Bauhaus at the Barbican Art Gallery

04th May 2012

The story of the early 20th century modernist German art school is so legendary that its name alone brings to life vivid imagery of a pithy but particularly important movement. Bauhaus, which was open between 1919 and 1933, was known and celebrated for its pioneering approach to the study of art, juxtaposing the philosophies of creative learning with the technical know-how of skills development.

Its untimely demise was a consequence of the rise of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. It was evident that the ideas emanating from the school would be incompatible with Nazi ideology.

As tragic as this was, the legacy of Bauhaus was anything but fleeting; a notable conduit of modernism that intrinsically transformed the discipline. As the title of a major new exhibition reveals, the school was more than just a home to learning - it was a new way of existing and interpreting the nature of man following the unprecedented devastation of the Great War. It was "art as life".

London's Barbican Art Gallery is now hosting the first major Bauhaus exhibition in the UK for over 40 years, offering a historic tour from its seemingly noiseless beginnings to its absolute peak as an authoritative critic of all facets of humanity, from art and culture to politics and society.

It begins, for example, with the school's inception, founded by architect Walter Gropius, which interestingly reveals that craftwork was the focus of much of the ideas in this formative period. Then, as the school settled into a rhythm, we begin to see its foray into the unknown, influenced in part by both constructivism and de stijl, best exemplified by Kandinsky’s Circles in a Circle.

Throughout the show there are touching pieces of work that suggest a wonderful affinity and closeness between the artists, teachers and students, all of whom seemed to embrace the ideas of Bauhaus. This especially comes across in the delightful artistic gifts passed between one another and the paraphernalia from the famous parties that were regularly held in the school.

The exhibition is comprehensive, featuring approximately 400 pieces of work across all mediums, including film, photography, sculpture, textiles, furniture and painting. Seminal practitioners feature, including the furniture designer Josef Albers; the utterly playful Paul Klee; the tremendously influential academic Johannes Itten; and Marianne Brandt, an expert in "technical artistry".

It's arguable that the spirit of Bauhaus is more important today than ever. Its premature closure left many of its ideas unfinished, the curators of the exhibition have explained. There is still plenty of room for exploration.

Bauhaus: Art as Life is at the Barbican Art Gallery until August 12th.

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