Bauhaus: Life as Art at the Barbican Art Gallery

By Culture24 Reporter | 09 May 2012
An image of a diagram showing a red square, yellow triangle and blue circle overlapping against black

Eugen Batz, The Spatial Effect of Colours and Forms, from Wassily Kandinsky's course at the Bauhaus, Dessau (1929). Tempera over pencil on paper. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin

© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany
Exhibition: Bauhaus: Art as Life, Barbican Art Gallery, London, until August 12 2012

The spirit of Bauhaus, the early 20th century movement with expressionist roots and a destination of modernism, changed the creative horizons of post-war society.
An image of a tall grey block of flats shooting towards a blue sky and the words bauhaus dessau
Herbert and Irene Bayer, Prospectus 'Bauhaus Dessau' (1927). Printed paper. Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany
In the most comprehensive look at its turbulent 14-year zenith (Nazi pressure ended it in 1933), the Barbican brings together more than 400 works in a playground of pioneering which stretches from painting and sculpture to film, furniture, textiles and theatre.

“The Bauhaus was an inescapable force in the development of modern visual sculpture,” says Head of Art Galleries Kate Bush, having worked closely with architects on the loosely chronological installation which encompasses a series of surprising, intimate spaces devoted to the experimentalism and play of the practitioners who inspired it.

“Its impact was felt around the world, from Tel Aviv to Tokyo. The Bauhaus was inspiring not just because of the extraordinary group of brilliant, visionary people who worked and made art there, but because it was fuelled by an idealism and a commitment to creativity and experiment that remains ever more relevant today.”

A black and white image of a tall grey stone building with the word bauhaus on its side
Iwao Yamawaki, Bauhaus Building, Dessau (1930-32). Vintage print. Galerie Berinson, Berlin© Makoto Yamawaki
The legacy can be primarily credited to Walter Gropius, the architectural visionary who founded the Bauhaus school in Weimar in 1919. He led it to a purpose-built campus in Dessau six years later, and then a brief spell in Berlin.

Works from every stage are presented here, including Construction in Enamel 1, the largest of a series of Moholy-Nagy’s “Telephone Pictures” – a reference to their creation via the co-ordinates of a drawing on graph dictated over the blower.

Kandinsky’s Circles in a Circle should be mesmerising, intersecting two bands of colour in a thick black circle containing 26 overlapping circles of different colours and sizes. There are lamps, wall hangings, a clever-yet-simple tubular steel chair inspired by the frame of Marcel Breuer’s bicycle and numerous experiments in form, colour, light and space which would inform stage and film.

And then there are the remnants of the vibrant community surrounding the art, revealed in party and festival invitations, paintings and photographs remembering special occasions and a personal painting, Gifts for J, in which the brilliant Paul Klee repays students who dropped gifts from a plane above his house on his 50th birthday.

Perhaps it’s the architectural impact of Bauhaus, though, which remains most important. A housing estate, a project to form the Federal School of the German Trade Union Federation and the more classical teachings of hugely influential later leader Ludwig Mies van der Rohe all feature.

The abiding sense is of a school of thought with a reach broad enough to inspire original thinking almost a century on.

  • Open 11am-8pm (6pm Wednesday, 10pm Thursday). Admission £6-£12 (free for under-12s). Book online.

More pictures:

An image of a silver piece of metal with the number 14 in red above it
László Moholy-Nagy, Prospectus '14 Bauhausbücher' (1928). Black and red print on white paper with wire binding. Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany

An image of a multicoloured drawing or sketch of the inside of a domestic building
Herbert Bayer, Isometric drawing of Walter Gropius's study in the Weimar Bauhaus (circa 1923)© Courtesy Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau
A black and white photo of a line of people in suits during the 1920s
Die Bauhausmeister auf dem Dach des Bauhauses in Dessau / Masters on the roof of the Bauhaus building (circa 1926)© Courtesy Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin/Centre Pompidou, Paris
An image of black and white lines and squares against a pink background
Josef Albers, Factory A (1925/26). Sandblasted flashed glass with black paint© The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany / Artists Rights Society, New York, USA
An image of four thin brown tables with different coloured tops stacked on top of each other
Josef Albers, Set of four stacking tables (circa 1927). Ash veneer, black lacquer and painted glass© The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany/ Artists Rights Society, New York, USA

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