“The Art!—That’s one Thing! When it’s there”

On the History of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst in the Early Weimar Republic

Max Pechstein, Arbeitsrat für Kunst Berlin, 2 Flyers, 1919, With kind support of Ketterer Kunst

Even though the progressive artists of the interwar period ultimately failed in their plan to realize the new, egalitarian society they had envisioned, their influence was lasting. The international avant-garde produced some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, some members of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Workers council for art) occupied important positions at the Bauhaus—above all, its founding director Walter Gropius.

Accompanying booklet to: Exhibition for unknown architects, organized by the Arbeitsrat für Kunst
im Graphischen Kabinett J. B. Neumann Kurfürstendamm 232 - April 1919, Berlinische Galerie.

In December 1918, a new artists' association was formed, stating in a manifesto that “(in) the conviction that political upheaval must be used to liberate art from decades of paternalism, a circle of uniformly minded artists and art lovers has come together in Berlin.”1 The group included well-known architects, sculptors and painters, including Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut and Lyonel Feininger, and had given their association the programmatic name Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Workers council for art) or AfK—consciously making a connection to the workers’ and soldiers’ councils that had emerged during the November Revolution. Politically the AfK stood for a break with the old Wilhelminian traditions and institutions, demanding the dissolution of the royal academies and the removal of all war memorials. At the same time, the group wanted to create new art and architecture for the people. They regarded the “joint elaboration of a comprehensive utopian building project” as the “most important task of the near future.“2

The Arbeitsrat für Kunst is just one example of the many artists’ associations and intellectual groups that emerged across Europe towards the end of the First World War.3 At that time many countries of the old continent were shaken by mass strikes and even revolutionary movements.4 These developments were frequently accompanied by what might be termed a social and cultural awakening, one in which artists’ associations also participated. They stood up for the ideals of the new democratic societies being formed in the wake of World War One’s conclusion and supported the corresponding political movements. In Germany, both the “November Group” and the Political Council of Spiritual Workers (Politischer Rat geistiger Arbeiter)5 were founded at nearly the same time as the AfK, as was De Stijl in the Netherlands. After the October Revolution of 1917, numerous artists’ associations also emerged in Russia. Here, artists of the avant-garde elected to put their artistic efforts in the service of a new Soviet society. Meanwhile, architects in Vienna supported the emerging settler movement, which, due to the severe shortage of housing, occupied vacant parcels of land, building simple dwellings.6 How can the Arbeitsrat für Kunst be located in these developments? The group only existed from 1918 to 1921. What role did it play in the early years of the young Weimar Republic and how did the group distinguish itself from art created during the Empire? Which political forces did it orient itself around? How was it influenced by artistic reform movements from abroad?

These questions will be answered in what follows, in which the group’s references to the Russian avant-garde will also be highlighted. In this way, a sketch-like representation will emerge of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst, a group which has received far too little attention from art historians.

Founded Shortly after the Revolution

The AfK was probably founded on the initiative of the architect Bruno Taut.7 The exact date of its constitution is not known, but in all likelihood it was probably in November of 1918.8 It was based in Berlin, at a time when similar councils of artists were forming in other German cities.9 Whether the AfK played a role in the nationwide structure of the workers councils, however, is rather doubtful.10 A total of 114 painters, architects, sculptors, art historian, critics, writers and journalists signed the council's provisional program, including ten women.11 In addition to Taut, the founding members included the sculptor Rudolf Belling, the architect Carl Krayl, Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius, painters Lyonel Feininger and Emil Nolde as well as former Brücke members Erich Heckel, Max Pechstein and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Later, other well-known figures such as Käthe Kollwitz joined their ranks.

In its composition, the AfK was a loose association of artists and intellectuals. Many members belonged other groups as well. For example, several architects of the Arbeitsrat, including Taut, founded the group Gläserne Kette around the same time.12 The November Group, which was more oriented towards the fine arts, included Arbeitsrat artists Belling, Feininger and Pechstein.13 The art theorist Uli Bohnen draws attention to the difficulty of determining the contours of the AfK “because of (its members’) close personal and programmatic connection with the Novembergruppe, as well as the Deutscher Werkbund and the Bauhaus.”14

Labor Council for Art, YES! Stimmen des Arbeitsrats für Kunst, Publisher: Berlin, Photographische Gesellschaft in Charlottenburg, 1919.

The View to Russia

Bruno Taut, Die Auflösung der Städte oder Die Erde - eine gute Wohnung: oder auch: der Weg zur alpinen Architektur … (The Dissolution of Cities or The Earth - a Good Apartment: or also: the Way to Alpine Architecture ...), Hagen in Westphalia, 1920, University Library Heidelberg, CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Bruno Taut, Die Auflösung der Städte oder Die Erde - eine gute Wohnung: oder auch: der Weg zur alpinen Architektur … (The Dissolution of Cities or The Earth - a Good Apartment: or also: the Way to Alpine Architecture ...), Hagen in Westphalia, 1920, University Library Heidelberg, CC-BY-SA-3.0.

