A Migratory Life—from Dessau to Moscow to Mexico

Hannes Meyer and Lena Bergner and the Arts

The exhibition bauhaus imaginista, shown at the Zentrum Paul Klee between 20 September 2019 and 12 January 2020, brought together several histories of the transnational relationships, correspondences, and migrations studied in the frame of the centenary celebration of the Bauhaus. Undertaken in collaboration with scholars, research curators, and visual artists from Algeria, Brazil, China, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Nigeria, Morocco, Russia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and United States between 2016 and 2019, the project applied a dialogical principle from the start. bauhaus imaginista placed the Bauhaus in an international context of like-minded projects, discussing avant-garde art schools as a history of modern educational reform taking place in different societal contexts in parallel. The transfer of ideas which the Bauhaus participated in was not recounted as a story of influence and effect but of international interdependence. Rather than building on a notion of Modernism with a big M as having moved from north to south—or from the West to the rest of the world—the emphasis of bauhaus imaginista is on the exchanges and interrelationships among international modernist actors and concepts—a conception where modernism is viewed not as something passively received, but, rather, a concept in circulation, moving in several different directions at once, subject to constant renegotiation and reinterpretation. This is a transcultural perspective, one that also calls into question the paradigm of the modern nation-state, emphasizing transnational migration as a condition of cultural production. Today the concepts of translation, contact, transformation, and artistic and cultural mobility open up new horizons of imagination, cross-referencing different modernist movements as a multiplicity—one in which the Bauhaus took an active part and was received in many different ways. But transcultural and transnational relations, encounters, conflicts, and negotiations cannot easily be extracted from an image or an object. So, how do exhibition makers deal today with concepts of transcultural exchanges?

As a background to the Berne symposium Multiple Modernisms, organized in the frame of bauhaus imaginista, I would like to focus on the curatorial research involved in two of the project’s four chapters: Moving Away and Learning From. I would especially like to rethink the importance of the migratory life of the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer and Bauhaus weaver Lena Bergner, starting with Meyer’s two-year directorship of the Bauhaus Dessau, the couple’s time working in the USSR (1931–1936), and, finally, their decade-long period as exiles in Mexico, which lasted from 1939 to 1949, the year they returned to Switzerland.

The transnational perspective adopted in these two chapters helps us to understand the transcultural character of modernism itself, and to shed light on the socialist ideals debated at the Bauhaus Dessau and beyond. Debates on the entanglements of art and design, and the political conditions under which relations between the aesthetic disciplines were considered, negotiated, discarded, or revised become obvious when one closely examines how the conceits developed at the Bauhaus were implemented, improved, or rejected in other societal contexts. Through its various iterations and slowly expanding research network, the journey bauhaus imaginista took from 2015 onwards made it possible to compare and annotate extant facts and new findings from station to station. Knowledge grew with the journey, thanks to the expertise of colleagues willing to learn from their own research and that of others. The subject-position that would enable one to read and make sense of other’s contributions had at times to be invented, historical constellations re-imagined. But the long duration of the project also made it possible, incrementally, to digest and understand what one saw, heard, and discussed.

a bauhaus book, unpublished.

Drawing by Hannes Meyer from a manuscript for a Bauhaus book that stayed unpublished, ca. 1949–54.
Estate of Hannes Meyer at gta archive ETH Zurich.

Within the Moving Away chapter’s context, one of the central findings I came across in my research was the maquette of an unpublished Bauhaus book designed by Hannes Meyer, part of his estate at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta) archives at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. Drawn with pencil, the maquette had neither been shown to nor reflected on by scholars. Meyer started to work on the book in his last year in Mexico, at the behest of German exile publishers el libro libre in Mexico, who wanted to emphasize an alternate Bauhaus representation to that put forward by founding Bauhaus director Walter Gropius, then living in exile in the United States. Meyers’ book proposal focused mainly on his time at the Bauhaus between 1927 and 1930, covering student life, projects, exhibitions, and curricula. The book’s layout gives an idea of the memory work Meyer had undertaken in reconstructing the school’s relevance and the guiding light of his approach, in exile—a situation where he lacked the relevant documentation to pursue such a project—and some two decades after his tenure in Dessau. Constantly on the move from one country to another in the intervening period, the likelihood was great of this attempt at re-imagination failing abysmally. Thus, how can his efforts be evaluated? Many of the maquette’s pencil drawings depict Bauhaus exhibitions, projects, and photographs dating from between 1927 and 1930 that are generally associated with the Bauhaus, but not with Meyer’s period as director. The book is not only a missing link in the reception of the Bauhaus, its drawings also underscore how Meyer’s directorship has for many years been minimized, providing a powerful testimonial through its excision from the historical record: evidence in absentia that the Bauhaus’s socialist and communist paths were to remain shadows of the school’s aesthetic influence as promoted through Western channels; hinting at the postwar divide between East and West, and the role Cold War ideology were to play in design and architectural history.

The absence of Meyer’s Bauhaus book thus speaks especially to the history of the Bauhaus’s reception after 1933, based as this was on exhibitions and publications produced mainly in the United States and West Germany, and associated with the Bauhaus under Walter Gropius and the North-American exile group. By contrast, Meyer’s book redirects us back to the concrete political and societal conditions of design history, as well as to migratory lives and communists escape routes. Through the medium of Meyer’s book, socialism, a condition that in the 1920s shaped new ideas on art and design, asks that the concepts undergirding universalist Modernism, spelled with a monocultural big M, be revised.

In art and architectural history Meyer is mainly spoken of as a pure functionalist. Studying his drawings, articles, and editorial work I found another Meyer, a public intellectual explicitly interested in artistic and activist practices, who favored a social rather than an aesthetic revolution. Meyer’s explicitly political side is further expressed in the books he thought fit to include in his personal library. In aggregate, these publications represent the transnational nature of his life—the moves between Switzerland, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Mexico—as well as his written work. The printed matter relating to Meyer shown in the Moving Away exhibitions in Moscow, Berlin, Berne, and Istanbul highlights the importance of the publishing circles that were a key element in the development of the modern movement and which, in Meyer’s case, were driven by the varied iterations of internationalism with which he came in contact.

Finally, Meyer’s unpublished book is a guide to his period as director of the Bauhaus. Today, reflections on his tenure open up new perspectives on the myths, paradoxes, and debates at the Bauhaus that have often been overlooked.1 One of these paradoxes is that Gropius’s famous Manifesto of 1919 proposed that the conceptual frame of a “building” could contain a synthesis of all art forms, yet a building department was only begun at the Bauhaus in 1927, shortly before Gropius left the school. To head the new department, he appointed the Swiss Meyer—half German-half Huguenot, as he called himself.2 Gropius’s teaching program had possessed a strongly cosmopolitan orientation, reflected in his radical rejection of the nationalistic and classicist ideals ubiquitous in pre-war European art education. The Bauhaus did not teach “Deutsche Kunst” but a new vision of the unity of all arts. Nor did the school adopt either the art academy or Kunstgewerbeschule (crafts school) models of the nineteenth century, because, as Gropius argued in “New Architecture and the Bauhaus”:

“The rise of the academies spelled the gradual decay of the spontaneous traditional art that had permeated the life of the whole people. All that remained was a ‘Salon Art,’ entirely remote from everyday life, which by the middle of the XIXth Century had petered out into mere exercises in individual virtuosity. It was then that a revolt began.”3

The revolt Gropius refers to was begun in part by the British Arts and Craft movements. Like it, the Bauhaus’s new pedagogical concept was based on apprenticeship training, and a rejection of the divisions that had previously shaped the disciplines of art and design as well as its teaching institutions. This formulation was also previously argued for by the German architect, art critic, and pedagogue Gottfried Semper. At the Bauhaus, neither Hellenistic casts nor the painting techniques of professors were copied. Instead, the preliminary course and handicraft workshops emphasized the ability to design, finding one’s own solutions and blending handicraft and artistic practices with industrial processes. Thus, artists such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky were not hired as painting professors but were instead charged with introducing students to the basic principles of design, color, and composition. In their classes, cognitive and manual skills were of equal importance, and students learned to work with conventional materials experimentally and experiment with profane everyday materials. But as Gropius articulates in the same article quoted above, some of these preconditions changed when the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau:

