This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, a fascinating and highly influential German art and design school which flourished during the first half of the 20th century. To commemorate this event, the National Gallery of Ireland is currently exhibiting artworks from four Bauhaus print portfolios, which they have borrowed from the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart. The exhibition, which is entitled Bauhaus 100 – The Print Portfolios, will remain open to the public until 1 December.
Bauhaus 100 – The Print Portfolios will be a delight for Bauhaus aficionados and uninformed perusers alike. At first glance, many of the artworks on display may seem inaccessible to those with only a casual artistic knowledge as they are characterised by abstract styles and lofty thematic elements. However, the National Gallery provides laudable written commentaries throughout the exhibition, which function to define the pictures in straightforward terms while still providing vital and illuminating insight into the history, motifs and methods of Bauhaus art.
The artworks included in the exhibition feature a diverse range of different styles and subjects, which is reflective of the eclecticism for which the Bauhaus is known.
Both teachers and students of the Bauhaus sought to create works which united art and production, and promoted ideals of bohemianism, radicalism, and activism. Walter Gropius, the founder and original director of the school, advocated for the creation of Gesamtkunstwerk, or total artwork, which would “combine architecture, sculpture, and painting in a single form”. The influences of artistic movements such as expressionism, futurism, modernism, and abstraction were present in many Bauhaus works, yet they consistently exhibited their own unique characteristics which set them apart from everything else being produced at the time. This is evident in various works displayed in the exhibition, such as Natalia Goncharova’s perplexing Female Half Figure. The Russian artist’s lithograph unashamedly draws influence from the cubist movement, and has a decidedly Picasso-like quality to it, yet its sparse, fading colours and hesitant lines remove it from the constraints of such categories and propel it into a sphere of its own.
The artworks included in the exhibition feature a diverse range of different styles and subjects, which is reflective of the eclecticism for which the Bauhaus is known. It is compelling to consider the way in which the harsh black lines of Lyonel Feininger’s woodcut Villa on the Shore is displayed alongside the colourful confusion of Wassily Kandinsky’s lithograph Composition and the soft, monochrome curves of Christian Rohlfs’ linocut Two Dancers. Artists of the Bauhaus drew inspiration from many different sources, not just artistic movements, which exacerbates this sense of heterogeneity. For example, the Swiss Bauhaus painter and designer Johannes Itten, whose works feature prominently, was profoundly influenced by the Mazdaznan movement, an esoteric Neo-Zoroastrian religion which promotes practices such as vegetarianism and bowel and glandular exercises to advance physical and spiritual development.
A darkness and sense of oppression is ever-present in Bauhaus works, which emphasises their importance as historical artefacts as well as aesthetically-focused pieces of art.
Sadly, the Bauhaus only remained open for 14 years because of the fraught political context in which it resided. Due to persecution from the German far-right, the school was forced to move from Weimar to Dessau, and later from Dessau to an abandoned telephone factory in Berlin. By 1933, the Bauhaus had been shut down, and the Nazis displayed many of its artists work in their Degenerate Art exhibition of 1937. A darkness and sense of oppression is ever-present in Bauhaus works, emphasising their importance as historical artefacts as well as aesthetically-focused pieces of art. Undoubtedly, the exhibition is a must-see for anybody interested in European history.
For those who wish to delve a little deeper into the world of the Bauhaus, the National Gallery is hosting a number of events designed to enlighten visitors about the school’s artworks. There is a pop-up talk about six of the exhibition’s major works on 9 August which is free to attend. If you cannot make this, many more lectures and film screenings are being held throughout the remainder of the exhibition’s time in the gallery.