As with many other artists of that time, the artistic developments in post-revolutionary Russia represented an important point of reference for the AfK membership. Both 1917 revolutions had been accompanied by a social departure that affected art and culture. The new Soviet government fought illiteracy, expanded the library system and between 1917 and 1921opened nearly 150 new museums. Furthermore, the government supported the still young medium of film.15 Avant-garde directors like Sergei Eisenstein created works for a mass audience. According to Stephen White, the early years of the Soviet Union were “a time of extraordinary ferment in the arts: – in literature and theatre, in the cinema, in dance and music, in porcelain and dress design."16 Many well-known artists such as Vladimir Mayakovsky, El Lissitsky, Kasimir Malevich and Alexander Rodchenko placed their works in the service of this new socialist society.17

Their efforts were supported by a new government faced with the challenge of convincing the predominantly rural population of the necessity of the impending social changes. Given the great number of illiterate peasants and workers, there was a pressing need to find new forms of social and political education.18 In this task the government relied on artists, who accepted the challenge gladly: “The streets shall be our brushes, Our pallets shall be our squares” is a frequently quoted verse line from Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem “Decree to the Army of Art” from 1918. Thus, agitprop posters became an important field of endeavor for avant-garde artists. Posters printed in editions that stretched into the millions enlightened the population politically and served as propaganda in the civil war that followed the October Revolution.19 Colorfully painted “Agit trains” fulfilled a similar function. The first, equipped with a cinema wagon, set off in November 1919 on a tour of the provinces on a mission to win over the local population to the revolution.20 Photography, which experienced its first upswing in the early 1920s, was also used for education and information. Artists were now concerned with documenting the everyday life of the “new Russia,” communicating the ideals of the new society and thus “driving forward the radical transformation of the country.”21

Until the mid-1920s, the demand for functionality was widespread in Soviet art. It was above all the Constructivists who represented this tendency. The themes of their projects were therefore not chosen by chance, writes Rodchenko’s grandson, the design historian Alexander Lavrentiev: “They designed a workers' club and not an opera theatre; a book kiosk and not a summerhouse for recreation; a work suit and not evening wear.”22 The newly founded state higher artistic-technical workshops (Vkhutemas—Vysšie Chudožestvenno-Techničeskie Masterskie) in Moscow also stood for functionality in art.23 The avant-gardists who taught there were charged with training artists for the benefit of society as a whole, combining craftsmanship traditions with modern technology, thus preparing the way for the integration of art with industrial production.

These developments were followed very closely by the AfK. In March of 1919 the group published a “Call to the Revolutionary Artists of Russia.” “Thank you, brothers,” they said, “that you are now offering us your hands out of the same spirit. We are going in joyfully.”24 The German artists offered to hold joint consultations and exhibitions and to exchange works with fellow Soviet artists. Conceptually, too, the AfK was adopting ideas from Soviet Russia. AfK’s artists also set out to a synthesize the different arts, working in various fields in order to create Gesamtkunstwerken capable of expressing the dynamics of the revolution. Anatolij Strigalov summarizes thus: “Painters and graphic artists tried their hand in the fields of theater and applied arts, book art and architecture. Poets, musicians, architects, scientists and theater people were engaged in painting. Visual artists wrote poems, acted as theatre directors, critics or theoreticians. Universality became the fundamental trait of the age and the artist.”25

AfK founder Bruno Taut was also of the opinion that the arts should be brought together—albeit under the direction of architecture. In a programmatic pamphlet on architecture dating from December 1918 he demanded: “Art! —that's one thing! if it's there. Today this art does not exist. The torn directions can only come together to form a unity under the wings of a new architectural art, so that each individual discipline will be involved in building. Then there are no boundaries between arts and crafts and sculpture or painting, everything is one: building.”26 This understanding was also reflected in the structure of the AfK. The Arbeitsrat was chaired by an architecture committee headed by Taut, responsible for several sections, each of which was assigned to a branch of the arts.27

Exemption from State Paternalism

In addition, the artists of the AfK turned directly to the “people—to the new democratic force seeking out opportunities to cooperate”, Taut biographer Kurt Junghanns writes. “Art should no longer be (about) ‘the enjoyment of the few, but the happiness and life of the masses’ … (and) not the state but lay councils or even workers’ commissions should award state commissions to artists.”28 The desire for liberation from state paternalism was also reflected in the demands directed against the former Wilhelminian art institutions. The AfK demanded the abolition of the state supervision of exhibitions and the dissolution of the royal academies, the Prussian State Art Commission and state museums. It also called for the removal of “worthless” monuments in general and war monuments in particular.

Bruno Taut was programmatically close to USPD (Unabhängige Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) politician Georg Ledebour, but he was also influenced by anarchist theorists like Pjotr Kropotkin and Gustav Landauer29—favoring, for example, their concept of agrarian socialism in rural areas. In the architecture manifesto mentioned above, Taut called for the construction of “large people's houses, not in the cities, but in the countryside.”30 In this respect, differences existed between Taut’s ideas and those promulgated in Soviet Russia, for although the Soviets developed plans for communal housing estates and workers’ clubs, these were to be located in the cities. Taut elaborated his views in greater detail in the book The Dissolution of Cities.31 Here he also drew on ideas developed by pre-war liberal reformers, who advocated the founding of garden cities as an alternative to the miserable workers’ housing found in large cities. One representatives of this idea, Heinrich Tessenow, was also a founding member of the AfK—as was Paul Schmitthenner, designer of the garden city Staaken near Berlin. (Schmitthenner later broke ranks with his AfK colleagues, joining the NSDAP in 1933 before becoming disenchanted with Nazism during the war. After the war he paid for this period of collaboration by being denied teaching posts).32

In view of his closeness to the USPD leadership, Taut had high hopes for the new Soviet government, and wanted to influence their art politics through the AfK. However, after the workers and soldiers councils gave way to a parliamentary form of government in December 1918, and the new government ignored the political ambitions of the AfK, in February 1919 he resigned as chairman of the architecture committee.33

New Positioning under Gropius

Lyonel Feininger, Kathedrale (Cathedral), 1919, cover of the Bauhaus manifesto and programme, 1919 (Walter Gropius), Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Photo: Atelier Schneider, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019.