“In 1925 the Bauhaus migrated to Dessau: a move which coincided with an important change in its organization. The dual control of each workshop by a teacher of design and a practical instructor was now superseded by that of a single master. In point of fact, the fusion of these separate spheres had (as was hoped) automatic effects in the course of training the first generation. Five old Bauhaus students were now chosen as heads of the new workshops. In connection with the transfer from Weimar, the town council of Dessau commissioned me to design a comprehensive group of buildings: a new and ad hoc Bauhaus, a labor-exchange, and a housing colony. For their construction and furnishing I brought the whole body of teachers and students into active cooperation.”4

Gropius was acting not only as the director of the Bauhaus school but also the chief architect of an entirely new architectural ensemble in Dessau. He integrated members of the teaching staff and students into the building process of the Dessau campus and the Masters’ houses. The interior color design of the buildings was developed by Klee and Kandinsky; Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy furnished their new houses entirely with furniture by Marcel Breuer. The residencies of the Master houses where László Moholy-Nagy, Lyonel Feininger, Georg Muche, Oskar Schlemmer, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee lived with their families (followed by Josef and Anni Albers, Hinnerk Scheper and Alfred Arndt) were next to the domiciles of the three directors—Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The villa complex, in walking distance from the newly built campus, reinforced the new self-understanding of this group of established and privileged modernists now acting as “single masters.” The idea of the Meister/Master shifted in meaning accordingly. The master title was previously related to the master-apprentice character of the Bauhaus workshops: the new Master houses spoke the language of professorial privilege. But this shift also took place in the context of an industrialized city, whose administration had asked Gropius to create social housing programs, to be realized in Dessau by Bauhaus teachers and students.

When Meyer first visited the Bauhaus Dessau in December 1926, the school was thus undergoing a radical reorientation.5 The move to Dessau and the demands for housing programs by the city’s Social Democrats, along with Gropius’s new campus architecture and the School’s newly founded GmbH, which sold student-designed products, had led to general conceptual changes. In these years the oppositions between the creation of consumer goods and the social function of design became obvious. Debates over the future of the Bauhaus had been aired publicly since 1926, in the newly published bauhaus. zeitschrift für gestaltung (Bauhaus: magazine for design).6 The bauhaus magazine became an organ for the emerging vocabulary accompanying these debates. In it a synthesis of economic, technological, artistic, and cultural viewpoints was propagated. Articles by teachers, students, and guest writers promoted this new epistemology of art and design, including, significantly, an acknowledgement of the everyday needs of life in modern society and the promotion of a new standard of living.

Page 6 of Hannes Meyer’s manuscript for a Bauhaus book, ca. 1949–54.
Estate of Hannes Meyer, gta archive ETH Zurich.

Page 27 of Hannes Meyer’s manuscript for a Bauhaus book, ca. 1949–54.
Estate of Hannes Meyer, gta archive ETH Zurich.

In bauhaus magazine no. 1 (1926), a conceptual collage by Marcel Breuer was published that served as a crucial aid in the development of bauhaus imaginista’s general curatorial concept, and we selected Breuer’s collage as the main focal object through which the conceptual frame of the Moving Away chapter might be developed. This curatorial method was also applied to the other three bauhaus imaginista chapters. Breuer’s filmstrip/collage visualized the development of his chair designs over the course of five years at the Bauhaus, tracing its progression from crafted object to industrial prototype, and pointing towards a future where the task of as a designing objects might become obsolete, or might result in some form of designing not yet envisaged. It had functioned in the magazine as an advertisement, part of the School’s attempt to promote and sell Bauhaus products designed by students and teachers. The leading article of the magazine by Gropius discussed the new campus, the Masters’ houses, and the Dessau-Törten estate affordable housing project—an outcome of his collaboration with Dessau city administrators. So situated, Breuer’s filmstrip became part of a more general discussion about design, from prototype to commodity to its broader social functionality when applied to housing projects and urban planning schemes. And due to the School’s evolving sense of its own mission, the former ideal of an artist-designer was being challenged—as it was during the building processes in Dessau—by the question of how conceptual frames might be implemented within concrete design processes. It was a debate Georg Muche commented upon in the same inaugural issue of bauhaus magazine that Breuer’s filmstrip and Gropius’s text appeared:

“the illusion that the visual arts should be absorbed in the creative art of technical design shatters in the moment in which they reach the limits of concrete reality ... because the design of the industrial product produced with technical means is carried out according to a law which cannot be derived from the visual arts. … Art and technology are not a new unity, they remain different in their creative value.”

This bald critique of Gropius’s credo “Art and Technology: A New Unity,” first presented in a lecture held at the opening reception of the Bauhaus Ausstellung of 1923 (which in its turn replaced the earlier paradigm of art-as-craftsmanship), hints at unresolved conceptual and internal problems at the Bauhaus. Meyer had to face these when he was hired as an instructor of architecture in 1927. Moholy-Nagy had made similar claims to those of Gropius, avowing that the twentieth century would be a technological century, where the invention, construction, and operation of machines would inform the future work of the artist-engineer. In this vision, the artistic would soon permeate all areas of mass production. In particular, Moholy’s anticipated saturation of artistic innovation within industrial paradigm was directed against professional specialization, a critique constantly broached in bauhaus magazine. The notion of an avant-garde artistic workforce that would generate novel living environments, perceptual technologies, and means of production were at this point still strongly informed by Russian Constructivism. Moholy was an active participant in the movement and a communist party member. In 1924, Meyer had published works by Moholy next to other Constructivists and Suprematists in the Basel-based magazine ABC Beiträge zum Bauen, co-edited by Mart Stam, Hans Schmidt, and El Lissitzky. Following, Moholy and Meyer had maintained an intimate exchange. In “Die Neue Welt” (The New World), an article published two years later, Meyer argued:

“Art has an undisputed right to exist provided the speculative spirit of mankind has need of it after the graphic-colored, plastic-constructive, musical-kinetic overthrow of its philosophy of life.… This new creative work can only be done on the basis of our time and with the means of our time. Yesterday is dead; Bohemia is dead. … The artist’s studio has become a scientific and technical laboratory, and his works are the fruit of incisive thinking and inventive genius. Like any product of its time, the work of art today is subject to the living conditions of our age, and the result of our speculative dialogue with the world can only be set down in a precise form. The new work of art is a totality, not an excerpt, not an impression. The new work of art is an elemental creation made by primary means. … The new work of art is a work for all, not a collector’s piece or the privilege of a single individual.”7

Bauhaus, vol. 1, 1926, page 3 with Marcel Breuer’s collage ein bauhaus-film. fünf jahre lang (a bauhaus film, five years long), 1926.

At the time of his writing the “Die Neue Welt” article and editing ABC magazine, it seems Meyer and Moholy argued from different locations, but held very common concerns. Still, Moholy came from a more technologically oriented conception of the arts than Meyer, who always privileged cooperation and interaction. For Moholy, new technologies such as photography and film were tools for revolutionizing the visual culture of society. Moholy thus became the chief proponent of the New Vision movement. In his book, Malerie Photographie Film, first published in the bauhaus bücher series 1925, he stated that:

“The camera has offered us amazing possibilities, which we are only just now beginning to exploit. The visual image has been expanded and even the modern lens is no longer tied to the narrow limits of our eye; no manual means of representation (pencil, brush, etc.) is capable of arresting fragments of the world seen like this … Our vision has only lately developed sufficiently to grasp these connections.”8

Exhibition view bauhaus imaginista: Moving Away: The Internationalist Architect, Garage, Moscow, 2018, photo: Silke Briel.

Meyer, however, would have argued that it is through the use of new technologies that their function opens up or changes. Meyer also understood that Moholy’s Constructivist techno-impulse had merged with a prior preference for workshop and craft production extant when he began working at the Bauhaus. It was not until 1926 that the School instituted any sort of professional training program in these new media. It was only with Meyer’s directorship that photography became integrated within the Bauhaus curriculum, which students such as the Japanese architect Iwao Yamawaki studied under the guidance of Walter Peterhans.9 Thus, one can witness how after his appointment Meyer began to question the basic precepts of Bauhaus pedagogy, including the efficacy of the arts and crafts-based workshop model, and the School’s vision of the artist-engineer as an individual creator. Courses were introduced that did not exist before at the Bauhaus and did not entirely fit into the logic of the apprentice workshop. Similarly, for Meyer the Bauhaus was not meeting its intentions by catering to a niche market for manufactured design objects, since, as the art historian Robin Schuldenfrei points out, the designing of chess sets, silver teapots, and cups carried out under Gropius and Mies van der Rohe never corresponded to the ideals of an egalitarian society.10 In a letter from 1926, Meyer openly told Gropius that he was not recognizing the social conditions nor taking into consideration the needs of the users for whom the Bauhaus should be designing. His famous claim “Volksbedarf statt Luxusbedarf” (public needs instead of luxury needs) clearly summarizes his position, and can also be read as a reaction to what he witnessed after joining the Bauhaus faculty. The Bauhaus was too crafty and too formalistic, Meyer thought; he feared the School was still holding on to an avant-garde aesthetic that was quickly becoming outmoded, and would soon reduce itself to promulgating a Bauhaus style. Meyer was—as many student evaluations of him highlight—still searching to articulate the societal role of the future Gestalter (designer). The historical evidence leaves no doubt that he had already stated his critique of the Bauhaus curriculum openly at the time of his appointment as director.

