In memory of Marion von Osten (1963–2020)

© Wolfgang Stahr

When Marion von Osten invited more than fifty people from Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Great Britain, Nigeria, India, Israel, and the United States—a transnational group of artists, curators, architects, historians, activists, authors, editors, project managers, translators, members of the Goethe-Institut and Bauhaus researchers—to stand with her and co-curator Grant Watson onstage at the opening ceremony of the exhibition bauhaus imaginista at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in March 2019, it was a scene that symbolized the way she worked and the kind of person she was.

Like hardly anyone else, she succeeded in transforming a lighthouse project for the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus—in itself an important undertaking in the context of international cultural policy—into an investigation of the transcultural intertwining of the Bauhaus; a starting point for conversations across continents that gave space to polyphonic and controversial readings. She stood for the conviction that modernity, if it wants to be relevant for the present, can only be told in its complicated transcultural connections.

The fact that this pursuit intrinsically demanded other types of knowledge in order to offer alternatives to Western narratives drove von Osten’s curiosity. Not infrequently, speaking of the historical resonance of the Bauhaus created a Resonanzraum, a place to think about current upheavals and social hardships, as occurred in São Paulo on the eve of Brazil’s most recent presidential election. As cleverly researched and inspiringly narrated as the suite of exhibitions that came together in Berlin was, what von Osten was primarily concerned with was making possible this sort of space, one where shared thinking and speaking, imagination and experiment, criticism and consideration of difference could occur. She was deeply convinced that such events contribute to the empowerment of social and cultural movements.

The creation of such thought spaces defined her way of working, the only way she could create enthusiasm around the globe for the Bauhaus as an open unfinished project, and all those who were lucky enough to be involved in this project shall remember many similar moments. They will also remember that maneuvering this overly complex research and exhibition project—which involved many different people, institutions, initiatives, museums, and collections—was the sort of accomplishment only an empathetic and passionate person like Marion could achieve.

Above all, however, Marion von Osten’s colleagues remember her generosity, the warmth and pleasure of thinking and acting together with her, an activity she was able to instigate like few others. Even though bauhaus imaginista—a reference to the Mouvement international pour un Bauhaus imaginiste of the 1950s—was primarily concerned with the empowerment of the imagination, it is infinitely difficult to imagine continuing the transcultural conversations she began without her.

We miss her very much and are grateful for the time we were allowed to spend with her.

For the team of bauhaus imaginista:

Regina Bittner, Bauhaus Kooperation Berlin Dessau Weimar
Bernd Scherer, Haus der Kulturen der Welt
Johannes Ebert, Goethe-Institut



Some of my fondest memories of Marion go back to the beginning of our collaboration, in 2016. Every couple of weeks I would travel to Berlin and we would spend two or three days together figuring out the conceptual framework for bauhaus imaginista (as it was later called). These sessions were the times when Marion’s creative and artistic side came to the fore, and I can clearly recall her excitement, as she put an image of a Bauhaus object that she loved on the table or jumped to the bookshelf to share a reference. While she sometimes joked that we were like kids playing, she always approached the work with a intense seriousness. Upon returning the next day, I might find she had been reconsidering things overnight, and wanted to interrogate a decision, insisting that we get it right, whatever the effort. Then, if there was a break-through, we would go for a special lunch at the RioGrande Restaurant by the River Spree and Marion would order a glass of wine to celebrate, as always ready to savour a victory and enjoy herself.

Once the concept had been agreed, we travelled together to China, Japan, Morocco, Russia, the US, Brazil and the UK, and I was able to see how Marion operated in these vastly different contexts. Several things stand out. First to mention was her capacity for friendship – the way that she expressed such genuine enthusiasm for making new acquaintances or reuniting with old ones made people feel truly valued, and inspired them to take part in the project. This was the glue that held the bauhaus imaginista network together.

I also remember her courage and ability to act decisively in the moment. In one situation, at the opening of the China Design Museum, as part of a choreography that we didn’t fully understand, Marion was suddenly handed the mike in front of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people. Quick as a flash she shouted – ‘bauhaus imaginista here we come!’ to approving cheers from the crowd. As a large and complicated project with many partners, we also benefited from her political savvy, the fact that she was keenly aware of the power relations in any given situation. In this respect, she was also a clever negotiator. She could be charming and persuasive, but was willing to have a blazing row when necessary, then quickly move on.

While bauhaus imaginista was substantially about exploring transcultural histories, for Marion this was far from an academic exercise. Instead she wished to reflect on why these histories mattered in the present. She was very sincere, for example, in a commitment to foregrouding the socialist, internationalist and antinationalist aspects of the Bauhaus, with a particular attention given to the work of Hannes Meyer, and to redress past imbalances. Coupled with this was a consistent feminist reading of the material. At one point she put her foot down, refusing to have Lena Bergner take her husband Hannes Meyer’s name in our texts, insisting on the autonomy of her practice. Marion was also able to take the leap and be guided through the research by intuition. For example, in Brazil, where our desire to look at how Brazilian modernism appropriated from popular, indigenous and Afro-Brazilian sources, was stalled by the lack of an immediate Bauhaus connection, Marion was convinced we would find one. . . and we did.

Hearing of Marion’s passing was a real shock and it is difficult to absorb the loss of someone so vividly present in our memory and imagination. The outpouring that has followed from this, including the many messages I received from people in the bauhaus imaginista network from all over the world, reflects the way she touched so many people, including myself. Marion was someone who knew that her work was important. She was able to communicate this conviction and make things happen, often on an extraordinary scale, and consequently what she was able to achieve will go on to be an important reference, and inspiration for future generations.

Grant Watson