At a plenary meeting on 1 March 1919, the AfK was reconstituted on the basis of a three-tier system. The uppermost layer, the “business committee,” was chaired by three persons: Walter Gropius, the painter César Klein and architect Adolf Behne. The second layer, the “artistic working group,” consisted of members working in Berlin. The third layer consisted of “local and foreign friends of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst who agreed [with] its goals.”34 The change in structure and leadership was accompanied by a change in the political line. The new leadership distanced itself from Taut’s plan to turn the Arbeitsrat into a cultural-political force. Gropius also turned to traditional art patrons, the bourgeoisie and industrialists, for financial support.35 Taut had always tried to prevent this dependence on traditional patronage; Gropius’s move was prompted by the organization’s miserable financial condition.36

Despite these contrasting political orientations, continuity existed in the artistic program of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst. Gropius, too, had long called for an amalgamation of the arts under the leadership of architecture. He exuberantly praised his predecessor on this question. Taut, he wrote in February 1919, was “the first architect who really understood internally the idea that I had been pursuing for many years: the unification of all the arts under building, and we are now pulling together in one direction.”37 Founding the Bauhaus and writing the Bauhaus Manifesto of April 1919 fell within this period and ideological sphere of influence. Gropius’s reads in part: “The ultimate goal of all artistic activity is building! ... Architects, painters and sculptors must come to know and comprehend the complex form of building in its entirety and in its parts. ... Let us want, conceive, create together the new building of the future, which will be everything in one form: Architecture and sculpture and painting.”38

A further goal for Gropius was creating a new art and architecture for the populace by involving laymen in commissions and exhibitions. A “new community” was to be created through such an association of artists with society. Similar developments can also be observed in the art of post-revolutionary Russia. There, working people themselves began to become artistically active. In the years after 1917, historian Richard Lorenz writes, “organizations for proletarian culture sprang up like mushrooms.” Theater and choir circles as well as studios for painting, sculpture and graphics had been created in almost every factory, as well as in state organs and workers’ clubs: “Even in the most remote provincial towns ... scientific and artistic circles were formed.”39

Vladimir Tatlin, Monument of the Third International, Tatlin (right) and an assistant in front of the model of the tower in the studio for material, volume and construction in the State Free Art Studios (today Russian Academy of Fine Arts), 1920: Nikolai Punin: Tatlin (Protiv kubizma) [Татлин (Против кубизма)], Gosizdat, Petrograd 1921, p. (1).

This idea was also behind the AfK’s first work exhibition, which took place in April 1919 under the title Exhibition for Unknown Architects.40 In the run-up to the exhibition, laypeople were invited to submit sketches or photographs. “Exhibition of Works by Unknown Architects” was the headline used in newspaper advertisements: “The Arbeitsrat für Kunst in Berlin invites all architects unknown to the public with a marked artistic talent—even dilettantes, regardless of age and education—to send in characteristic samples of their skills in the form of small sketches and photographs according to their designs of any kind (ideal projects) by the thirty-first of the month.”41 Many submissions followed the call. Among others, the previously unknown Hermann Finsterlin came into contact with the AfK in this way. The exhibition was subsequently shown in Berlin, Weimar and Magdeburg.

In addition to newsletters, leaflets and manifestos, the Arbeitsrat published two brochures during the short period in which it existed: the text collection Ruf zum Bauen (1920),42 dedicated to architecture, and the volume Ja! Stimmen des Arbeitsrats für Kunst in Berlin (1919). The latter was based on a questionnaire the AfK had distributed to its members so as to “clarify the position of artists in the movements of the time.”43 The questions posed concerned, among other things, the relationship between artists and the public, the reform of art education, state support for artists, and the possibilities of artistic influence on urban design, architecture and publicly financed housing. The members responded in 28 texts and 41 pictures. The majority of those questioned criticized traditional teaching methods employed within academia. They considered it inadequate and demanded conditions that could lead to greater spontaneity. One demand supported by almost everyone was that the arts should unite under the guidance of architecture.

In contrast to earlier expressionist artist associations, which were of limited membership, the Arbeitsrat für Kunst was open to all artists. This can be explained, above all, by the historical context in which it was created. While the groups of the pre-war period mainly opposed the understanding of art in imperial Germany, the AfK took place within a new social movement. It addressed the question raised by the revolution as to what structural measures a democratic country needed. It is in this context that the utopian architecture of its members, who designed monumental people’s houses and the like, can be seen. But the demand for the unification of the arts with society also reflects this question.

A Story of Failure?

The dawn of political art lasted only a few years. Within the Arbeitsrat für Kunst, the revolutionary enthusiasm quickly evaporated. On 30 May 1921, the group disbanded again. A press release stated that the group had overestimated the “general will for renewal.” The cooperation of the arts could “not be brought about with will and according to desire … because the human community is its prerequisite—and this prerequisite is missing.”44

The Russian avant-garde also soon fell on the defensive: once the Stalinist dictatorship emerged at the end of the 1920s, many achievements of the revolutionary era were pushed back. In this context, the arts were also targeted. The photographers around Rodchenko were accused of “formalism”—a term used to discredit artists who were not acceptable to the regime. They were accused of spreading the “propaganda of a taste … that is far removed from the proletariat.”45 Several photographers then gave in to the pressure of the regime, often for existential reasons. From then on, they provided propaganda images that idealized the supposed “construction of socialism.”

The situation was similar for artists from other disciplines. The various groups that had emerged in post-revolutionary Russia were “brought into line” by a decree from 1932. Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, Orphism and Dadaism had to give way to Socialist Realism. According to art historian Eckhardt Gillen, “everyday terror” was hidden “behind classical architectural facades and images of dignity and timeless beauty ...”46 Even architecture was now Stalinized.47 Quite a few artists were murdered or ended up in labor camps. Frustrated by these developments, foreign artists, architects like Ernst May left the country. Those who stayed fared no better than their Soviet colleagues: Bauhaus students Béla Scheffler and Antonin Urban paid for the decision not to leave with their lives.48 Their comrade Philipp Tolziner was sentenced to ten years in a labor camp.

In Germany, progressive artists also soon began to suffer from state repression. After the National Socialists came to power, former members of the Arbeitsrat were banned from pursuing their activities publicly and their works were defamed in the exhibition Degenerate Art. The most famous among them were compelled to go into exile: Gropius and Feininger emigrated to the United States; Taut moved to Japan and then to Turkey. Otto Freundlich, who was one of the signatories of the first AfK manifesto, was murdered in 1943 in the Lublin-Majdanek concentration camp.49 The extent to which the National Socialists hated artistic modernism is illustrated by the fact that, even in the last years of the war, they placed saddle roofs on communal apartment blocks built during the Weimar Republic because the flat roof form “did not correspond to the understanding of Aryan architecture.”50

Even though the progressive artists of the interwar period ultimately failed in their plan to realize the new, egalitarian society they had envisioned, their influence was lasting. Thus the international avant-garde produced some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Meanwhile, some members of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst occupied important positions at the Bauhaus—above all, its founding director Walter Gropius. In addition, German artists and architects became influential in the various countries they emigrated to while in exile. Their revolution had failed, their belief in progress had been broken, but their art remains.

  • 1 “A New Artistic Program,” p. 87. In: Manfred Schlösser (ed.): Arbeitsrat für Kunst. Berlin 1918–1921, exhibition with documentation, Akademie der Künste, Berlin 1980.
  • 2 Arbeitsrat für Kunst Berlin, flyer, adopted by the plenum of all members gathered on March 1 and March 22, 1919, Archiv Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Arbeitsrat für Kunst (hereafter: Archiv AdK Berlin, AfK) 2a, back.
  • 3 See for example Ian Grimmer: “Moral Power' and Cultural Revolution. Räte geistiger Arbeiter in Central Europe, 1918/19,” pp. 205–228. In: Klaus Weinhauer, Anthony McElligott & Kirsten Heinsohn (ed.): Germany 1916–23. A Revolution in Context, transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2015.
  • 4 Marcel Bois: “Zeiten des Aufruhrs. Die globalen Proteste am Ende des Ersten Weltkriegs,” pp. 103–116. In: Bernd Hüttner (ed.): Verzögerter Widerstand. Die Arbeiterbewegung und der Erste Weltkrieg, MANUSKRIPTE.  New episode, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Berlin 2015.
  • 5 See Axel Weipert: Die Zweite Revolution. Rätebewegung in Berlin 1919/1920, be.bra wissenschaft verlag, Berlin 2015, pp. 319–328.
  • 6 See also Marcel Bois: “Kunst und Architektur für eine neue Gesellschaft. Russische Avantgarde, Arbeitsrat für Kunst und Wiener Siedlerbewegung in der Zwischenkriegszeit,” pp. 12–34. In: Arbeit. Bewegung. Geschichte. Zeitschrift für Historische Studien, Vol. 16., No. 3, 2017.
  • 7 See Iain Boyd Whyte: Bruno Taut and the Architecture of Activism (Cambridge Urban and Architectural Studies), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1982.
  • 8 This is supported by the fact that the Arbeitsrat für Kunst had already applied to the November Group to unite the two groups. This application was already made when the November Group was founded on 3 December 1919. See Winfried Nerdinger: Rudolf Belling und die Kunstströmungen in Berlin 1919–1923, Deutscher Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, Berlin 1981, p. 21, note 25. On the history of the foundation, see also: Manfred Schlösser: “Der Utopie eine Chance,” (see footnote 1), p. 81 f. In: Manfred Schlösser (ed.): Arbeitsrat für Kunst, 1980.
  • 9 See Wolfgang Pehnt: Die Architektur des Expressionismus, Verlag Gert Hatje, Stuttgart 1973, p. 89. The architect Gustav Oelsner, for example, joined the Wroclaw art council. See Olaf Bey: “Das ‘neue Bauen’ in Altona,” pp. 18–37, here: p. 21. In: Peter Michelis (ed.): Der Architekt Gustav Oelsner. Licht, Luft und Farbe für Altona an der Elbe, Dölling und Gallitz Verlag, Hamburg 2008.
  • 10 See John Willett: Explosion der Mitte. Kunst + Politik 1917–1933, Rogner & Bernhard, Munich 1981, p. 45.
  • 11 See Schlösser: Arbeitsrat für Kunst, 1980, p. 16. The signatories were Gertrud Arper (The Hague), Marie-Anne von Friedlaender-Fuld (Berlin), Hann Ganzer (Remscheid), Wera Koopmann (Berlin), Eva Lau (Berlin), Princess Mechtilde Lichnowsky (Berlin), Fränze Eleonore Roecken (Berlin), Margarete Scheel (Rostock), Margarete Schubert (Berlin) and Milly Steger (Berlin). (See also footnote 1.)
  • 12 See Ian Boyd Whyte & Romana Schneider (eds.): Die Briefe der Gläsernen Kette, Ernst, Wilhelm & Sohn, Berlin 1986.
  • 13 See Tobias Hoffmann (ed.): Zeitenwende. Von der Berliner Secession zur Novembergruppe (exhibition catalogue), Hirmer, Berlin 2015, pp. 171–242.
  • 14 Uli Bohnen: “Zwischen Utopie und Konfusion. Einige Anmerkungen zum Berliner Arbeitsrat für Kunst,”, p. 7. In: Schlösser: Arbeitsrat für Kunst, 1980.
  • 15 See Stefan Plaggenborg: Revolutionary Culture. Menschenbilder und kulturelle Praxis in Sowjetrussland zwischen Oktoberrevolution und Stalinismus, Böhlau, Cologne 1996, pp. 133, 239. However, a large number of libraries were lost again after the civil war, mainly due to centralization, as noted in the table on p. 134.
  • 16 Stephen White: The Bolshevik Poster, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1988, p. vi.
  • 17 See Jule Reuter: “’The streets are now our brushes, our pallets are the places’: Agitation and propaganda as artistic-political fields of activity of the Russian avant-garde,” pp. 91–102. In: Wilhelm Hornbostel et al. (eds.): Mit voller Kraft. Russian Avant-Garde 1910–1934 (exhibition catalogue), Edition Braus, Kassel 2001. See also Toby Clark: Art and Propaganda in the Twentieth Century: The Political Image in the Age of Mass Culture, Harry N. Abrams, London 1997, pp. 74–78.
  • 18 Ibid., p. 91.
  • 19 See in detail White: The Bolshevik Poster, 1988. (See also footnote 16).
  • 20 See Willett: Explosion of the Middle, 1991, p. 38. (See footnote 10).
  • 21 Bodo von Dewitz: “Wir sind verpflichtet zu experimentieren,” Introduction, pp. 10–23, here p. 13. In: Bodo von Dwitz (ed.): Politische Bilder 1918–1941: Soviet Photographies, The Daniela Mrázkowá Collection (exhibition catalogue), The Museum Ludwig Cologne, Göttingen 2009.
  • 22 Alexander Nikolajewitsch Lawrentjew: “Design für sich—Design für alle: Konstruktivismus und Design des Alltags,”p. 146. In: Hornbostel et al. (eds.): Mit voller Kraft, Edition Braus, Heidelberg 2001. (See also footnote 17).
  • 23 See Barbara Kreis: “Between ‘Living Classicism,’ Rationalism and Constructivism: The ‘Higher Artistic-Technical Workshops’ VKHUTEMAS in Moscow 1920–1930,” pp. 656–682. In: Ralph Johannes (ed.): Entwerfen. Architektenausbildung in Europa von Vitruv bis Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts. Geschichte – Theorie – Praxis, Junius Verlag, Hamburg 2009.
  • 24 Arbeitsrat für Kunst, “Aufruf an die revolutionären Künstler Russland,” 25. 3. 1919, p. 112. In: Schlösser: Arbeitsrat für Kunst, 1990. (See also footnote 1).
  • 25 Anatolij Anatoljewitsch Strigaljow: “Kunst der Revolutionszeit 1910–1932,”pp. 17–44, here: p. 18. In: Österreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst (ed.): Revolution. Russische und Sowjetische Kunst 1910–1932 (exhibition catalogue), Vienna 1988.
  • 26 Bruno Taut: “Ein Architekturprogramm,” (pamphlets of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst Berlin), 2nd edition, Berlin, Spring 1919, Archive AdK Berlin, AfK 9.
  • 27 see Whyte: Bruno Taut, 1984, p. 86 f. (See also footnote 7).
  • 28 Kurt Junghanns: Bruno Taut, 1880–1938. Architektur und sozialer Gedanke, Seemann Verlag, Leipzig 1998, p. 39. Junghanns quotes here from: Cicerone, 1919, No. 1, p. 26.
  • 29 see Whyte: Bruno Taut, 1984, p. 86 f. (See also footnote 7).
  • 30 Taut: “Ein Architekturprogramm.” (See also footnote 26).
  • 31 Bruno Taut: Die Auflösung der Städte oder Die Erde eine gute Wohnung oder auch: Der Weg zur alpinen Architektur, Folkwang-Verlag, Hagen 1920.
  • 32 see Whyte: Bruno Taut, 1984, p. 90 f. (See also footnote 7).
  • 33 See Ibid., p. 98.
  • 34 Arbeitsrat für Kunst Berlin, flyer, passed by the plenum of all members gathered on March 1 and March 22, 1919.
  • 35 That Gropius collected money for the AfK is documented by the following letters, among others: F. v. Mendelsohn to Gropius, 5. 3. 1919, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Document Collection Walter Gropius, Papers II, Folder 123.15, 10/357; Fischbein & Mendel to the AfK, 13. 3. 1919, Papers II, portfolio 123.11, 10/252; Karl Benscheid to Walter Gropius, 28. 3. 1919, Papers II, portfolio 123.10, 10/218.
  • 36 Minutes of the Managing Director A.(dolf) Behne, 9.12.1920, Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, Document Collection Walter Gropius, Papers II, Folder 123.1, 10/4–6.
  • 37 Walter Gropius to (Karl Ernst) Osthaus, 2.2.1919, Archive of AdK Berlin, AfK 17, Bl.3–6, here p. 3.
  • 38 Walter Gropius: Manifest und Programm des Staatlichen Bauhauses, April 1919, accessed online: (11. Dec. 2018).
  • 39 Richard Lorenz: “Introduction,” pp. 7–16, here: p. 10. In: Richard Lorenz. (ed.): Proletarische Kulturrevolution in Sowjetrußland (1917–1921). Dokumente des Proletkult,” Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich 1969.
  • 40 Exhibition for Unknown Architects, organized by the Arbeitsrat für Kunst at the Graphische Kabinett J. B. Neumann, Kurfürstendamm 232, April 1919, Archive of AdK Berlin, AfK 4. For the exhibitions see also Regine Prange: “Architekturphantasie ohne Architektur? Der Arbeitsrat für Kunst und seine Ausstellungen,” pp. 93–104. In: Thorsten Scheer, Josef P. Kleihues & Paul Kahlfeldt (eds.): Stadt der Architektur. Architektur der Stadt. Berlin 1900–2000, exhibition catalogue, Nicolai Verlag, Berlin 2000.
  • 41 Schlösser: “Utopie einer Chance,” in: Schlösser, Arbeitsrat für Kunst, 1980, p. 82. Schlösser quotes here the “Berliner Localanzeiger” from 25 January 1919. (see also footnote 1).
  • 42 Adolf Behne (ed.): Ruf zum Bauen. Zweite Publikation des Arbeiterrats (sic!) für Kunst, Berlin 1920, pp. 77–80. In: Schlösser: Arbeitsrat für Kunst, 1980. (See also footnote 1).
  • 43 “Ja! Stimmen des Arbeitsrates für Kunst in Berlin,” Berlin 1919. Entire text appears in: Schlösser: Arbeitsrat für Kunst, 1980, pp. 10–76, quote p. 13. (see also footnote 1.)
  • 44 Press release (draft), p. 114. In: Schlösser: Arbeitsrat für Kunst, 1980. (See also footnote 1).
  • 45 Von Dewitz: Politische Bilder, 2009, p. 104. (See also footnote 21).
  • 46 Eckhart Gillen: “’Wir werden die wilde, krumme Linie geradebiegen.’ Sowjetische Kunst 1917–1934: Vom konstruktivistischen Entwurf zur gemalten ideologischen Konstruktivität,”pp. 217–228, here: p. 224. In: Hornbostel et al. (eds.): Mit voller Kraft, 2001. (See also footnote 17).
  • 47 See Hugh D. Hudson Jr.: The Stalinization of Soviet Architecture, 1917–1937, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1994.
  • 48 See Ursula Muscheler: Das rote Bauhaus. Eine Geschichte von Hoffnung und Scheitern, Berenberg Verlag, Berlin 2016, pp.118–121.
  • 49 See Geneviève Debien: “Otto Freundlich (1878–1943) entre 1937 et 1943: un artiste classé ”dégénéré” mais une création ininterrompue, jusque dans l’exil. Article mis en ligne le 25 mars 2010 suite au séminaire des boursiers de la Fondation pour la Mém“, 2010, online unter: <halshs- 00531768>, S. 6. (Accessed 11 December 2018).
  • 50 Olaf Bey: “Kommunaler Wohnungsbau,” pp. 98–155, here: p. 142. In: Peter Michelis (ed.): Der Architekt Gustav Oelsner. Licht, Luft und Farbe für Altona an der Elbe, Dölling und Galitz Verlag, Munich/Hamburg 2008.
●Latest Articles
The Bauhaus Manifesto — Conversation with Magdalena Droste

Gropius wrote his Bauhaus manifesto shortly after the end of World War I. The German empire had collapsed, Russia had undergone a revolution and a second revolution in Germany was in the process of being suppressed. Throughout Germany people felt the necessity for a social and intellectual change. → more

Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus-Manifest

Das Bauhaus wandte sich von Anfang an vom Nationalismus ab und dem Kosmopolitismus und Internationalismus zu, eine Orientierung, die es schließlich mit dem emporkommenden Nationalsozialismus in Widerspruch brachte. Die Schule korrespondierte auch mit zeitgenössischen Bildungsinitiativen in anderen Teilen der Welt, darunter die Kala Bhavan (Kunstschule) in Santiniketan, Indien. Das Bauhaus wirkte durch seine Schriften und Studierenden auch auf andere Schulen in Japan. → more

Towards a Tangible Pedagogy — Dimensions of Tactility at the Bauhaus

In the epistemic context of a fundamental skepticism towards the existing knowledge system, the Bauhaus school was in pursuit of “unlearning”: dismissing conventional learning and promoting pre- linguistic, intuitive approaches- which also led to adoptions of non-academic modes of perception and included an interest in pre-modern knowledge systems. → more

Shifting, Rotating, Mirroring 
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Lena Bergner developed carpet patterns applying specific methods learned from Paul Klee discernible in her finished work. The results, however, are quite unique. This is precisely what Klee sought to achieve with his classes at the Bauhaus: to point to paths of design so that the formal language is not arbitrary, without, however, prescribing predetermined outcomes. → more

Bauhaus Weimar International — Visions and Projects 1919–1925

Although the Bauhaus opened its door in 1919, it took more than three years for Gropius to fully organize the school’s faculty, since with the departure of several of the old art school’s professors, such as Max Thedy, Richard Engelmann and Walther Klemm, open positions had to be regularly filled. But Gropius’s first appointments indicated the course set toward an international avant-garde school, a school of invention. → more

Gertrud Grunow’s Theory of Harmonization — A Connection between European Reform Pedagogy and Asian Meditation?

In this essay Linn Burchert sheds some light on the darkness obscuring Grunow’s practice by presenting the background and details of Grunow’s teaching, concluding by examining the striking parallels between her harmonization teaching and meditative and yogic practices, which had already been introduced at the Bauhaus in Johannes Itten’s preliminary course. → more

Three Preliminary Courses: Itten, Moholy-Nagy, Albers

It was the special qualities of the Swiss artist Johannes Itten, whose career as a primary and secondary school teacher was characterized by adherence to the principles of reform pedagogy, to have introduced a stabilizing structural element into the still unstable early years of the Bauhaus: the preliminary course which—in addition to the dual concept of teaching artistic and manual skills and thinking—was to remain a core part of Bauhaus pedagogy, despite considerable historical changes and some critical objections, until the closure of the school in 1933. → more

●Artist Text
Open Your Eyes — Breathing New Life Into Bauhaus Papercuts

My artistic practice working primarily with abstract folded paper objects led me to Josef Albers and his similar obsession with paper as an instructional medium. Initially looking for pleated paper forms and to learn more about the history of these techniques, I have since been swept up in the maelstrom of Albers' pedagogical mindset. It’s difficult to look at one area of his thinking and not get pulled into many other directions, finding yourself challenged at every turn. → more

A Mystic Milieu — Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan at Bauhaus Weimar

Mazdaznan had a significant although often misunderstood impact on the life and work of Johannes Itten, a key figure in the development of the Weimar Bauhaus. A devout practitioner of Mazdaznan, he was responsible for introducing it to students of the Bauhaus in the early 1920s. This essay explores the intimate relationship between Itten, Mazdaznan and the Bauhaus and, in so doing, also underscores how in its infancy the Bauhaus was very different from its later incarnation as a school associated primarily with technical innovation. → more

Johannes Itten and Mazdaznan at the Bauhaus

Having experimented with Mazdaznan’s teachings on nutrition, breathing and character while studying at the Stuttgart Academy of Art (1913–16), Johannes Itten used these findings for the first time as a “teaching and educational system” while directing his Viennese painting school (1916–19). By 1918/19 at the latest (still before his move to the Bauhaus), Itten had also learned about Mazdaznan’s racial model. But how did the racialist worldview of the Swiss Bauhaus “master” affect Bauhaus practice? → more

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The Egyptian Postures

In the late nineteenth century the self-styled Dr. Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha'nish founded Mazdaznan, a quasi-religious movement of vegetarian diet and body consciousness, which flourished across the USA and Europe until the 1940's. The Egyptian Postures is a guide to the most advanced Mazdaznan exercises that Johannes Itten taught his students at the Bauhaus. This edition of Dr. Otoman Zar-Adusht Ha'nish’s original instructions has been newly edited and illustrated by Ian Whittlesea with images of actor Ery Nzaramba demonstrating the postures. → more

The Bauhaus, the Nazis and German Post War Nation Building Processes

On 4 May 1968 the exhibition 50 Years of the Bauhaus was opened at the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart. Designed by Herbert Bayer and conceived amongst others by Hans Maria Wingler and Ludwig Grote, the exhibition was shown in eight museums worldwide until 1971. To this day, it is considered one of the most influential post-war exhibitions on the Bauhaus and was of great significance in the course of the nation building process for the still-young Federal Republic. Fifty years later the Württembergischer Kunstverein undertook a critical rereading of the historical exhibition, which created a long-term image and brand of Bauhaus that has been and still needs to be called in question: not least in such a year of jubilation. → more

●Artist Text
The Legacies of the Bauhaus — For the Present and the Future

“My method of bringing new life to archival images is to look at what happens at the margins rather than the center of a picture. I am also obsessed with making links, based on the belief that everything is connected. And also with what I call ‘narrative environments,’ mediating spaces facilitating new forms of engagement.” Luca Frei is a commissioned artist for bauhaus imaginista: Corresponding With. He talks about his approach to his installation for the exhibition at MoMAK in Kyoto. → more

Naked Functionalism and the Anti-Aesthetic — The Activities of Renshichirō Kawakita in the 1930s

Kawakita called the educational activities that developed around the central axis of the School of New Architecture and Design “kōsei education.” The term “compositional/structural education” is often taken nowadays to refer to a preparatory course in composition derived from the Bauhaus—plastic arts training in which plastic elements such as color, form and materials are treated abstractly.  → more