Meyer’s initial hiring in 1926 indicated both an era coming to an end as well as the persistence of an unresolved conceptual conflict at the School about how art and design might function within a social democratic society. Gropius was unable to adequately answer these internal and external demands: it was not by chance that when he left the Bauhaus one year later, he appointed an architect of the Neues Bauen (New Building movement) as his successor. Gropius knew the city of Dessau wanted concrete solutions to realize its new social housing program. Some of Meyer’s Bauhaus colleagues were not in favor of his appointment and were disappointed with Gropius for leaving. As Muche’s comment indicates, developing a school where new design processes were emphasized over the integration of the arts was not what the Bauhaus masters were waiting for. But debates at the Bauhaus over the role of the artist in industrial society were, in any case, double-faced. Muche’s claim that art has its own logic can be read as a critique of an idealized conception of a putative artistic-industrial unity. It can also be read as an assertion of the conviction that even when art is integrated into design processes it cannot overcome its autonomous status. The conceptual frame of post-war avant-gardist subjectivity no longer fit the broader understanding of artistic practice (Künstlerische Verfahrensweise) of the late 1920s, which did not rely solely on the former, but had expanded to include life activities, design, architecture, and collective work. As Meyer’s notion of this enlarged conception had been conceived against the background of recent discoveries in quantum physics:

“The boundaries between painting, mathematics, and music can no longer be defined; and between sound and color there is only the gradual difference of oscillatory frequency. The depreciation of all works of art is indisputable, and there can be no question that the continued utilization of new and exact knowledge in their place is merely a matter of time.”11

Upon assuming the directorship, new conflicts arose after Meyer gave students more autonomy within the study plan. In his estimation, the Bauhaus was still a quasi-art academy, where the professors were privileged and held a corresponding asymmetrical authority with regards to institutional power and responsibility for teaching methods. In contradistinction to this, Meyer supported forms of collective working and learning, and one of his earliest proposals was to dissolve the division between the Werk- and Formmeister in the belief that an artist should be technically and intellectually qualified in a variety of fields. Moholy resisted, writing to Ise Gropius that “he would not be able to work as an artist without a technician at his side.” The praised machine age had come into conflict with Meyer’s notion of social cooperation, a concept strongly informed by the socialism of the Swiss cooperative movement. Meyer’s Freidorf settlement in the Swiss municipality of Muttenz, as well as his displays and theater play about alternate forms of money, land, and goods distribution, designed for the Swiss Consum Cooperative, clearly indicate these socio-political tendencies.12 This background should not be underestimated as a factor in his rejection of art academy privileges: in the Swiss Republic the eighteenth century art academy model had never been introduced.

Exhibition view bauhaus imaginista: Moving Away: The Internationalist Architect, Garage, Moscow, 2018 with linocuts by Hannes Meyer, photo: Silke Briel

Given his political background, it should not be astonishing that Bauhaus students reported how under Meyer they participated in discussions on diverse topics, followed class meetings in all workshops, and that the relationship between teachers and students became more cooperative. In his final vision, Meyer strived for an autonomous school of pupils—an idea of micro-political liberation and institutional critique with origins in anti-authoritarian branches of reform pedagogy and the cooperative movement. This orientation was also reflected in the School’s expanded guest lecturer program. When Meyer introduced additional courses from other fields of knowledge—such as philosophy, sociology, and the natural sciences—expanding the range of the curriculum and making it more horizontal, the Bauhaus masters arose in protest again. Meyer had also started to collaborate with colleagues outside the Bauhaus: the Czech functionalist and poet Karl Teige was a frequent visitor (the weaver Otti Berger’s text, “Stoffe im Raum,” was published in RED, Teige cultural journal); Mart Stam received a teaching assignment; Austro-Marxists such as Otto Neurath were invited to lecture; as was Graf Dürkheim, who lectured on anthroposophy. The Bauhaus remained polyphonic under Meyer but also more collective, egalitarian, and polytechnical.

In the design and building process that went into the balcony houses in Dessau and the Federal Trade Union School in Bernau, students from various years worked together in so-called “vertical brigades.” All workshops were now open to women, who were also free to work at construction sites. Students were involved in researching the spatial, topographical, and social conditions of individual sites, and introduced to ideas then circulating internationally on the topic of urban planning and housing development. Investigating context and process was foregrounded, including considerations of climate factors in the landscape and the study of the usage and life patterns of prospective inhabitants. In this regard, dialogue between designer and users was promoted. The tasks of the design project and the knowledge required for it stood in the center of Bauhaus education.

… a new world

In his essay “The New World” from 1926, Meyer had already imagined a globalized world in which community and cooperation rather than technological innovation would shape the coming world order. “In Esperanto,” he claimed, “we construct a supranational language according to a law of least resistance, in standard shorthand a script with no tradition.”

Meyer, like Gropius, was a cosmopolitan. But Meyer’s vision of a designer sensitive to local conditions and usage also related to his socialist utopianism. His background in Basel might also have helped him in connecting diverse avant-garde ideas—socialist egalitarianism, anthroposophy, the Swiss coop movement—together with new insights derived from sociology, psychology, and the natural sciences. With his openness to diverse epistemic formations and disciplines, Meyer did not, as had Gropius, articulate his claims in a manifesto. Rather, his search concerned a new design subjectivity that would be able to adapt to emergent or unforeseen social contexts and material conditions. For Meyer, the designer of the future served the task, in opposition to the subjective notion of the vanguard artist, whose work grew out of an individual personality. In his imagination the Gestalter was a part of the world, of society, and the environment. This perspective including the larger physical/material context as well as the collective effort of different individuals collaborating together. Meyer also understood the environment where a building was situated—the landscape as he called it—was as important as the building site itself. This concept of landscape was also a rejoinder to nationalist and right-wing notions of “nation” and “homeland.” Political power structures might change, but the landscape, the material conditions constitutive of place, were vitally important considerations for designers—in contradistinction to that other trend of International Modernist architecture, which put its faith in a universalist methodology in denial of local conditions. Thus, it was not by chance that the University of Ile-Ife campus in Nigeria built by Arieh Sharon, one of Meyer’s most famous Bauhaus students as well as a collaborator on the Federal Trade Union School in Bernau, is an example of what today is called passive, climatic, culturally sensitive architecture.

In 1930, in a climate of rising right-wing nationalist ideological fervor, the Dessau-Anhalt authorities accused Meyer of “communist machinations,” dismissing him during the summer vacation. Internally, Kandinsky and other masters had already started to work on his dismissal. Coming only two years after his initial appointment, his firing may have been politically motivated, but it was not only due to right wing forces in the government. Meyer may have openly expressed solidarity with socialist and communist Bauhaus students but was not, like Moholy, a communist party member. Yet, his dismissal is still attributed to the strengthening of the Nazis in Dessau, while the role Bauhaus masters and associates possibly played remains unnoted. Meyer protested and wrote an open letter against the decision. His struggle was supported by communist newspapers, including the magazine of the student communist cell at the Bauhaus, published until 1932. With this, the scandal of a depoliticized Bauhaus began, and with it the story of a modernist migrant.

