For an in-depth analysis of these Bauhaus exhibitions please read Tatiana Efrussi's article "After the Ball: Hannes Meyer presenting the Bauhaus in Moscow".
Cover by Max Gebhard (1930) for the exhibition catalogue
"Bauhaus Dessau. Period of Hannes Meyer’s directorship. 1928-1930",
The present exhibition documents the Third Period of the Bauhaus movement when an attempt was made to reconstitute this institute as a “Red Bauhaus”—a Marxist architectural school.
We offer a brief historical account of Bauhaus to put this into context.
In 1919 in Weimar (Thuringia), Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus as a pilot institution to promote the work of artists in industry. He succeeded in bringing together a group of artists, sculptors, and architects. Modernists of all currents provided assistance. Among them were Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Georg Muche, László Moholy-Nagy, and Adolf Meyer.
The city of Weimar provided its School of Applied Arts for this experiment. The group of artists increased by another 70–100 students. The fact that the artistic leadership at that time was concentrated in the hands of the easel painters is no coincidence. They could fulfil their individual creativity in easel painting and murals and had little difficulty in obtaining materials and labour power. They injected these works of an abstract and illusory world into reality, and, as anarchists, were astounded to discover the impact of their individualistic creations, which found approval from collectors and gained the admiration of innovators but were dismissed by the masses.
In 1923 the first Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar assembled together the results of this first experimental period. Bauhaus became the international centre of modernism in art and architecture. A year later the institute was forced to move from Weimar to Dessau due to political pressure from the new Thuringian government.
The city of Dessau, the capital of the Free State of Anhalt, is located in the centre of the triangle of Halle, Leipzig, and Magdeburg. Numbering 80,000 inhabitants, it was the citadel of social democracy. Thanks to the “Junkers” aircraft factory located there it gained global renown. Dessau offered Walter Gropius the opportunity to build a vast amount of new buildings for the institute as well as apartments for professors. From 1925 the city also offered an annual production subsidy of 125,000 marks. Later, Gropius would receive an order for the construction of the Dessau-Törten housing estate. The Bauhaus workshops had significant orders from the city for woodwork, mural paintings, metalwork, printing, and textiles.
The Bauhaus theatre, under the direction of Oskar Schlemmer, adapted design theories to the stage.
In December 1926, at the opening celebrations of Bauhaus, there was an international gathering of about three hundred guests. The formal position of the institute now seemed firmly established.
This second period of the Bauhaus movement (1925–27) was characterized by the leading role that architecture played, shifting the position that neoclassicism held in its building and interior design. An exaggerated emphasis on the cube, the rectangle and the use of primary colours in construction and in its facilities created a particular “Bauhaus style”. As an experiment, this new artistic creation in the world of production was of fundamental interest. Subsequently, this “Bauhaus Style”, made popular thanks to advertising and mechanical imitation, had a somewhat baleful influence on German architecture in its final years. It was indicative that the output of Bauhaus workshops was acquired by collectors and museums, and the renowned “Bauhaus books” went on to become the primers for aestheticizing snobs. At that time the institute had 160 students. “The Society of Friends of Bauhaus”, with its own journal entitled bauhaus became the international vehicle of the Bauhaus movement. The interest in Bauhaus from bourgeois circles and the artistic intelligentsia remained unchanged. Dessau became a site of modernist pilgrimage.
In the beginning of 1928 Gropius gave up his leadership post in the institute, a post transferred to Hannes Meyer. Bauhaus entered the third phase of its development. Hannes Meyer in the following two and a half years tried to orientate the institute away from an artistic, and towards a more sociological, ethos. The production of the Bauhaus workshops also changed: in place of the luxury implements there was an emphasis on production for the standard needs of the masses. Separate Bauhaus workshops amalgamated into production cells and students were attracted by the self-government of the institute. The output of the workshops augmented in two years from 128,000 marks to 240,000 marks. In the last business year of 1929–30 the studios were allocated 32,000 marks for the salaries of the students working in industry. In the spring of 1930 the students were able to build 90 workers’ apartments for the city of Dessau. At about that time proletarian student cadres and Marxist-oriented visiting teachers were attracted to the institute. The reconstitution of Bauhaus was achieved with the aid of groups of students close to the German Communist Party and against the tacit opposition of the professors and art scholars.
