Katherine Kuenzli, Abstract of 2009 Bauhaus Catalogue Review Essay

Katherine Kuenzli, Abstract of 2009 Bauhaus Catalogue Review Essay

The current text was published as an excerpt in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians by the University of California Press. The complete essay can be accessed here until 1 December 2011.

In 2009 the Klassik Stiftung Weimar, the Berlin Bauhaus-Archiv, the Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau and New York’s Museum of Modern Art organized three major Bauhaus exhibits. The year marked the ninetieth anniversary of the Bauhaus’s founding in Weimar as well as the twentieth anniversary of the Wall’s dismantling. German reunification enabled hitherto impossible collaborations between scholars and museums in former East and West Germany, yielding exhibitions of unprecedented breadth and scale. Not only political and institutional developments, but also shifting conceptions of modernism fueled the 2009 Bauhaus exhibitions and their accompanying catalogues.

 

Ackermann, Ute; Bestgen, Ulrike für die Klassik Stiftung Weimar (Hg.): Das Bauhaus kommt aus Weimar, Ausst. Weimar 2009, Berlin, München 2009, Umschlagbild

Ackermann, Ute; Bestgen, Ulrike für die Klassik Stiftung Weimar (Hg.): Das Bauhaus kommt aus Weimar, Ausst. Weimar 2009, Berlin, München 2009, Umschlagbild

Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / Museum für Gestaltung; Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau; Klassik Stiftung Weimar (Hg.): Modell Bauhaus, Ausst. Berlin 2009, Ostfildern 2009, Umschlagbild
Bergdoll, Barry; Dickerman, Leah für das Museum of Modern Art, New York (Hg.): Bauhaus 1919 - 1933: Workshops for Modernity, Ausst. New York 2009/2010, New York, London 2009, Umschlagbild

New scholarship emphasizing inter-artistic dialogue and ideological ambivalence has challenged existing narratives of modernism that equated artistic progress with medium specificity and/or with leftist political agitation. Political and intellectual developments over the last twenty years made a comprehensive reevaluation of the Bauhaus both desirable and necessary.

This review examines the three very different catalogues that accompanied the 2009 Bauhaus exhibits. The Klassik Stiftung, Bauhaus-Archiv, and Museum of Modern Art collaborated in that they coordinated their events and contributed objects to each exhibition. However, each exhibit and catalogue represents a discrete scholarly intervention motivated by the specific histories and politics of each host institution. Exhibitions and catalogues appeared in chronological succession over the course of 2009, thereby reenacting the Bauhaus’s chronological, geographic, and artistic evolution. The Klassik Stiftung’s exhibit and catalogue appeared first, focusing on the preliminary phase of the Bauhaus in Weimar beginning in 1919. Located in the nation’s capital, the Berlin exhibit gave equal weight to the school’s three regional locations (Weimar, Dessau, Berlin), and dwelt above all on questions of national importance. The Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit and catalogue appropriately closed the sequence, since so many Bauhaus teachers and students fled to America after 1933, when National Socialists effectively forced the school’s closure. The Museum of Modern Art’s catalogue explores the Bauhaus’s relationship to modernist aesthetics and politics in both Europe and America.

The three 2009 publications offer strikingly distinct and sometimes contradictory views of the Bauhaus. Was the Bauhaus at heart international or German? To what degree did it present continuities with pre-war developments? Did its experimentation stem from exclusively progressive political imperatives? Scholars contributing to the three catalogues offer differing answers to these important questions. Together the three publications suggest that debates related to the Bauhaus are alive, current, and deeply unresolved. The following review essay treats each catalogue successively, and concludes with some general observations.

Katherine Kuenzli