Legendary Bauhaus art movement turns 90

Legendary Bauhaus art movement turns 90BerlinĀ  - The legendary Bauhaus movement, enriched by such luminaries as Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger and Vassily Kandinsky, is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year with a series of exhibitions around the world.

The German city of Weimar, where the design movement was created in 1919, launched the celebrations on Wednesday with a Workshops for Modernity exhibition at the city's Bauhaus Museum, which houses one of the most comprehensive collections of Bauhaus designs in the world.

New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) will also be heavily tied into the Bauhaus flag-waving, linking its own 80th anniversary celebrations to the Bauhaus' 90th, to produce a Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity exhibition.

MOMA founding director Alfred Barr was so inspired by visits he made in the 1920s to the scene of then Bauhaus activity in Dessau, Germany, that he made European modernist art the focus of the New York museum when it opened shortly before World War II.

The MOMA exhibition will open at the New York museum on November 8 and will run until January 25, 2010.

It will be an enlarged version of the Model Bauhaus show Berlin plans this summer at the city's Martin Gropius Bau exhibition centre, near where the Berlin Wall once stood.

Berlin organisers say the show will be the biggest ever devoted to the Bauhaus.

Why does the Bauhaus figure so strongly in the memory today? One reason is that besides more conventional fields of art, early Bauhaus pioneers focussed on furniture, industrial design, the stage, in fact just about everything which good design could, but too often didn't, make a pleasure to behold.

Or, as Lisbeth Oestreicher, a former Bauhaus graduate, puts it: "It was the school that shaped the image of the modern age."

Another reason is that the Bauhaus legend has been kept alive, thanks to the work of teachers and students who fled Germany after 1933.

Although Dessau was badly damaged in the war, it remains today one of the best places to see Bauhaus architecture. A number of its classical Bauhaus buildings mercifully survived war-time bombing.

The Bauhaus was founded by renowned German architect Walter Gropius in Weimar in April 1919, but was to suffer political persecution from rightists almost from the start.

In 1924, drastic municipal cuts in funding forced it to abandon that city for the then more hospital Dessau, like Weimar, in the eastern part of Germany.

There, Gropius masterminded the creation of the town's impressive Bauhaus Building, now a UNESCO-listed structure, for the creative commune. With a spectacular college complex, it was soon inspiring a wave of often splendid 20th century buildings in leafy neighbourhoods, some of which still survive today.

But by 1932 Dessau was in the clutches of the Nazis, and the Bauhaus was forced to cease activity there.

Architect Mies van der Rohe, who was the third director of the Bauhaus, hastily rallied private funds, enabling it to transfer to former factory premises in Berlin.

But less than a year later, on July 20, 1933, stormtroopers and the Gestapo surrounded the building, sealing it, and arresting 32 of its students.

Several of its pioneers were later to die in Nazi concentration camps. The Bauhaus had existed for just 14 years but despite its curtailed history art critics agree its influence embraced and inspired the world.

For a long time after the war little was heard of Dessau, which was badly damaged in the war. However, after German unification in 1990, it began to enjoy a cultural renaissance.

The Bauhaus Building itself was splendidly refurbished after years of communist neglect, serving as a college and museum.

Even the Bauhaus art Master Houses survived the war and are now open to the public. One of the more intriguing among them is the cheerfully painted villa where Kandinsky and Klee lived.

In 1994, the Bauhaus Dessau - an institution which since 1990 had been a partner in international East-West projects - was converted into a foundation for students arriving from around the world.

Lately it has gained a new director, Frankfurt-born Philipp Oswalt. His first projects include a Bauhaus in Conflict book, a symposium on the correlation between the financial market crisis and architecture, and an artist-in-residence programme.

"The Bauhaus Dessau will also be further developed as an international and interdisciplinary platform for researchers and designers and will again be holding a 10-day international Summer School," he says.

Oswalt, who currently has plenty to do preparing for July's Model Bauhaus show in Berlin, succeeded veteran Afghanistan-born Omar Akbar, as executive director of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation. (dpa)

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