Having obtained an invitation from the Soviet government, Meyer moved to Moscow in the fall of 1930. Former Bauhaus students followed Meyer to the Soviet Union, working under the self-given name, “Bauhaus Brigade Red Front.” As with many other modernist architects of the time—Bruno Taut, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, and Mart Stam—Meyer and his former students worked on the large building initiative of the first five-year plan. Upon arrival in Moscow he gave lectures about the Bauhaus and started organizing a Bauhaus exhibition, shown the following summer in Moscow and in the winter of 1932 in Kharkiv, then capital of Ukraine. By then, however, he was already more occupied with questions arising from Soviet reality, working until 1936 for a number of design institutes, mostly in the field of urban planning. He also worked on the plans for various “socialist cities”—new towns that were strategically positioned all over the Soviet territory, including Birobidzhan, the capital of a newly-organized Jewish province near the Chinese Border. In addition, Meyer was also involved in theoretical work at the All-Union Academy of Architecture, where he headed the Department for Dwelling Architecture, Public Buildings, and Interior Design. Practice and conceptualization in this area were influenced by the ideas of the politician and theorist Nikolay Milyutin, who in 1930 had published the book Sotsgorod, bringing together the principles of the Neues Bauen with the specific conditions pertinent to the development of a new socialist way of life in the Soviet Union. In this regard, in 1934 Meyer began conducting independent research into the problems of constructing new Soviet housing, and the modernization and expansion of Moscow. This line of investigation was not unique: in the same year as Meyer was undertaking his research, Moisei Ginzburg, former leader of the Constructivist architects, published the book Dwelling, which summed up the findings of a five-year research project by the Section of Housing Typification of the Building Committee of the RSFSR. Meyer, however, believed that Ginzburg’s focus (affordable housing for all) was too obvious. He imagined that through the application of rhythms, proportions, and optical axes, living space could be truly integrated into the city. Plants also played a role in this project: a flower on a shelf, a tree in a courtyard, the green space of the Park of Culture and Leisure … according to Meyer these could all create an “ensemble.” This acknowledgment of the importance of the environment as an ensemble, or “landscape” was an important step towards a new building movement centered around the house as a product of design processes and crafts. For Meyer, the new Gestalter was sensitive to the many aspects of living. Even before the geopolitical changes of the 1930s and the period of war that followed, Meyer had become an advocate of ideas and pedagogical concepts not in accord with the socialist realism and rationality of the time. In Moscow and later in Mexico City, his ideas on life processes and environmental concerns, as well as his cooperative teaching method, led to opposition from colleagues as they had at the Bauhaus.

The circumstances under which Hannes Meyer left the USSR in 1936 are unclear. Possible reasons include financial troubles, personal conflicts, and the political challenges occasioned by the new socialist realism guidelines. But as we know today, his departure was not a function of any criticism he may have directed against Stalin’s regime. In 1937, after Meyer and his partner, the Bauhaus weaver Lena Bergner, had left for Switzerland, he joined the Swiss Communist Party; in Mexico the couple remained advocates of the Soviet cause, co-organizing publications and exhibitions.13 However, they left the USSR at the right moment. Many members of the émigré avant-garde, including several Bauhaus graduates, were unable to flee the Stalinist terror: many members of the Bauhaus brigade were imprisoned and killed by the system they had wanted to serve.14 Not so Meyer and Bergner. After a brief stay in the United States, the couple moved to Mexico in 1939, where in June Meyer accepted an invitation to become head of the newly formed Institute of Town and National Planning of Mexico. During his tenure he designed several unrealized projects, and was involved in writing, publishing, and editing books on social housing, urbanism, and anti-fascism.

Today, Meyer’s estate is housed in various collections and institutes: in the Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin, the archive of the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, the German Museum of Architecture Frankfurt/Main (DAM), and the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture at the ETH Zurich (gta). These collections possess unique indexing systems and disparate institutional and personal narratives. Not only have archival criteria and collection management systems in Swiss and German institutions been inherited from the time of the East-West split, the status of archival material on Bauhaus USSR survivors is generally incomplete and precarious. These two conditions informed research on Moving Away. Through varied archival holdings—photographs, letters, collages, pages from scrapbooks, diagrams, manifestos, architectural drawings, and town plans—an image of the relationship between teachers and students, the Bauhaus Dessau, the Soviet Union, and the communist and socialist ideals held by these individuals was partially unfolded. Working individually, a research group consisting of the art and architecture historians Tatiana Efrussi, Thomas Flierl, Daniel Talensik, Anja Guttenberger, and myself accessed the archives. Starting in 2017 we exchanged on our findings concerning Meyer’s Bauhaus tenure, the “Bauhaus Brigade,” and the gaps and contradictions we found in the institutional collections listed above.15

As a curatorial strategy and to open up new readings on documents about Meyer and his Bauhaus comrades, the contemporary artists Alice Creischer and Wendelien van Oldenborgh, along with theorists Adrian Rifkin and Doreen Mende were invited to produce “readings” of these institutionalized leftovers in order to understand the socialist background of the architects and their work and life (and death) in the Soviet Union.16 These commissions opened up new critical examinations of work contexts, migratory flights, and geopolitical conditions during the 1930s and 40s. They also cast light on contemporary habits of dealing with the past.17 Employing the expertise of visual artists in an exhibition dealing with historical documents, and with design and urban planning history in particular, allows for critical reflection on how we conceive history as well as the strategies used in re-narrating historical material, no matter how scattered and incomplete. Today, contemporary artists (and curators) employ diverse methods and different bodies of knowledge in their respective practices, reflecting on the medium of representation while also creating counter-narratives to the national frames within which knowledge is customarily produced. Such a contextual, trans-historical approach appears removed from notions the Bauhaus once championed concerning the figure of the artist-designer. However, this difference creates a subliminal history of cross-cultural practices that still communicate with each other across time and space. In any case, an answer to the question of what social role artistic practice should play and what elements would go into the new subjectivity of designers had changed between the time the School opened and when it closed. Yet, this search for answers remains of interest, as the question of the societal function of art and design remains unresolved; not a cross-disciplinary approach, which a hundred years after the Bauhaus began has become the norm, but the social function of the arts in general, which for the most part are restricted to a mode of representation ensconced within the security of institutional enframement. How to be involved in society as both an active member and a socially conscious artist/designer remains part of an imagined and unrealized Bauhaus. This question ultimately guided me to follow Lena Bergner and Hannes Meyer to Mexico City.

the proletarian artist

Lena Bergner, Detail of a Medieval Knotted Carpet from the Orient, c. 1927–28
Zentrum Paul Klee, Bern.

Within the collection of Paul Klee’s students’ class notes housed at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern there is a study of an ornamental element taken from a medieval carpet of Ottoman origin, drawn by Bergner while a Bauhaus weaving student. Now stored at the Archiv der Moderne in Weimar, Bergner’s notes on the making of oriental carpets and pattern selections from popular folkloric practices offer concrete proof of her Bauhaus study of ancient weaving techniques, including Eurasian textiles and North-African and Amerindian weaving. The archive also has in its holdings a series of photographs of her own carpets. These findings indicate premodern crafts were studied at the Bauhaus: This is important, as that aspect of Bauhaus pedagogy has been downplayed by art historians for many years. bauhaus imaginista’s third chapter Learning From focused in particular on research by Bauhaus teachers and students regarding Amerindian weaving techniques and rural pottery, as well as carpet design and buildings typologies from both North Africa and the Americas. The focal object of this chapter was a small drawing by Paul Klee entitled Teppich (Carpet) from 1927.

At the end of the 1920s, Paul Klee worked on a series of ink drawings that, along with his study of Maghrebi carpet patterns, included several versions of his fantasy town, “Beride.” Both Teppich and these townscapes incorporate the formal vocabulary of weaving into their stylistic vocabulary. While at the Bauhaus, Klee served as director of the department of free sculpture and artistic design, and from 1927 to 1930 he also taught in the weaving workshop. The 1927 drawings were published in 1929 in a Bauhaus brochure, shortly after Klee returned from a trip to Egypt. Both the carpet motif and the Beride drawings may also refer back to a previous trip Klee took to Tunisia in 1914, in the company of his friends August Macke and Louis Moilliet, from which he returned with four watercolors executed by an anonymous Tunisian artist. Western art historians have accorded this journey to Tunisia, which consisted of a fairly standard tourist itinerary as having had a decisive impact on Klee’s search for an abstract formal language. Both Tunisia and Morocco were protectorates of France until each were granted independence in 1956; Algeria remained a French colony until the Algerian National Liberation Front defeated colonial forces in 1962. The French colonial project in North Africa relied upon both the imposition of rational systems of governance and the creation of an Orientalist imaginary, framing North Africans as picturesque Others in the eyes of the French citizenry. This latter fact encouraged a European vogue for North African handicrafts and African art, often produced specifically for tourist bazaars. By questioning the division between the high and low arts through studying non-Western cultural practices, the Bauhaus contested the classical orientation of Europe’s art academies; at the same time the School failed to take into account the sometimes violent and illegitimate appropriation of cultural goods, as well as the social, economic, and political disruption European colonialism left in its wake.

