Bauhaus at MoMA

A lot of things separate Bauhaus from other art movements. It’s the only one (that I can think of anyhow) that values control, precision and rigor as necessary qualities in both the art and its maker, perhaps because it began as an actual, physical institution. But it’s also one of the few movements that changed so quickly in so short a time. In 1919 the students’ projects were less about function and more about form: paintings by artists (and professors) like Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, textiles woven into patterns reminiscent of Native American blankets and pottery crafted by artisans that did not conform to 90 degree angles. These works served no other purpose than to be hung on a wall or put on a shelf to be looked at.

But that was only the first four years. By the time Hannes Meyer took over the school, students were often used more like unpaid labor for Meyer’s latest mass market project. Still, those projects produced some of the most innovative designs in furniture and household items like lamps and tea sets. Even founder Walter Gropius’ “use for cutting-edge art was purely instrumental. He aimed to integrate painting and sculpture with design, and to make all serve architecture (New Yorker).”

Whatever your feelings are on the politics, and I don’t just mean the school, “Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity” is important to see. Forget the fact that it’s the first major retrospective on the movement at MoMA in over 70 years, the works themselves – and there are over 400 of them – are not only inspirational and ingenious, but it’s the only collection I’ve seen in a very long time that gave me a greater appreciation for literally everything around me, from the simplest vase to the most stunning buildings in the city.