debut, pre­serves the fas­ci­nat­ing inno­va­tions Bauhaus artists envi­sioned for the human form. Just below, watch a 1970 film pro­duc­tion recre­at­ing many of the orig­i­nal designs, and see more pho­tographs of Bauhaus cos­tumes at The Char­nel-House.

via Curbed

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Home­made Hand Pup­pets of Bauhaus Artist Paul Klee

Time Trav­el Back to 1926 and Watch Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky Cre­ate an Abstract Com­po­si­tion

Bauhaus, Mod­ernism & Oth­er Design Move­ments Explained by New Ani­mat­ed Video Series

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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