Nonetheless, Bergner’s studies of ornamental carpet design considered here also indicate another path into patterns and weaving practices from both ancient and contemporary, rural and urban contexts. The German Architecture Museum (DAM) in Frankfurt am Main possesses a series of photographs collected by Bergner in the Soviet Union—later used for an exhibition about the USSR held at Mexico City’s book fair—that bring her life-long interest in popular cultures into focus. She did not understand these photographs as ethnographic work but as a way of relating to the aesthetics of the “people” as such. Consequently, in her weaving practice of the 1930s and 40s she included patterns and techniques originating within various parts of the Soviet Union. In Mexico the influence of vernacular styles and patterns remained evident in her work, continuing even after she and Meyer returned to Europe, moving to the Ticino region of Switzerland, in 1949. In Bergner’s work, research into vernacular weaving techniques, forms, and symbols takes a slightly different path than that of more acclaimed Bauhaus weavers such as Anni Albers, who in the United States transformed her study of Pre-Columbian crafts into an individual art practice.

In Bergner’s case the usage of vernacular forms and practices was an attempt to create an alternative modernist vocabulary functioning not within aesthetic goods to be enjoyed by the elite, but as utilitarian textile products for everybody to use. Bergner understood textiles as a functional part of a building. For her, domesticity was not something supplemental, added after a building process was complete, but an architectural element in its own right. For her, building was thought from within. This is precisely the ethos Bauhaus education had given its students. In her years of study at the end of the 1920s, the weaving department, as with other previously mentioned Bauhaus workshops, was increasingly becoming a collective endeavor. New materials were tested and integrated into interior designs—as in the Bernau Union school project, where a tapestry by Anni Albers made use of new materials for acoustic dampening. Meyer’s hand-drawn Bauhaus manuscript devotes much attention to the weaving department, and he reproduces by hand some Bergner carpets that have since been lost.18 Still, artists like Bergner remain under-represented in Bauhaus celebrations, as art history focused over the decades on the School’s male masters. As previously mentioned, female students at the Bauhaus were restricted from accessing certain workshops and courses until Meyer’s directorship, an exclusion that has been perpetuated by the disproportionate level of recognition bestowed on male colleagues.

When examining the couple’s work and writings, it is unclear who influenced who. In Mexico they clearly shared an interest in the vernacular, what Meyer called “folklore.”19 But this interest can be found in Bergner’s work from the start. This interest in the vernacular was also evident in Meyer’s photographic studies of idiomatic architectural typologies, undertaken during the couple’s trips throughout the country. In Mexico there was a resurgent interest in popular and pre-Columbian forms of expression and crafts, which intersected with the couple’s social-revolutionary ideas. Bergner, for her part, was asked by the Departamento de Asuntos Indígenas (Department of Indigenous Affairs) to develop a plan and curriculum for a hand-weaving workshop for the Otomí people in the Ixmiquilpan region of northeast Mexico, whose intended goal was to use regional resources and train local peasants, enabling them to develop home workshops. Unfortunately, the project was never realized. However, despite Bergner being in the end unable to apply her skills in industrial and textile design while in Mexico, it remained a very fruitful time for her, according to the research collective María Montserrat Farías Barba, Marco Santiago Mondragón, and Viridiana Zavala Rivera. She designed the visual identity for a catalogue and exhibition of the Management committee for the Federal Program of School Construction (CAPFCE 1944-46), as well as the graphic layout, statistics and informational maps for an exhibition of existing buildings and future plans for literacy programs held at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Further, in August 1947 the first issue of Construyamos Escuelas, a brochure on new school projects was released, for which Bergner provided the layout, typography, and drawings. One creative procedure is highlighted in Bergner’s work throughout her migratory life—that is, the practice of translation. Bergner’s practice had become a critical art and design practice aiming for liberation, applying socialist ideas to cultural production.

These concerns are also evident in the couple’s later engagement with the revolutionary print collective, Taller de Gráfica Popular (People’s Graphic Workshop, or TGP) in Mexico City. Meyer and Bergner met the graphic artist Leopoldo Méndez at one of the German refugee events held at the Heinrich Heine Culture Club in Mexico City: as Bergner states, they remained friends even after Meyer’s death in 1954. When in 1943, Meyer became the editor of El libro negro del terror nazi en Europa (The Black Book of Nazi Terror in Europe), published by the Austrian/German publishing house el libro libre in Mexico City, he and Bergner asked Méndez to produce prints for the anti-fascist publication, including a linocut portrait of Antonio Gramsci, and a graphic depicting the deportation of the dead—one of the first works to expose the terror of the concentration camps.

Leopoldo Méndez, Luis Arenal, and American-born Pablo O'Higgins, founders of the TGP in 1937, had been active in post-revolutionary cultural missions initiated by the Ministry of Education, which sent educators and activists throughout the Mexican countryside to teach the rural population reading and writing and help solve the most urgent social and economic problems. In opposition to such local engagements, the post-revolutionary muralist movement consisted of individual artists lacking any formal organization, who had worked mainly inside government buildings. During the 1930s, works by muralists such as Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros had been purchased by collectors from the United States, but their mural works were hardly known to the local population, as Helga Prignitz states in her famous study of the TGP.20 For young politically inclined artists such as Méndez, Arenal, and O'Higgins, to found a collective print workshop in order to reach the Mexican population and to support their struggles was a clear step. Another important part of their concept was to create a local artist organization and, with the establishment of the TGP print workshop, make the means of visual production readily available. The TGP started working in the 1930s for various Cardenist organizations and during this time was engaged in printing campaigns for unions and migrant organizations founded by refugees from the Spanish civil war, German Jewish refugees, and communists. After the end of the Cardenas era began a period of intensive and fruitful cooperation between the TGP and German exile communists Georg and Henny Stibi (from 1943 to 1946) and Meyer and Bergner (until 1949), who helped to initiate the TGP’s publishing house Estampa Mexicana, which published graphic albums featuring members’ work.21 At the TGP, artists like Méndez started with lithography, later working with linocuts so that their graphics would be cheaper and easier to distribute. The workshop, which at its height consisted of a core group of around 40 members, produced both individual and collective work. It also welcomed a number of foreign members. Every graphic produced by workshop members was supported so long as it did not advocate fascism or reactionary politics. The workshop’s posters, illustrations, flyers and calendar sheets incorporated stylistic and iconographic elements derived from Central America’s urban and rural popular culture, as well as quite deliberately adopting pre-Columbian motifs. The graphics were sold cheaply, with the revenue generated used to support labor movements and literacy campaigns in Mexico, as well as liberation movements in Central and South America.22

Paul Klee, Carpet, 1927.
Hans-Willem Snoeck, Brooklyn, New York, photo © Edward Watkins.

Lena Bergner Meyer, loom drawings, late 1930s, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau.

Photo collection representing handicrafts of local ethnic groups collected in the Soviet Union by Lena Bergner.
Found at Hannes Meyer estate at the German Architecture Museum (DAM) Frankfurt am Main.

Album page including a photo of workers huts by Hannes Meyer, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau.

The Black Book of Nazi Terror in Europe edited and designed by Hannes Meyer and illustrated by TGP artists like Gabriel Fernández Ledesman.

From 1942 onwards, Meyer and Bergner worked together with the TGP on publications, anti-fascist exhibitions, prints, and leaflets for workers and Indigenous groups. Together with TGP members they edited and designed the famous Twelve Years of Our Collective Work anniversary publication.23 With Estampa Mexicana, the couple wanted to make the TGP accessible to artists internationally. The Afro-American artists Elizabeth Catlett, for example, came to participate in a TGP summer workshop and stayed in Mexico City, becoming a prominent member of the group.

The collective working method, which was one of the principles of the TGP, enabled art to be “[a] manifest and medium of a collective society,” as Meyer had formulated it his foundational text “bauhaus and society.” The TGP workshop implicitly contested the individualism inherent in many of modernism’s artistic movements, positing an alternative model of visual production, a new kind popular art for “the missing people, le peuple qui manque.” Before returning to Switzerland in 1949, Meyer spoke at an exhibition opening, making the following statement:

“We volunteers at Estampa Mexicana, who have the task of promoting the TGP works in the USA and Europe, are witnesses of a clash … with abstract art and with surrealism, which continues to dominate the exhibitions in those countries. … In a European environment, our group of artists would be a very strange phenomenon. It would also be strange to find there a collective group of artists who for 10 years had resisted individualizing tendencies despite the difficult economic and political situation. … Therefore, it seems to me that my friends deserve the full attention of the revolutionary parts of the Mexican people.”