The Bauhaus and the Tea Ceremony

The impact of the Bauhaus teaching methods reached far beyond Germany. Conversely, throughout its existence, a Japanese sensibility permeated the Bauhaus, springing from the Japonisme of individual professors, until its closure in 1933. This article analyzes the reciprocal impact of German and Japanese design education in the interbellum period in order to shed new light on the tightly knit network of associations then connecting Japan and Europe. → more

Johannes Itten’s Interest in Japanese Ink Painting — Shounan Mizukoshi and Yumeji Takehisa’s Japanese ink painting classes at the Itten-Schule

It’s widely known that Johannes Itten had an interest in Asian philosophy and art. He had a series of fruitful encounters with Japanese artists while leading his Itten-Schule art institute in Berlin (1926–34). In this article Yoshimasa Kaneko presents his research of these exchanges: In 1931 Nanga painter Shounan Mizukoshi taught Japanese ink painting in Nanga style at the Itten-Schule; in 1932 Jiyu Gakuen students Mitsuko Yamamuro and Kazuko Imai (Married name: Sasagawa) studied there; and finally, in 1933 the painter and poet Yumeji Takehisa also taught Japanese ink painting (including Nanga style) at Itten’s invitation. → more

“The Attack on the Bauhaus” — A Collage that Became a Symbol of the Closure of the Bauhaus

For the Yamawaki couple, their studies at the Dessau Bauhaus ended with the closure of the Dessau site. Iwao’s luggage for his return home also included his collage Der Schlag gegen das Bauhaus. It was first published in the architecture magazine Kokusai kenchiku in December 1932. Iwao let the collage speak for itself, publishing it without comment. → more

●Artist Work
The O Horizon — A Film Produced for bauhaus imaginista

The Otolith Group have been commissioned to produce The O Horizon for bauhaus imaginista, a new film containing studies of Kala Bhavana as well as the wider environments of Santiniketan and Sriniketan. Through rare footage of art, craft, music and dance, it explores the material production of the school and its community as well as the metaphysical inclinations that guided Tagore’s approach to institution building. → more

A Virtual Cosmopolis — Bauhaus and Kala Bhavan

The Bauhaus is renowned for its contribution to modernist architecture and design. Less known but equally significant is its pioneering role in opening up a transcultural network that created the conditions for global conversations on art and design as early as the 1920s. → more

Reclaiming the National — Against Nationalism

The question of how one resists populist nationalism is both obvious and fiendishly difficult. This sounds like a paradoxical proposition, and, indeed, it is. I am inspired by an early critique of nationalism which bears an uncanny resonance in today’s world: a critique that was made in 1916 by the Bengal poet and visionary, Rabindranath Tagore, during a lecture tour in Japan, in the midst of the First World War. → more

Sriniketan and Beyond — Arts and Design Pedagogy in the Rural Sphere

In this article Natasha Ginwala examines how certain Bauhaus ideas flowed into Tagore’s pedagogic experiment and rural reconstruction program at Sriniketan (created in 1921–22), as well as the engagement with design Dashrath Patel, the founding secretary of the National Institute of Design (NID) and its leading pedagogue, pursued in the rural sphere. → more

Santiniketan — Rules of Metaphor and Other Pedagogic Tools

This essay was occasioned by the Delhi exhibition of the Hangzhou chapter of bauhaus imaginista and the accompanying seminar in December 2018. The overarching brief of the seminar was to discuss the pedagogic aspects of schools in various parts of the world that are relatable to the practices of Bauhaus. Specifically, the essay attempts to capture the foundational moments of Kala Bhavana, the art school in Santiniketan that, incidentally, also steps into its centenary year in 2019. → more

●Text Compilation
News from Santiniketan — A Text Compilation of Educational Texts from Santiniketan

Unlike the Bauhaus, Kala Bhavana had no written manifesto or curriculum. However, a corpus of writing developed around the school, largely produced by the school’s artists and teachers. The academic Partha Mitter, whose own writing has explored the interplay between the struggle against colonialism, modernism, and the cultural avant-garde in India, has selected a group of texts on education in Santiniketan. → more

Bauhaus Calcutta

ln December 1922, ‘The Fourteenth Annual Exhibition of the lndian Society of Oriental Art’ was held at Samavaya Bhavan, number seventeen Park Street. Paintings by artists from the ‘Bengal school’—all of them members of the lndian Society of Oriental Arts—were exhibited. Most of these artists painted in a manner, which would have been recognisable as that school’s invention, a particularly lndian signature style, with mythology as preferred subject. Hung on the other side of the hall was a large selection of works from the Bauhaus.  → more

●Video and Introduction
Ritwik’s Ramkinker — A Film in the Process

Ritwik Ghatak’s film Ramkinker Baij: A Personality Study on the sculptor from Santiniketan is like a spurt, a sudden expression of ebullient enthusiasm from a friend, who is said to have shared artistic affinities with him. Incidentally, it also registers, through a conversational method, the process of discovering the artist, who was embedded, organic, yet global and most advanced for his time. → more

●Artist Work
Anna Boghiguian — A Play to Play

The works from Anna Boghiguian shown here are from an installation commissioned by the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva) titled A Play to Play as part of the exhibition Tagore’s Universal Allegories in 2013. These works incorporate elements associated with Tagore, from the artist’s frequent visits to Santiniketan. → more

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