Since its creation in 1960 the Bauhaus-Archiv, a research center that conserves the largest existing collection of archives of Bauhäusler, has been the principal custodian of the school’s legacy. In addition, in 1979, as Museum für Gestaltung it became an institution with a dissemination purpose, tasked to build bridges between the academic world and the imperatives of the cultural policies of the Federal Republic of Germany or the urban marketing strategies of Berlin. Reception of the Bauhaus has in large measure owed to exhibitions and catalogs produced by the Bauhaus-Archiv. Thus the excitement surrounding the exhibition ‘Original Bauhaus,’ tardily presented at the Berlinische Galerie as the official closing of the school’s resounding centenary.
Contrary to what the title might suggest, the curator/editor does not take us back to the Bauhaus’s origins, but traces the reproducibility and mutability of its concepts, models, and products, upholding them as proof of a modernity that has fostered successive appropriations. The interplay of originals, interpretations, and appropriations is analyzed in 14 cases, one for each year of the school’s existence.
The theme is full of potential. For example, today it seems obvious to us that the furniture prototypes conceived for mass production should have become modern classics. They have been copied ad nauseum, making ‘Bauhaus style’ a commonplace.
But if the reproducibility of the artifacts designed in Weimar and Dessau was part of the institution’s program, so was that of the model architect incarnated by Mies van der Rohe, who elevated the imitation of masters and works to the category of didactic tenet during his time at the helm of the school. It is precisely in the reproduction and appropriation of the Bauhaus didactic model that the key to the Bauhau’s global reach lies. The ideas and images birthed at the school spread far and wide through the most diverse channels and media, to the extent of producing true monsters. A particularly grotesque one is by Helga Lutz and Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck: the Landhaus Ilse in Burbach (1924), a country house which was a folksy version of the Haus am Horn that Georg Muche had built for the first Bauhaus exhibition hardly a year before. The case shows that cultural appropriations of the Bauhaus and its models were not just a postwar phenomenon.
The interplay of themes and variations explored by the show reaches ludic heights in a workshop where visitors are invited to do Bauhaus exercises. The experience is given space in the catalog and in an Übungsbuch where Friederike Holländer and Nina Wiedemeyer have reconstructed 50 drills developed for the Vorkurs, the foundation course that was the school’s main pedagogical innovation.
It was worth the wait. The centennial has seen many a disappointment, but the two publications accompanying ‘Original Bauhaus’ are highly original, evocative, and consistent in content, suggesting perhaps that the wheel of Bauhaus appropriations will continue to turn.