Migration to Mexico offered Bergner and Meyer the possibility to articulate their relation to art and politics anew. Numerous photographs of pre-colonial and vernacular architecture can be found in their respective estates, ranging from documentation of simple huts to prehistoric ruins such as the sun pyramid of Teotihuacán, as well as weaving techniques and manual looms. In the collective work of the TGP, in Amerindian art, vernacular building practices, and the communal way of life witnessed in indigenous communities, they were witnesses to the collective spirit Meyer had once aimed to implement at the Bauhaus. They ended up working in the small self-organized workshop of an artist collective, using reproducible media and simple forms of distribution to intervene within the existing visual culture, generating a new vocabulary of solidarity.

Meyer’s engagement with the TGP was also one indication of his rejection by Mexico’s architectural institutions. He was employed by the state apparatus for only a short period and had never been successful nor accepted. In the last years of their period in Mexico the couple no longer served—as artist engineers—either a government system or the newest technologies. Rather, they worked collaboratively and in solidarity with others supportive of international solidarity work. This unexpected turn (by a functionalist) approaches the understanding of the proletarian artists Meyer described in a Mexican magazine “as an artist that lives and works with the people.” Bergner’s work life in Mexico also opens up an alternate perspective on modernism, which is usually interpreted through opposing terms—premodern and modern aesthetics, abstraction and figuration, materiality and mediality. Her work suggests the queering of these binaries as well as a queering of a system of immanent work—as the promotion of the Bauhaus figure of the artist-engineer previously suggested. Finally, the reading of vernacular and popular cultures that was such an important influence for Bergner at the Bauhaus turned from studies of patterns and techniques, later translated into a modernist weaving aesthetics, into a concern to reach out and work together with others: to become a proletarian artist. The transcultural encounter had finally become political.

The twelve years of our collective work publication was edited by Hannes Meyer and designed by Lena Bergner.

Together with Leopoldo Ménddz, founding member of TGP, Bergner and Meyer published several books of his work.

Elizabeth Catlett, an Afro-American civil rights and feminist activist, became a member of the TGP after she visited the summer workshops of TGP strongly supported by Bergner and Meyer.

Drawings of the BONAMPAK by TGP artists are used not to claim an archeological site but to understand collectivity as a transhistorical.

  • 1 Philipp Oswalt published two books on this subject in 2019: Hannes Meyers neue Bauhaus-Lehre with Bauwelt Fundamente (Walter De Gruyter GmbH, Munich), and with Thomas Flier: Hannes Meyer. Im Streit der Deutungen. Spector Books, Leipzig.
  • 2 In contrast to many other reform schools of its time, the Bauhaus was from the outset an internationally oriented school. Several artists of the avant-garde who taught there would not have been considered by Germany’s nationally oriented art academies or arts and crafts schools. The radical changes brought about by the Weimar School’s program, initiated by Walter Gropius, were possible due to the political changes of 1918/19: the November Revolution, the end of the monarchy, and the foundation of the Republic. Gropius was also a leading member of the Arbeitsrat der Künste (Soviet of the Arts) in Berlin. See Marcel Bois: “The Art!—That’s one Thing! When it’s there”: On the History of the Arbeitsrat für Kunst in the Early Weimar Republic, (29.04.2020).
  • 3 Translated from the German by P. Morton Shand. From: The New Architecture and the Bauhaus. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1965.
  • 4 Idem.
  • 5 The perpetual reorientation and readjustment of the curriculum during the 14 years of its existence contributed to widespread international awareness of the Bauhaus, since it created a physical place for modernism’s most diverse ideas. Students from as far away as Japan participated in an experimental manner, and took this experience with them, either to their country of origin or a new locale necessitated by the political disorder occasioning the School’s closure.
  • 6 Planned as a quarterly journal, 14 issues were produced; eleven were published between 1926 and 1929 under Walter Gropius and Hannes Meyer, and three in 1931 under the directorship of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
  • 7 Hannes Meyer: “Die Neue Welt” (The New World), translated from the German by D.Q. Stephenson. In: Hannes Meyer, Buildings, Projects, and Writings, Arthur Niggli Ltd., Teufen 1965.
  • 8 László Moholy-Nagy: Malerei, Fotografie, Film, Lars Müller Verlag, Zurich 2018 (originally published in 1925), p. 113.
  • 9 Photography and film were until then only an extra-curricular activity connected to the couple Lucia and László Moholy-Nagy, who possessed a dark room in their master house.
  • 10 On this topic see: Robin Schuldenfrei: Luxury and Modernism: Architecture and the Object in Germany 1900–1933. Princeton University Press, Princeton 2018; and Jeffrey Saletnik and Robin Schuldenfrei (eds.): Bauhaus Construct: Fashioning Identity, Discourse and Modernism. Routledge, London and New York 2009.
  • 11 Meyer: “Die Neue Welt” (The New World).
  • 12 In the exhibitions in Moscow, Berlin, and Berne we displayed three linoleum cut prints from 1925, taken from Hannes Meyer’s Co-op series, which includes sketches, prints, photographs, and writings. These reflect the design of several didactic vitrines and the so-called co-op theater play. Vitrines and theater piece had been developed for the Swiss Konsum Verein presentation at the internationale ausstellung des genossenschaftswesens und der sozialen wohlfahrtspflege (e·i·c·o·s) (international exhibition of coop organization and social wellfare) in Gent in 1924. The theatre play—a series of tableau vivants—was developed by Meyer together with the Swiss actor Jean Bard. The Co-op vitrines and the Co-op theater play presented the difference between a capitalist and a socialist coop economy.
  • 13 In 1942 Meyer published the article “La Realidad Sovietica: Los Arquitectos Sovieticos” (Soviet Reality: The Architects) in the Mexican magazine Arquitectura, republished in edited form in the American magazine Task in the same year. Of the material from his estate, these are the only articles about Soviet architecture by Meyer himself. Publication in the United States was probably only possible due to the American and Soviet alliance. The article’s illustrations were taken from the photo book Moscow under Reconstruction. Designed by avant-gardists Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, the book presents a glorious image of the USSR, portraying the results of the Socialist Realisms demands on the new parts of Moscow, after the government had rejected the avant-garde experimentation in the city planning. Moscow under Reconstruction was published in 1938 while Meyer was in Switzerland, and a copy resides in his private collection.
  • 14 See Anja Guttenberger: Praised, Sentenced, Forgotten, Rediscovered. 62 Members of the Bauhaus in the Land of the Soviets. Interview with Astrid Volpert, (29.04.2020).
  • 15 Through the initiative of historians such as Tatiana Efrussi, Thomas Flierl, Raquel Franklin, Phlipp Oswalt, and Daniel Talesnik, new light has been shed on Meyer’s critical role at the Bauhaus, in the Soviet Union, and in Mexico.
  • 16 With a new sculptural work, the Berlin artist Alice Creischer questions communist ideals with her installation about Philipp Tolziner, who, after surviving the gulag, worked in Perm and Moscow as an architect. There he began to build up a private Bauhaus archive, which is now housed in the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin, but is still little researched.
  • 17 The artist Wendelien van Oldenborgh presented the results of her research on a new film project concerning the life of Bauhaus graduate Lotte Stam-Beese, who after implementing her architectural ideas in Orsk left the Soviet Union for the Netherlands in 1935, fleeing the Stalinist terror. She became known for her work on the reconstruction of Rotterdam after the Second World War. The theorist Doreen Mende worked with the estate of Konrad Püschel and followed his work in the GDR and North Korea, asking the question: how can we rethink socialist internationalism and its specific geopolitics from a contemporary perspective. The theorist Adrian Rifkin reflects on Hannes Meyer’s social and political stance in a new article for the online journal.
  • 18 See also: Patrick Rössler and Elizabeth Otto: Frauen am Bauhaus. Wegweisende Künstlerinnen der Moderne, Knesebeck, München 2019; Magdalena Droste and Manfred Ludewig (eds.): Das Bauhaus webt. Die Textilwerkstatt am Bauhaus, G & H Verlag, Berlin 1998; and Sigrid Weltge Wortmann: Bauhaus-Textilien. Kunst und Künstlerinnen der Webwerkstatt, Edition Stemmle, Schaffhausen 1997.
  • 19 As Meyer stated: “In all the Russian, Swiss and Mexican years, one thing had been preoccupying us very much that in the Bauhaus we never treated: FOLKLORE.”
  • 20 Helga Prignitz-Poda: TGP – Ein Grafiker-Kollektiv in Mexico von 1937–1977, Seitz, Berlin 1981.
  • 21 Georg Stibi headed La Estampa Méxicana, the publishing house of the Mexican artists’ association Taller de Gráfica Popular from 1943 to 1946. His and Meyers migratory created some diverging parallels. From 1932 Stibi was a correspondent of the KPD central organ Die Rote Fahne in the Soviet Union meanwhile Meyer started to work in Moscow. From 1937 to 1939 Stibi took part in the Spanish Civil War and in1941 he emigrated to Mexico, where he joined the Movement Free Germany (BFD) and the Heinrich Heine Club, where he became friends with Meyer. In May 1946 Stibi returned to the eastern part of Berlin and joined the SED and after the war became shortly the head of the government’s Office of Information. The same year in 1949 when Hannes Meyer and Lena Bergner returned to Switzerland impoverished. Several albums of the “Estampa Mexicana” travelled with the Stibi’s and the Meyer’s to Cold War Europe. TGP graphic exhibitions were organized by Stibi in post-war East Berlin and by Meyer and Bergner in Zurich. In 1954 Hannes Meyer died in Crossifisso di Savosa, Ticino at a time when Georg Stibi started to work in the editorial office of the Neues Deutschland, of which he became the editor-in-chief and afterwards GDR ambassador in Romania and in Czechoslovakia. Finally, from 1961 to 1974 Georg Stibi was Deputy Foreign Minister of the GDR.
  • 22 See Prignitz-Poda: TGP.
  • 23 Taller de Gráfica Popular, 12 años de creación artística, La Estampa Mexicana, México 1948.
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Der CIAM-Protest — Von Moskau zur Patris II (1932)