However, the growth of the Communist movement among those studying at Bauhaus troubled the government so much that the city authorities of Dessau decided to take corrective action. During the term holidays at Bauhaus, its director Hannes Meyer was fired and his successor, Mies van der Rohe, was appointed. Repressive measures were taken to stem the students’ revolutionary mood and some foreigners were deported from the country. The new statute derogated all the rights that the students had once had. Fascist reaction had overwhelmed Bauhaus.
Our experience in Bauhaus Dessau showed that “Red Bauhaus” as an educational institute was infeasible under capitalist conditions. Basing themselves on this conclusion, Hannes Meyer and a group of his colleagues from Bauhaus made themselves available to the Soviet Union for socialist construction.
Aerial view of the Trade Union School in Bernau near Berlin, 1929–30.
THE BAUHAUS EXHIBITION IN MOSCOW
The content of the current exhibition highlights the work of the German Bauhaus School (literally “building house”) in Dessau, under the leadership of Hannes Meyer from 1928 until the final events there. In addition to works executed by the student collective are several personal works by Hannes Meyer created with student participation.
The Bauhaus exhibition is of great significance for us. On the one hand, it is a record of Bauhaus’s final period, whereas on the other it reflects the leading trends and contradictions of capitalist Germany, including the formation of proletarian art in its core, emerging in irreconcilable contradiction to the ruling bourgeois ideology.
Bauhaus reflected the main artistic trends of recent decades.
In its first phase of development during its time in Weimar, Bauhaus was characterized by the dominance of the brushwork of easel painters. From the artist’s easel they move on to “objects” in which they found the synthesis of arts. Insofar as they see each artistic form as a pure form (painting—colour, surface; sculpture—volume; architecture—space) the synthesis of painting, sculpture, architecture, and objects was in a formal sense abstract and thus beyond the scope of art.
In its second period a thoroughgoing formalistic “thingism” is dominant in Bauhaus. Instead of paintings we have the painting of murals, photomontage and graphics; instead of sculpture we have the production of furniture from wood and metal. In this field Bauhaus breaks with its previous eclectic architecture, ornamental, imitative style, and its attempt to restore ancient styles. Instead it takes the path of creating a new architecture. Just like in its production of objects, so in architecture, there existed two schools of thought and work methods in Bauhaus: the formalist constructivism under Walter Gropius predominating in the second Bauhaus period; in the third period, under Hannes Meyer, it is replaced by functionalism and an engineering focus.
The school of Walter Gropius aestheticizes the technical whereas the school of Hannes Meyer brings it into a sharp focus and negates any aestheticism.
The former was committed to the creation of new forms in architecture and objects based on technical means and materials and to their formal expression in terms of simple geometric measurements.
The latter dismissed formal considerations, obtaining solutions corresponding with the simple function of objects in terms of their functional feasibility.
The school of Walter Gropius came laden with the influence of cubo-suprematism, formalism in art, whereas the school of Hannes Meyer replaces this with science and technology.
Compare the elegant residential houses of Törten, the mansions and the building of the Bauhaus in Dessau (the work of Walter Gropius) with the works of Hannes Meyer—his extensions of the residential houses in Törten and the school in Bernau where all is motivated solely by a consistent functionalism: the material whose extent and articulation is not engendered by aesthetic considerations but dictated by a directly functional use and by the rationality of its design.
The difference between these two schools emerges dramatically in other spheres too.
The textiles and furniture of the Gropius school were permeated with a quest for colour, texture, positive ingenuity, and refined expression without excessive ornamentation and aimed at acquiring aesthetic influence.
