Harvard Puts Online a Huge Collection of Bauhaus Art Objects


You may have first encoun­tered the word Bauhaus as the name of a campy, arty post-punk band that influ­enced goth music and fash­ion. But you’ll also know that the band took its name from an even more influ­en­tial art move­ment begun in Ger­many in 1919 by Wal­ter Gropius. The appro­pri­a­tion makes sense; like the band, Bauhaus artists often leaned toward camp—see, for exam­ple, their cos­tume par­ties—and despite their seri­ous com­mit­ment, had a sense of humor about their endeav­or to rad­i­cal­ly alter Euro­pean art and design. But the Bauhaus move­ment has been unfair­ly pegged at times as over­ly seri­ous: cold tech­nol­o­gists and pro­po­nents of face­less glass and steel build­ings and aus­tere mod­ernist fur­ni­ture. That impres­sion only tells a part of the tale.


When we speak of Bauhaus design, we often for­get that the Bauhaus was also—and first principally—an art school. Until bro­ken up by the Nazis in 1933, it oper­at­ed under a rig­or­ous course of train­ing with a fac­ul­ty who brought with them a vari­ety of organ­ic the­o­ries and practices—not all of them enam­ored of tech­nol­o­gy or 90-degree angles. Paul Klee, for exam­ple, mocked our fas­ci­na­tion with machines in works like Appa­ra­tus for the Mag­net­ic Treat­ment of Plants (top) and Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky enact­ed his mys­ti­cal the­o­ries of sym­bol­ism in increas­ing­ly abstract, vibrant can­vas­es like Small Worlds, above.

Both of these paint­ings reside in Harvard’s spe­cial col­lec­tion, “one of the first and largest col­lec­tions relat­ing to the Bauhaus,” and at the Har­vard Muse­ums web­site, you can find more works–in fact, more than 32,000 objects–by these artists and oth­ers like Oskar Schlem­mer, who designed many of those out­landish cos­tumes. (See some of those designs in his cos­tumes for the Tri­adic Bal­let, below.)


The Har­vard Bauhaus col­lec­tion demon­strates how the Bauhaus school “served as hot­house for a vari­ety of ‘isms,’ from expres­sion­ism, Dadaism, con­struc­tivism, and func­tion­al­ism.” The ten­den­cy to asso­ciate Bauhaus with pri­ma­ry col­ors and min­i­mal­ist glass, steel, and con­crete has much to do with some of its best-known faculty/alumni, like founder Gropius, and architects/designers Mies Van der Rohe, Le Cor­busier, Eero Saari­nen, and his stu­dent Charles Eames.

These names are rep­re­sent­ed in the Har­vard col­lec­tion, but so are “dif­fer­ent facets of the Bauhaus and its lega­cy.” Paint­ings, pho­tographs, ceram­ics, tex­tiles, met­al­work…. One sec­tion of the site, Ped­a­gogy, shows us stu­dent work of artists like Her­bert Bay­er, below. Known for his “hard-edged ‘machine aes­thet­ic,” Bayer’s tra­di­tion­al char­coal study of wool and wood shav­ings “appears anti­thet­i­cal to the school’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary pro­gram.” Yet it is an exam­ple of Bauhaus’ empha­sis on fun­da­men­tals of tech­nique, “ped­a­gog­i­cal meth­ods that per­sist in var­i­ous form in art schools today.”


Harvard’s web site rep­re­sents its phys­i­cal col­lec­tion, but it does not dupli­cate it. Many of the small images in its online archive do not expand to larg­er ver­sions and can­not be down­loaded. How­ev­er, if you fol­low the guid­ed tour by click­ing “Con­tin­ue Read­ing” under the site’s intro­duc­tion, you’ll be able to click on the sev­er­al dozen exam­ples in each sec­tion and see them up close. You’ll also get a thor­ough sur­vey of the Bauhaus school’s brief his­to­ry and mis­sion. The best way to access the col­lec­tion is to click here, then scroll down to the box where it says “Search the Bauhaus spe­cial col­lec­tion by key­word, title, artist, or object num­ber, and by using the fil­ters below.”


The only U.S. exhi­bi­tion of Bauhaus artists dur­ing the school’s life­time took place at Har­vard in 1930, orga­nized by under­grad­u­ates. And Wal­ter Gropius taught for fif­teen years at Harvard’s Grad­u­ate School of Design, dur­ing which time “he built the school up as a bas­tion of archi­tec­tur­al mod­ernism.” Gropius and his stu­dents and col­leagues changed the way we build and design. (See Gropius’ Total The­ater for Erwin Pis­ca­tor, above). The Har­vard Muse­um Bauhaus col­lec­tion also reminds us that they rev­o­lu­tion­ized art edu­ca­tion in Europe and the U.S.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load Orig­i­nal Bauhaus Books & Jour­nals for Free: Gropius, Klee, Kandin­sky, Moholy-Nagy & More

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

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

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

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