Bauhaus: Art as Life, Barbican Gallery, London

view gallery VIEW GALLERY
4.00

This useful show leads us through Bauhauser paintings, furniture, even puppets, all forged in the years between the darkness of two world wars

Such are the turns of history that we tend to see the Bauhaus as having sprung to life fully formed, a launch pad for Modernism that owed nothing to what had gone before except the burning desire to negate it. Common sense says that this cannot be so, and so does Bauhaus: Art as Life at the Barbican.

The first object in the show's first vitrine is not a chromium chair or an abstract canvas but an altarpiece, carved by the school's meister, or master, Gerhard Marcks. Nearby are works on paper, also by Marcks, with titles such as The Three Valkyries and The Wieland Saga – subjects whose traditional German-ness is underlined by the artist's having printed them in woodblock. There is another woodblock print around the corner, this time by another of the school's Masters, the German-American painter, Lyonel Feiniger. It is of a cathedral. Across the gallery's central well is a nativity scene collaged in tracing paper by an anonymous Bauhaus artist, and next to it a trio of crucifixes in watercolour on paper by the one of the most famous of all the school's teachers. His name was Paul Klee.

There is not much whiff of revolution here, nor, initially at least, in the art school's social and academic organisation. Set up in Weimar in 1919 under the architect Walter Gropius, the Land of Thuringia's Staatliches Bauhaus – roughly, State Construction School – called for artists to return to the crafts, and for art, architecture and design to be integrated. There was a strong streak of spirituality behind all of this (Klee and Kandinsky were Theosophists), combined with a faith in athleticism that would not go down well in an art school today. These things were not revolutionary, either. The session of compulsory gymnastics with which Johannes Itten began each of his classes dated back to Friedrich Fröbel; Itten's Farbenkugel, or colour-wheel, is clearly taken from Goethe.

As in Britain, the local arts and crafts movement, the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk (United Workshops for Art in Craft, or VWKH), had preached much the same gospel before the Great War – the setting-up of a collegiate Gesamtschule aimed at turning out a whole range of integrated, aesthetically charged objects for a commercial market. The first Bauhaus – there were to be three, in Weimar (until 1925), Dessau (1925-32) and Berlin (1932-33) – was, in many ways, a continuation of the VWKH. Its ideals thus dated back to, among others, that great German educationist, Prince Albert. Why is it, then, if we close our eyes and murmur the word "Bauhaus", we are taken to a Modern place of steel-and-glass walls, socialist politics and free love?

In part, we have to thank Adolf Hitler for this. His attack on Modernism forced the closure of the third and last Bauhaus, run by Mies van der Rohe, in 1933. Much of the art made at the school found itself under the Nazi heading of "degenerate". Sixty-one of its teachers and students were arrested; at least two, the textile artists Frederika Dicker and Otti Berger, died at Auschwitz. The school had been born out of the darkness of one dreadful war, and died in the darkness of another. The interval must, by definition, have been a place of light.

And so it was, although that light was by no means uniform. It was emitted by three different schools in three different places and with three very different directors. It also existed for 14 of the most febrile years in European art history, with teachers and students who came to it not just from Germany but from Switzerland (Klee, Itten), America (Feininger), the Soviet Union (Kandinsky), Hungary (Marcel Breuer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy) and elsewhere. The architecture of the schools' buildings tells it own story, from the pared-down Classicism of the first to Gropius's famously factory-like building for the second. The idea of a homogenised Bauhaus – of a Bauhaus – is simply a misunderstanding.

This makes the hang of the Barbican's exhibition particularly useful. Visitors navigate the show in a descending figure-of-eight, taking in the various Bauhauser paintings, puppets, lamps, teapots, typefaces – as they go. I'll just mention Moholy-Nagy's Construction in Enamel (EM1), the instructions for which were dictated to a sign-making factory by telephone. But there are also historical changes, culminating in the work of Josef and Anni Albers – resolutely Modern in including paintings, furniture and weavings, in an integrated, rational style. With the closure of the last Bauhaus in 1933, the Alberses left for America, as Mies and Moholy-Nagy would, too. Modernism went with them, thank goodness.

 

To 12 Aug (020-7638 8891)

Critic's choice

Couldn't get a ticket for the Leonardo da Vinci show? Here's a chance to see a different side to his genius, with an exhibition of his anatomical drawings, at the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace (till 7 Oct). Catch the gorgeous Turner and the Elements at Margate's Turner Contemporary gallery and get swept away by all those stormy scenes – but hurry, it closes 13 May.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable