Thursday, 28 June 2012

Bauhaus Exhibition at the Barbican

I've studied the Bauhaus artists for years, but still learned a great deal from this exhibition. There is no substitute from seeing original works, and it's good to see so many of them together.

Like many people it was the Bauhaus architecture that first attracted me to the Bauhaus some twenty years ago. That, and reading Tom Wolfe's polemic on Modern Architecture.

But for me now, the artists, especially Kandinsky and Klee, are more interesting than the architects. As is the diverse range of styles and methods that all the Bauhaus internees deployed. As an enterprise, the Bauhaus seems to have been at pains to present a uniform outlook to the world ("we are Modern, we are Traditional, we are Arts and Crafts, we are Industrial") but in practice they subsume an eclectic variety of styles, methods and emotions. It's all Art. It's all weird. It's all lovely.

I won't try to go through all the great things here. I'll pick on two that fascinated me, but which I wouldn't have predicted would interest me before I went.

The first is the photography. The second is the weaving.

Many of the internees took photographs. Both Lazlo Maholy-Nagy and his wife Lucia Maholy took photographs. His are good. Her's are great. But I was particularly taken by an image by Hajo Rose. It's a self-portrait. A double exposure of his face and the face of one of the Bauhaus buildings.

It's very effective. Very affecting. It may be that it's an old silver-gelatin print that gives it a surreal quality. A quality of being-there. For me it captures the very essence of Bauhaus. Modern, experimental, adventurous.

I expected the architecture, the art, the pottery, the typography and the fabrics. 

But I didn't expect to be so impressed by the fabrics. This is another example of where it is essential to see art in the original, not just a reproduction in a book. The photographs of Bauhaus fabrics look not unlike those you might find in a furniture catalogue. In the flesh, they are much more works of art than they are furniture coverings.

Not that I'm tempted now to take up weaving. But I am pushed towards a study of how the optical effects that the weavers have created here can actually be replicated in other media, specifically print.

Overall, there is much to admire about Bauhaus, and it is eminently represented here by this comprehensive exhibition. 

I'll go again, I think. Before it closes in August.