The Women of the Bauhaus: See Hip, Avant-Garde Photographs of Female Students & Instructors at the Famous Art School

Take a look at pho­tos of Bush Tetras — a three-girl-one-guy No Wave/­Post-Punk band from the ear­ly 1980s down­town Man­hat­tan scene. Now, look at the pho­to­graph above, “Mar­cel Breuer and His Harem,” by Bauhaus pho­tog­ra­ph­er Erich Con­semüller, tak­en some­time around 1927. Except for the fact that Breuer looks more like Ron Mael of Sparks sans mus­tache than drum­mer Dee Pop, one might mis­take this for a pho­to of the punk band. This rais­es a few ques­tions: did art stu­dents Bush Tetras look to the women of the Bauhaus for their style? Or did the women of the Bauhaus look to the future and see punk? The sec­ond sce­nario seems more like­ly since the women of Bauhaus have not, until recent­ly, been ter­ri­bly well-known.

I per­son­al­ly feel cheat­ed after study­ing art and art his­to­ry in col­lege many years ago and only now get­ting intro­duced to sev­er­al sig­nif­i­cant artists of the rad­i­cal Ger­man art school found­ed by Wal­ter Gropius. All of its famous expo­nents and art stars are men, but it seems the gen­der ratio of the Bauhaus was clos­er to that of the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion (as was, in many cas­es, that of the ear­ly punk and post-punk scenes).

But we don’t tend to learn the names or see the work of these artists, and, in some cas­es, their work has been posthu­mous­ly attrib­uted to their male col­leagues. Nor are we famil­iar with their pro­gres­sive per­son­al style, essen­tial in Bauhaus’s total approach to rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing the arts, includ­ing fash­ion, as a way to lib­er­ate human­i­ty from the dog­mas of the past.

How unfor­tu­nate that the mem­o­ry of Bauhaus, like the mem­o­ry of punk, repli­cat­ed the same old rules its artists broke. The school’s gen­der equal­i­ty was rad­i­cal, hence the pho­tograph’s satir­i­cal title, which “express­es the pre­cise oppo­site of what the pho­to itself shows,” notes the site Bauhaus Koop­er­a­tion: “the moder­ni­ty, eman­ci­pa­tion, equal­i­ty, or even supe­ri­or­i­ty, of the women in it.” The “junior mas­ter” of the car­pen­try work­shop, Breuer looks at the three artists to his left “skep­ti­cal­ly, with his arms crossed,” as if to say, “ ‘These are ‘my’ women?!’ ” The artists of the “harem,” from left to right, are Breuer’s wife Martha Erps, Katt Both, and the pho­tog­ra­pher’s wife, Ruth Hol­lós, who “seems to be sup­press­ing laugh­ter as she looks towards the pho­tog­ra­ph­er (her hus­band).”

Erich Con­semüller, who taught archi­tec­ture at the Bauhaus, had been tasked by Gropius with doc­u­ment­ing the school and its life. Gropius part­nered him with pho­tog­ra­ph­er Lucia Moholy, wife of Lás­zló Moholy-Nagy (see a pho­to of her above, tak­en by her hus­band some­time between 1924–28). Moholy took most­ly exte­ri­or shots like the pho­to­graph by her fur­ther up of Erps and Hol­lós on the roof of the Ate­lier­haus in Dessau in the mid 1920s. Con­semüller main­ly focused on inte­ri­ors in his work, with exper­i­men­tal excep­tions like the “Mechan­i­cal Fan­ta­sy” series seen here, which uses cloth­ing, pos­es, and dou­ble expo­sures to visu­al­ly empha­size a kind of uni­for­mi­ty of pur­pose, plac­ing and join­ing male and female Bauhaus artists in almost typo­graph­i­cal arrange­ments.

Indeed, near­ly all of the artists of the Bauhaus — as was the school’s prac­tice — tried their hand at pho­tog­ra­phy, and many used the medi­um to doc­u­ment, in ways both casu­al and delib­er­ate, the Bauhaus’ com­mit­ment to gen­der equi­ty and the full inclu­sion of women artists in its pro­grams, a state­ment painter and pho­tog­ra­ph­er T. Lux Feininger seems to under­line in the group pho­to­graph below of the school’s weavers on the steps of the new Bauhaus build­ing in 1927. (Artists in the shot: Léna Bergn­er, Gun­ta Stöl­zl, Lju­ba Mona­s­tirsky, Otti Berg­er, Lis Bey­er, Elis­a­beth Mueller, Rosa Berg­er, Ruth Hol­lós, and Lis­beth Oestre­ich­er.)

Bauhaus artists, both men and women, were very much like ear­ly punks in some ways, invent­ing new ways to shake up the estab­lish­ment and break out of pre­scribed roles. But instead of a down­town alter­na­tive to the sta­tus quo, they offered a recipe for its full trans­for­ma­tion through art. Who can say how far that move­ment would have pro­gressed had it not been splin­tered by the Nazis. “Togeth­er,” as Gropius wrote, “let us call for, devise, and cre­ate the con­struc­tion of the future, com­pris­ing every­thing in one form, archi­tec­ture, sculp­ture and paint­ing,” and most every­thing else in the built and visu­al envi­ron­ments, he might have added.

via Bar­bara Her­shey

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Female Pio­neers of the Bauhaus Art Move­ment: Dis­cov­er Gertrud Arndt, Mar­i­anne Brandt, Anni Albers & Oth­er For­got­ten Inno­va­tors

The Pol­i­tics & Phi­los­o­phy of the Bauhaus Design Move­ment: A Short Intro­duc­tion

Watch Bauhaus World, a Free Doc­u­men­tary That Cel­e­brates the 100th Anniver­sary of Germany’s Leg­endary Art, Archi­tec­ture & Design School

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

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  • Laffont Jacques says:

    Vous oubliez de citer dans cet arti­cle, Ré Soupault, l’épouse du sur­réal­iste Philippe Soupault, co auteur de ” Les chants mag­né­tiques ” avec André Bre­ton, qui fut une élève de Wal­ters Grop­pius au Bauhaus.
    Bien à vous
    Jacques-Marie Laf­font.

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