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Bauhaus: Art as Life

An exhibition pays tribute to the human aspect of the influential school

by Phuong-Cac Nguyen
on 01 May 2012

Beginning tomorrow, London's Barbican Art Gallery will kick off a several-month-long Bauhaus-themed exhibit—the UK's largest in four decades—in Bauhaus: Art as Life. The 400-piece show will cover a wide swathe of topics, from art (paintings, ceramics) to society (photographs of social events), featuring major Bauhaus contributors such as Josef Albers, Paul Klee and Marianne Brandt. To make the show even more dynamic and interactive, extensive programming will supplement the show. We asked Barbican Centre's art curator Catherine Ince to give us more insight into the new exhibit.

What's the reason for the timing of this show?

It's been such a long time since there was a survey of this school in this country. At this particular moment of time in terms of art education, there are some interesting changes going on—there's a lot of debate about art schools. It felt right to be looking at Bauhaus as a historical subject but also show it still has relevance.

Tuition fees keep going up and up. It makes studying art a difficult decision to make because people are backed into a corner more and more about where they put their money for their education. There's a strong tradition in this country of experimental art schools that are free, liberal places, and you sometimes see that dwindling a bit in the corporatization of education.

What role does Bauhaus play today?

The visual, aesthetic influence is still very prevalent. People are interested in the modernist social project and revisiting some of those slightly utopian aspects… There was a lot of tension in Bauhaus; it wasn't always this happy community that all did the same [thing] together. There was energy and change and people working together or working against each other. It's a socially oriented attitude that I think still has a lot of relevance for people. A lot of the imagery we've drawn out in the show is trying to shine a light on some of those human aspects of Bauhaus as well.

How is this show different than MOMA's 2009 show, "Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity"?

Theirs was a very comprehensive historical survey. We've taken a similar chronological narrative but tried to draw out key themes that are interesting to us; particular turning points in time or the people—their intimate personal relationships—and some of that zany stuff. The human dimension.

During the process, what discoveries provoked you as a curator?

We selected a number of works made as gifts between students and masters, and they've been particularly wonderful to come across. Some of those works are pretty powerful—they've got a really interesting narrative behind them. For me, it's been fun to bring textiles into the show. We've particularly tried to foreground the work of women at the school. They've always made up a high percentage of the student body but generally were pushed into the weaving workshop. There were few women who stepped outside of that and managed to forge a different territory. We've got some incredible weavings.

We had one private collector who recently discovered a Marianne Brandt teapot that has never been seen before, so that will be the first time it'll be on public display here [in the UK].

What's the goal behind the huge list of scheduled events?

It's about drawing out some of the themes from the show that we want to expand on or thinking from the Bauhaus that still has relevance. Because we're a cross-arts center, we wanted to reflect on some of that.

What are some highlights from the show's calendar?

We have a film week. Film wasn't really embraced as part of the Bauhaus, but there were a few students who were particularly interested in the potential of film.

We've got several descendants of Bauhaus artists coming to talk, such as Peter Fischli. Fischli's father Hans was from the Bauhaus, and Peter will be talking about growing up in the Bauhaus environment and how it's affected his own art practice. We [also] have Gunta Stölzl's daughter, who's going to give a history of her [mother's] life and work she did in Switzerland after she left the Bauhaus.

We're having a big party on June 23. There was a lot of partying and carnival that happened at the Bauhaus, so in the afternoon you can come and make kites because annually they had a kite festival.

"Bauhaus: Art as Life" will be on display at the Barbican Gallery from 3 May through 12 August 2012.

Barbican Art Gallery
Barbican Centre
Silk Street, London, UK

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