Graphics for the show were created by A Practice for Everyday Life (APFEL), which collaborated with architect Carmody Groarke on exhibition design. The result is clever, slick interpretation of the two-floor space, one that clearly draws on the Bauhaus principles of design in typography, colour and use of space without ever slipping into pastiche.
Comprising over 400 works, the show succeeds in placing the huge array of works, sketches, films and models in the context of a living, breathing school. The pieces placed in a very human setting through use of photography and artefacts, putting faces and personality to the iconic works.
Among the numerous highlights is the Instruments of Communication section, focussing on the distinctive Bauhaus approach to typography and graphic design. Spearheaded by László Moholy-Nagy, the aesthetic and typographic ideals place clarity and functionality at the fore, creating a unified approach to the school’s graphics output. There’s a superb spread of works from students such as Herbert Bayer and Joost Schmidt on show, including a number of copies of the Bauhausbucher (Bauhaus books), used to disseminate the school’s ideas to a wider audience, posters and adverts.
While the works of artists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee are widely shown, the exhibition’s focus on contextualising works places them in new and revelatory settings. We see the questionnaire Kandinsky gave out to students, asking them to colour in square, triangles and circles with red, yellow or blue as they saw fit, and using the findings to back up his assertions about the psychology behind use of colour and shape.
Key homeware pieces, such as Marianne Brandt’s 1924 tea service, still look resolutely modern, and show the school’s commitment to dynamic, imaginative product design and craft. Assigned the title Institute of Design in 1926, in 1927 the curriculum placed architecture, advertising, the stage and free art at the core. The original emphasis on craft remained, and the school’s workshops produced futuristic homeware and furniture prototypes, such as Josef Albers’ stacking tables.
The focus on play as harnessing creativity is shown in the display of puppets created by Klee and his students for his son Felix, a terrifying pantomime of figures. Some of these were based on his peers, as in the frightening Big Eared Clown, partially modelled on his contemporary, Oskar Schlemmer.
The Our Play, Our Party Our Work gallery shows intimate and insightful photography documenting the weird and wonderful Bauhaus parties the school held. The Metal Party, for instance, saw students dressed with foil and frying pans, entering through a large chute into a room decorated with silver balls and metallic walls, fanfared by the sounds of bells (metal ones, of course.)
Source: Estate Erich Consemüller
A screening room shows the mesmerising monochrome A Lightplay: Black White Grey film by László Moholy-Nagy; while a large costume installation showcases the bizarre get-ups used in performances, plays and parties. It’s fascinating to see the cuts and forms – ones constantly recycled in pop culture for post-modern era (see Klaus Nomi’s eccentric takes on opera and pop), and in artists as popular as Lady Gaga today. Oskar Schlemmer’s stage workshop from 1923 – 1929 defined theatre as an art of space and movement, seeing performers as ‘moving architecture’ – equal to elements such as light and set design.
Source: Estate Erich Consemüller
From 1919 to 1933 the school had a tumultuous 14 years – though the output is consistently stunning, looking as bold and modern as it did nearly a century ago, in the case of many of the works. What’s so impressive about the Barbican show is not only the breathtaking number of pieces on show across the disciplines, but its contextualising them within the parameters school’s ideals – placing playfulness, experimentation and creativity as at the heart of its reinterpretation of the nature of modern living.
Bauhaus: Art as Life runs from 3 May – 12 August at the Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y