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Point, Line and Surface: The Painters at Bauhaus

Founded by the architect Walter Gropius in 1919, the Bauhaus stood – like no other art or factory school – for the claim of the arts to social relevance. Two current exhibits prove that even today, the aura of this school has not been diminished: Klee and Kandinsky. The Bauhaus Years in the New York Guggenheim Museum and Paul Klee: Teacher at the Bauhaus at the Kunsthalle Bremen. Even the Deutsche Bank Collection reflects the significance of the Bauhaus artists. Katrina Bettina Müller traces the history of the Bauhaus and introduces works from the German Bank Collection.

In the colour lithography by Paul Klee from 1923, the Tightrope Walker stands up high with his balancing pole on the rose coloured paper. A rope ladder flutters to the side and beneath diagonal lines are bundled together like the strings of an instrument. Black points and spots bustle to and fro heightening the resonance suggestive of dancing notes. Whileyou think you are on an eye level with him, you are actually peering up at him from below. This is the playful way that Klee dissolves the traditional construction of perspective resolution. Thus, the Tightrope Walker - a sign of balance and insecurity – is placed in a vibrating and transparent net. Yet what appears to be so secure in its light-handed and dreamlike quality, relies on a precise analysis of vision and the means of presentation, a continuous reflection of the connections between eye and the hand that draws.

Paul Klee - Seiltänzer,1923, 138
Sammlung Deutsche Bank. (c) VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2003

When this lithography that now belongs to the Deutsche Bank Collection was created, Paul Klee (1879 - 1940) had been teaching at the Bauhaus for two years. Two current exhibitions treat this period - the Guggenheim Museum in New York with Klee and Kandinsky: The Bauhaus Years and the Kunsthalle Bremen where Paul Klee is presented in the first chapter of a three-part series on the artist as teacher at Bauhaus. In fact the history of the Bauhaus is so fascinating today because some of the most well-known painters of this period worked there for many years as masters. Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, Oskar Schlemmer, Lyonel Feininger – they all found a place with a distinctive signature in art history that far surpasses the Bauhaus program.

Because of such outstanding artists and teachers Bauhaus, was more important for the development of modern art than say German expressionism was. In 1980 this aura and significance for art during the post-war period gave the Deutsche Bank the incentive to make constructivism and Bauhaus an emphasis in the collection in addition to German expressionism. In the meantime, over fifty works in this area belong to the Deutsche Bank. Among them are Klee’s Tightrope Walker (1923), Kandinsky’s portfolio of Small Worlds (1922) and the constructivist water-color Murky Ascent (1924), Laszlo Moholy-Nagys portfolio with lithographies, 6 Constructions (1923), and a silkscreen series by Josef Alpers, Homage to the Square (1966).

Lyonel Feininger : Kirche über Stadt, 1927
Sammlung Deutsche Bank. (c) VG Bild Kunst, Bonn 2003

Founded by the architect Walter Gropius in 1919, Bauhaus stood – like no other art or factory school – for the claim of the arts to social relevance. A push for modernization was expressed in the manifestos and products of the school seeking to use the accelerated rhythm of industrial production to retire the false shine of the demised empire with élan. The political aspirations of the Weimar Republic were transformed into programmatic concepts of the Bauhaus, whose goal was to reform everyday life through design. Using architecture, furniture, fabric, glass and ceramics as a means and the visual language of advertising for transparency, the breaking down of borders and hierarchies.

"Let us desire, conceive, and create the new building of the future together. It will combine architecture, sculpture, and painting in a single form, and will one day rise towards the heavens from the hands of a million workers as the crystalline symbol of a new and coming faith," Walter Gropius emphatically wrote in the manifesto of the state-supported Bauhaus. On its title page was a Cathedral by Lyonel Feininger, a pointed network of articulated lines reaching for the stars in an almost aggressive manner. Keeping this goal of a functional application and the demand for social responsibility in the arts constantly in mind, we are given all the more cause to wonder at how many of the teachers were painters. And not only that. Many of them were even promulgators of abstraction, an art that had severed its ties to reality, relying on the development of its own inner laws. In this way art was juxtaposed with reality and abstraction became a mediator for the utopia of a better world.

Paul Klee : Töpferei, 1921, 69
Sammlung Deutsche Bank. (c) VG Bild kunst, Bonn 2003

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