The textiles and furniture of Hannes Meyer are defined by their functional and technical significance alone. The cup, a work of the Gropius school, where the glass is covered by a metal belt connected to a wooden handle, where undivided attention has been paid to the ingenuous design and the display of textural properties of many different materials (glass, wood, metal) and their formal expression. Hannes Meyer responds with a simple glass cup intended for its main purpose.
The Gropius school delivered aestheticized and formally refined products (but ones with no clear application), more often than not representing luxury objects destined for patrons of the arts, museums, and bourgeois aesthetes. The school of Hannes Meyer aimed to create products which were of maximum economy, feasible for wider consumption and the working masses.
This social aspect acquired its main development neither in architecture nor in the manufacture of objects but in giving a combative proletarian content to mass and versatile forms of artistic and ideological propaganda (posters, photo montages, journal, book, and brochure design).
In this field we already see a reversal of formalism, a technicism, a rejection of art towards an art of proletarian content.
This change of course had still not embraced the spheres of fresco painting, monumental sculpture, the design of mass worker festivals and demonstrations and had no impact on architecture. In capitalist conditions this was either difficult (in terms of frescoes or monumental sculpture) or completely unworkable (architecture).
This shift in Bauhaus towards an art replete with agitational content, was associated with a sharpening of the class struggle in Germany and the expansion of the Communist movement within Bauhaus itself. The student collective in Bauhaus was international in composition. Here there were Germans, Swiss, Hungarians, Poles, and so on. It was comprised in the main of a petty bourgeois, technical intelligentsia, rebellious, innovative in art and anarchist in spirit. A rather powerful communist cell influenced and directed the radicalism and rebelliousness intrinsic to Bauhaus towards proletarian goals. On the other hand, the acute contradictions in contemporary Germany could not fail to affect the technical intelligentsia.
A section of it, its most sensitive and advanced sector, unavoidably came to the conclusion, given the interests of their specialism, that any genuine development of their specialism was unthinkable in the conditions of a capitalist system.
Many architects working on city planning, or on the redevelopment of old cities, were faced with the reality that their projects were unrealizable in the conditions of private property.
Only the socialist system, a planned economy, gives unprecedented scope for the work of architects and city planners.
The huge planning work and construction of socialist cities in the USSR once more confirms this fact.
All of this and the fact that Bauhaus in the sphere of graphics provided a series of posters, journal and book covers for the German Communist Party, thus entering the arena of open class struggle on the side of the proletariat, led to the crushing of Bauhaus.
The Social-Democratic city authorities in Dessau removed Hannes Meyer from his post as director of Bauhaus, conducted police searches in the institute, and deported foreign student leaders from Germany.
Hannes Meyer, addressing protest meetings in Dessau and in Moscow, declared that no genuine development of science and technology is possible under the conditions of a capitalist system and that scientific figures could work only in league with the proletariat, building socialism under the leadership of the Communist Party.
The crushing of Bauhaus provoked a wave of protests from Soviet architects, artists, and student collectives.
At the protest meetings in the Architectural, Forest Technical, Printing Arts Institutes, in the gatherings of professors, students, and cultural figures, resolutions were carried applauding the revolutionary student collectives of the Bauhaus and the courageous intervention of Hannes Meyer and shaming the Social-Democratic council of Dessau.
Hannes Meyer and the group of architects from Bauhaus—Béla Scheffler, Antonín Urban, Tibor Weiner, René Mensch, Klaus Meumann, Philipp Tolziner, and Konrad Püschel—now work in Moscow. They have formed a shock architecture brigade entitled the “Red Front”.
Hannes Meyer also works as a professor in the Moscow Advanced School for Architecture (the WASI).
What is valuable for us in the works of Hannes Meyer’s architectural school?
Firstly, his scientific method for designing architectural works.
Design is based on an in-depth preliminary study of production processes taking place at the site, as well as their connections and functions. Based upon an analysis of the major factors (of a physical and psycho-physiological character) a solution is found to ensure the proper functioning of the designed building.
The analytical results are recorded in graphics, diagrams, becoming visual aids for further work for designers in blueprints for separate premises in relation to lighting, exposure to sunlight, furniture arrangement, and so on.
All canonic and preconceived schemas and formulae are cast aside, and each detail is brought into consideration with the aid of the latest scientific and technical data.
Secondly, this improved method both in the sphere of design as well as in that of production is encountered everywhere even in the standardization and classification of the blueprints themselves.
And thirdly, this is a system of architectural education: the Bauhaus students of all the courses together with the professors conduct the design and construction of the building.
By working on a real project and its implementation, the student combines his study with production work in all stages of construction. Besides, younger students study with the older ones, who, studying with the professors at the same time, aid them with their teaching of the younger students.
Such a vertical system of collective work and study, based on real tasks and production and covering all courses, undoubtedly gives positive results.
Under capitalist conditions this system is completely infeasible. In our Soviet conditions it is fully workable and necessary. One should use the experience of Bauhaus in our construction colleges.
While not ignoring a vast array of other valuable features of the school of Hannes Meyer, one should note that, along with the many positive sides of its theories and systems of work, there are also negative aspects which still need to be overcome. We should point here to the lack of consideration to the social and ideological content of architecture. In particular the elimination from architecture of artistic considerations, the mechanical method, and the reduction of the role and the aims of the architectural structure to serving the simplest of functions.
This all presents an obstacle to the establishment of a genuinely proletarian architecture built upon the promotion of the class content of architecture and on the dialectical scope of all sides, including that of its artistic features.
In proletarian architecture, technique and art must form a dialectical unity. Let’s hope that in Soviet conditions the negative features of Hannes Meyer and his group will be overcome.
Finally, it is extremely valuable for us that Hannes Meyer and his comrades have come to the USSR, not merely as specialists, but as people aware of the impossibility of scientific and technical development in capitalist conditions, and consciously giving their labour to the cause of the working class. Hannes Meyer and his comrades have joined together with proletarian specialists and joined the ranks of the Soviet working class, this shock brigade of the global proletariat for the construction of socialism throughout the world.
Exhibition "The Bauhaus in Dessau under the direction of Hannes Meyer, 1928–30" at the State Museum of New Western Art in Moscow, 1931, Plates 1–20 showing a photo series and competition plans of the Trade Union School in Bernau.
ARCHITECTURE, FURNITURE, GRAPHICS AND PHOTOS.
1-22 Trade Union School in Bernau
1 Easterly view from the woods. Site plan
2 Street, entrance, and main building
3 Main entrance and northern yard
4 Glass corridor: interior and exterior details
5 Large auditorium
6 Canteen and view from the canteen
7 Canteen and veranda
8 Residential building. General view and detail
9 Living room and corridor of dwelling unit
10 External corridor from below. Exterior view
11 Library and footbath
12 Newspaper corner and entrance to the library
13 Auditorium from the interior and external view
14 School building. General view. Sports hall interior
15 Premise for seminar classes. School class
16 Professors’ house. General view and details
17 Residential building and professors’ house
18 View from the woods and southern view across the field
19 View from the woods (western and northern sides)
20 Competition plans
21 Wallpaper fabrics for the large auditorium
22 Metallic folding chair
23 Standard table with lamp
24 Worktable for conveyor work
25 Wardrobe. Tables and chairs
26 Kitchen table ME 102
27 Suchard store. Leipzig
28 Stolp. (Słupsk) Oberammergau Poster
29 Construction exercises. Solar chart. Study Giesenschlag
30 Construction exercises. Study by Mentone and Meumann
31 Construction exercises. Study of a fishermen colony by Wasserman-Knaup
32 Construction exercises. Study of a garden Knaup. Study by Giesenschlag
33 Tolziner and Weiner. Dormitory accommodation
34 School, Urban
35 90 workers’ apartments in Törten
36 90 workers’ apartments in Törten
37 90 workers’ apartments in Törten
38 Menzel and Gebhard. 3 Brochure covers
39 Menzel and Gebhard. 3 Brochure covers
40 RED (Czech journal) Bauhaus Number
41 Jungmittag. Photo reportage. Bernau
42 Jungmittag. Photo reportage. Bernau
43 Amateur photographs
44 5 amateur photographic works
45 Bauhaus Avenue
46 Bauhaus Avenue
47 Bauhaus publications. Tagebuch, Roter Student, Pravda
48 Bauhaus 3 and Bauhaus 4 Open Letter in Russian translation
49 Political Printing Press. Menzel and Gebhard
50 AIZ (Workers’ Illustrated Paper) Bauhaus Number
Exhibition "The Bauhaus in Dessau under the direction of Hannes Meyer, 1928–30" at the State Museum of New Western Art in Moscow, 1931, Plates 22–27 and 37–39, 45, 46, 49.
COLLECTION OF FUNCTIONAL AND DECORATIVE FABRICS
WEAVING WORKSHOP BAUHAUS DESSAU
Director Gunta Sharon-Stölzl
A. FUNCTIONAL FABRICS
№ № 151, 111, 113 Fabrics from iron threads for metal furniture. These fabrics should support the weight of a human body. They are easily washed and do not gather dust.
№№ 166, 167, 169 “Cellophane”—material for wall padding.
It reflects the light well, withstands disinfection, does not gather dust, is not combustible.
№ 172 Fabrics for wall padding for the auditorium of the Trade Union School (ADGB) in Bernau. On the right the padding, of cellulose threads, reflects the light and does not gather dust. The left (of chenille) is for acoustic absorption and thermal isolation.
№№ 177, 156, 127, 420 Fabrics for furniture upholstery. Gather neither dirt nor dust. Easy to clean, with strong resistant qualities.
№ 8а Curtain fabrics. Grey colour filter.
№ 185 Curtain fabrics. Red colour filter.
B. DECORATIVE FABRICS
№ 32 Curtain fabrics.
№ № 15, 23 Fabrics for armchair covers.
№ № 104, 22, 146, 19, 97 Fabrics for furniture upholstery in a decorative arrangement, comprising of various fabrics (wool, paper, artificial silk).
WEAVING WORKSHOP. DESSAU 1930
Otti Berger. Standard blanket for the Trade Union School in Bernau. Fabric: Artificial Silk.
Lena Bergner. Graduated from the weaving department of Bauhaus 1926-1928, presently technical director of the East Prussian Weaving Workshop in Königsberg.
№ № 1, 6 Functional furniture fabrics.
№ № 7, 8, 9 Decorative furniture fabrics for upholstery.
№ № 10, 11 Decorative fabrics for clothes.
№ № 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 Fabrics for tablecloths and blankets.
№ № 17, 18, 19, 20 Fragments of decorative wall carpets.
COLLECTION OF WALLPAPERS
BAUHAUS DESSAU 1929-1930
Wallpaper should be considered as an object of mass consumption. In an agreement with the “Rasch Brothers” company (from Bramsche, near Osnabrück), Bauhaus attempted to launch this series of cheap, popular wallpaper on the market. At retail one roll of wallpaper costs from 35 pfennigs to 1.10 marks.
The surface structure of this wallpaper is produced to make it resistant to any stains or dirt. The paint is developed on common principles of harmony so that irrespective of the choice of the inexperienced purchaser all the hues of the paint will automatically be in harmony with separate neighbouring rooms.
The paper and the paint technology used ensure that the wallpaper can be disinfected.
In the launch year (1929-30) of these wallpapers 4,000 apartments were lined with them in Germany.
The wallpaper was so cheap that in some locations the association of wallpaper traders refused to permit its sale since corresponding goods were 50% more expensive.
POLITICAL POSTERS AGAINST THE TERROR IN BAUHAUS
Erich Borchert. Graduated from Bauhaus and currently works in the Malyarstroy Association in Moscow.
Cover photo: Election poster.
Communist Workers’ Party
Translation from Russian into English by Giuliano Vivaldi.