Entgegen allen internationalen Erwartungen – schließlich waren Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Erich Mendelsohn und andere eingeladen – befand sich am 29. Februar 1932 kein moderner Architekt unter den Hauptpreisträgern der ersten Wettbewerbsrunde für den Palast der Sowjets in Moskau. → more

Die Sozialisierung des Wissens und das Streben nach Deutungsmacht — Lena Bergners Transfer der Isotype nach Mexiko

Lena Bergner wird normalerweise als am Bauhaus ausgebildete Textilgestalterin charakterisiert. In ihrem zehnjährigen Exil in Mexiko widmete sie sich allerdings der grafischen Gestaltung, fast ausschließlich für antifaschistische Projekte. Eine Ausnahme sind ihre weitestgehend unbekannten Leistungen im Bereich der visuellen Kommunikation für das mexikanische Schulbaukomitee. Hier verwendete sie Otto Neuraths „Wiener Methode der Bildstatistik“ (Isotype). Dieser Text erörtert den Transfer der Isotype von Europa nach Mexiko am Beispiel von Bergner und ihren möglichen Berührungspunkten mit Neuraths bildpädagogischen Methode und untersucht, wie sich die Isotype von propagandistischen visuellen Kommunikationsformen abgrenzt. → more

Praised, Sentenced, Forgotten, Rediscovered — 62 Members of the Bauhaus in the Land of the Soviets

In this interview with Astrid Volpert, she reviews her decades of research on Bauhäusler who emigrated to the SU and makes it clear that there were far more than seven of them heading east. Persons traveling from the Bauhaus to Russia were from eleven countries. They belonged to various denominations—there were Protestants and Catholics, Jews and atheists. Of the 15 women and 47 men, only 21 of them were members of communist parties. → more

The Moscow Bauhaus Exhibition Catalogue (1931)

When Hannes Meyer had emigrated to the Soviet Union in 1930, one of the first things he did was organizing an exhibition about “his” Bauhaus. As early as in February 1931 Meyer had the exhibition Bauhaus Dessau. Period of Hannes Meyer’s directorship. 1928-1930 already ready to receive the Moscow public. It was shown at the renown State Museum of New Western Art. This is the first English translation of the exhibition catalogue. → more

After the Ball — Hannes Meyer Presenting the Bauhaus in Moscow

Hannes Meyer arrived in the USSR just a couple of months after being dismissed from his position as Bauhaus director in October 1930. These months were filled with attempts by Meyer and his supporters to protest this decision through all possible means: media campaigns, open letters, student demonstration and court trials. After arriving in Moscow, Meyer carried on the fight against his unfair dismissal. → more

From Recognition to Rejection — Hannes Meyer and the Reception of the Bauhaus in the Soviet Union

The history of the Stalinist critique of the Bauhaus and Hannes Meyer has two chapters. The first chapter spans the time from 1929 to the Architects’ Congress in the Soviet Union in 1937; the second consists in the condemnation of the Bauhaus in the GDR that took place on the trip by East German architects to Moscow in spring of 1950. This text tells the story of the first chapter. → more

Meyer’s Russia, or the Land that Never Was

It is quite hard to know where to start with Hannes Meyer in Moscow. It’s hard because, while there is plenty of documentation on him and his team in the Bauhaus Brigade—as well as other Western designers and architects (of these, Ernst May is at least as significant as Meyer, as is the Dutch designer Mart Stam, and each went on to produce more substantial work than Meyer after their respective Russian episodes)—the legacy of his work there presents certain difficulties in evaluating. → more

Moving Away to the Other End of the World — Reflections on the Letters Between Tibor Weiner and Hannes Meyer from the DAM Archive

This article examines the correspondence between a teacher (Hannes Meyer) and his former student (Tibor Weiner), who met at the Bauhaus in Dessau, going on to live for a period in the Soviet Union. Each migrated to Latin America shortly before the outbreak of World War Two, and returned to Europe in the late 1940s. The surviving letters between Meyer and Weiner, preserved in the DAM Archive in Frankfurt am Main, are not only a testimony of comradeship but also a window into some key moments in the first half of the twentieth century. → more

●Artists Work
Bauhaus in Russia — Haunted Houses

The following material was produced during the photographic workshop Bauhaus in Russia: Haunted houses, which took place in the framework of the exhibition bauhaus imaginista. Moving Away: The Internationalist Architect at the museum of contemporary art Garage in Moscow. Through an open-call we invited participants from several Russian cities to take part in the visual research on both the visible and invisible legacies of the “bauhauslers”. → more

●Artist Work
To Philipp Tolziner

For the exhibition bauhaus imaginista: Moving Away. The Internationalist Architect at Garage Contemporary Museum of Art, the contemporary artist Alice Creischer has been invited to respond to the personal archive of Bauhaus architect Philipp Tolziner. She produced reading of material relating to the architect’s socialist backgrounds and his work in the Soviet Union.  → more

●Artist Work
Sketch One: Lotte and Hermina — Script-Reading and Screening by Wendelien van Oldenborgh

The script that the artist Wendelin van Oldenborgh created for bauhaus imaginista: Moving Away. The Internationalist Architect as a public moment is an insight into the development of her larger film project which will premiere as a contribution to the bauhaus imaginista exhibition at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, March 2019. It features archive material around the personas Lotte Beese and Hannes Meyer, Hermine Huiswoud and Langston Hughes. → more

Hamhŭng’s Two Orphans (To Konrad Püschel) — East German Internationalism in North-Korea Emerging through a Chronopolitical Lens

Doreen Mende’s work Hamhung’s Two Orphans, which borrows its title from a chapter of the cine-essay Coréennes (1959) by Chris Marker, proposes to trace the transformation of the Bauhaus’s relevance from its prewar internationalist modernity into elements of the GDR’s socialist internationalism when architecture operated as a state-crafting instrument during the global Cold War. → more

“All artists interlock!” — How Bauhäuslers created the “New Germany” and promoted the national economy

The Third Reich was in ruins, the surrender not yet signed. An architect painstakingly working his way through the debris to the Schöneberg town hall found a sign on the door of the building authority with his name. Appointed to office by the German Communist Party (KPD), city counselor Hans Scharoun immediately looked around for his people: “I’ve looked everywhere for you, where are you? Here we go!” → more

The “School in the Woods” as a Socio-pedagogical Ideal — Functional Analyses and Photographs by Peterhans

The building theory classes at the Bauhaus focused on imparting a functional understanding of architecture. Building had become a science. As a result, the ADGB Trade Union School was designed logically from the inside out. Walter Peterhans’ photographs of the school images illustrate both the architect’s intentions for the building and the environmental studies conducted by Bauhaus students. → more

●Artist Work
Scenes from the Most Beautiful Campus in Africa — A Film about the Ife Campus

Zvi Efrat, 2019, film stills from the exhibition video projection, 25 min, color, sound, English.
Courtesy of the artist. → more

The Legacy of Arieh Sharon’s Postcolonial Modernist Architecture at the Obafemi Awolowo University Campus in Ile-Ife Nigeria

The significance of Arieh Sharon’s postcolonial modernist architecture at Obafemi Awolowo University Campus at Ile-Ife is multi-dimensional. Built between 1960 and 1978, at first glance the campus core consists of an ensemble of modernist buildings. In this article Bayo Amole examines some of the physical and conceptual characteristics of the campus master plan and core area design in order to illustrate their significance as examples of postcolonial modernist architecture—identifying the most important aspects of their legacy, which has continued to guide the design of the campus as it has developed over the course of more than a half century. → more

Bauhaus Modernism and the Nigerian Connection — The Socio-Political Context of Arieh Sharon and the University Of Ife Design

It should be considered “against the run of play” for a Bauhaus-trained Israeli architect such as Arieh Sharon to have been named designer of the post-independence University of Ife. This paper examines how developments in the socio-political context of Nigeria and international politics—including history and policies in the education sector—“constructed” Sharon’s involvement in the University of Ife design and the spread of Bauhaus modernism to tropical architecture. → more

Nigerian Campus Design — A Juxtaposition of Traditional and Contemporary Architecture

The early to mid-twentieth century saw the International Style and modernism rapidly influence major Nigerian cities and towns, first as a result of colonialism and then independence. Discussing the architecture of two first-generation Nigerian Universities, the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University, this article builds upon the established discourse concerning how architects assimilated the International Style into the tropical climate and sociocultural context of Nigeria. → more

Colonial Architecture in Ile-Ife

The architectural heritage credited to the colonial intervention of the British in Nigeria is a blend of features imported by Europeans accustomed to a temperate climate, mixed with adaptations derived from the principles of modern architecture and concessions to the region’s tropical climate. As such, colonial buildings of this era can be regarded as a hybrid architectural style. → more

The New Culture School for Arts and Design — Launched in 1995

The New Culture School for Arts and Design in Ibadan, Nigeria has involved the development and construction of a space for creative people working in many different media in order to advance their professional proficiency in the fine arts, theater, music, film, photography, design, writing and more. → more

Nation Building through Campus Architecture — Israeli Architects Arieh Sharon and Eldar Sharon’s Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) Campus in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1962–1976

The campus of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Nigeria, the first phase of which was built between 1962 and 1972, is a fascinating example of modernist architecture in Africa. As a case study of Africa’s assimilation of the modern style, its design is intriguing also due to the fact that it was built by Israeli architect Arieh Sharon (1900–1984), aided by his son, Eldar Sharon (1933–1994). → more

Beyond Cement and Iron — Contextualizing Israeli Architecture in Africa

My focus on construction and planning is not incidental. These fields played a crucial role in space-shaping processes during the first decades of the Israeli state, as well as in the construction of the territorial identity of its new citizens. Simultaneously, during the 1960s, the modernist construction projects undertaken in African countries post-independence were also evidence of a desire amongst newly independent African nations for postcolonial national unity. → more

Tropical Architecture / Building Skin

Like the modernist architecture that preceded it, tropical architecture was co-defined with modern bodies and the bodies of the tropics: initially those of colonizers but soon colonized bodies as well. The technologies of tropical architecture, based on a modernist rationalism adapted to tropical climatic conditions, were, in turn, offered as a developmental asset to colonized subjects, especially young people. → more

A Hot Topic — Tropical Architecture and Its Aftermath

Both the tropical architecture discourse in general and British notions of modernism in particular were embedded in larger discussions on climatic and culturally sensitive approaches to building developed within the International Congresses of Modern Architecture (Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne—CIAM) from the 1950s onward—notions rooted in the hygienic and medical discourses of colonial occupation. → more

The Extension Buildings of the ADGB Trade Union School in Bernau — Documents of the Formalism Debate in the GDR

The former ADGB Trade Union School is regarded today as an icon of modern architecture. Designed at the Bauhaus under the direction of Hannes Meyer and Hans Wittwer together with the students of architecture, the building ensemble still stands as a paragon of collective work, reform pedagogical ideas and analytic architecture. Less attention has been paid to the extensions to the school, planned 1949–51 by Georg Waterstradt. These buildings stand as a valuable testimony to the vigor of GDR architecture. The “formalism debate” led to a rejection of Bauhaus architecture, and thus, the set of political-architectural principles exemplified by the Trade Union School. → more

Communistic Functionalist — The Anglophone Reception of Hannes Meyer

Philip Johnson described Hannes Meyer as a “communistic functionalist” whose most notable achievement was to have preceded Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as director of the Bauhaus. The position he assigned to Meyer was reinforced in the Bauhaus Exhibition of 1938 at MoMA. The particular view of the Bauhaus presented at MoMA in 1938 corresponds to the place of Meyer in the historiography of modern architecture in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. The view that Meyer’s work allegedly lacked aesthetic interest, rendering it irrelevant to an Anglophone audience. → more

Selman Selmanagić at the Crossroads of Different Cultures — From Childhood Years in Bosnia to Bauhaus Education and Travels

Selman Selmanagić’s childhood years in Bosnia, on the eve of the First World War, as well as his education in Sarajevo, Ljubljana and at Bauhaus Dessau between the two world wars, together with his work in Palestine and Berlin, shaped his worldview and experience with different cultures and traditions. Throughout his career, he perpetually strove to find contemporary answers for the challenges of the time he was living in. → more

The “Hungarian Bauhaus” — Sándor Bortnyik’s Bauhaus-Inspired Budapest School Műhely 1928–1938

One of the many Hungarians associated with the Bauhaus, painter and graphic designer Sándor Bortnyik (1893-1976) opened his art and design school, Műhely, in Budapest in 1928 to bring the Bauhaus’s sprit and some of its teaching methods into Hungary. Even if Bortnyik’s school did not have the scope of the Bauhaus, it was an efficient experiment in an independent form of institutionalized education in the field of modern graphic design and typography. → more

Biology and Educational Models in the Pacific Southern Cone

The Chilean encounter with second-order cybernetics in the early 1970s was an essential part of the modernization project the state had been promoting since the 1920s, a project which also encompasses the 1945 reform of the architecture school. But if one reviews the history of this project with greater care, one can identify the reform of the new art school of 1928, which was the product of a social movement that began after the First World War, and that was able to implement in the main school of art of the country, a “first year of trial” similar to the methodology of the Bauhaus preliminary course, influenced by the trends of the “Active” or “New” school of the time. → more

For the Faculty of Architecture at METU — Bauhaus was a Promise

“ARCH 101 Basic Design” is the title of the introductory course offered to the first-year students in the METU Faculty of Architecture (Middle East Technical University, Ankara). Since the establishment of the school, this course has been conducted with a very strong Bauhaus impact. → more

From Social Democratic Experiment to Postwar Avant-Gardism — Asger Jorn and the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus

The project bauhaus imaginista would be negligent if it did not address the artist group referenced by its title, the Mouvement Internationale pour un Bauhaus Imaginiste (International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus, or IMIB), founded in 1953 by Danish artist Asger Jorn together with a handful of French and Italian colleagues. Many of the theoretical and artistic positions advocated by the IMIB were developed dialectically in response both to the historical Bauhaus and the reconstitution of a Bauhaus-inspired pedagogical program at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) in Ulm. → more

Letter from Asger Jorn to Max Bill — February 12, 1954

Asger Jorn read of Max Bill’s plans for the new Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm (HfG), a school modeled after the Bauhaus, in the British Architects’ Yearbook 1953, where Bill had placed a promotional article to attract prospective students and teachers. Excited by the possibility of participating in a new democratic pedagogical experiment and in pursuing his interest in fusing art and architecture, he wrote to Bill, inquiring about the role of art at Ulm and expressing his desire to secure a teaching position.

This is a translation of one of the letters Jorn send to Bill. → more

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