edited by Oliver Gabet and Anne Monier. Thames & Hudson, May 2018, 264 p. ill. ISBN 9780500021804 (h/c), $50.00.
Reviewed September 2018
The Spirit of the Bauhaus is a richly illustrated English-language catalog of an exhibition held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris in 2016. Its subject is the beloved but short-lived German art school founded by Walter Gropius, which counted among its faculty and students some of the giants of European modernism including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Josef and Anni Albers, Marcel Breuer, and Lyonel Feininger. The objectives of the book are two-fold. The first, as the title suggests, is to discuss the “spirit” of the school—the varied religious and spiritual preoccupations that permeated the place as well as the diverse personalities and art historical influences that gave the school its creative energy. The second is to examine the Bauhaus’ artistic output across a range of mediums, and to trace how the unique forms developed in the school’s workshops have continued to influence contemporary artists working today. Of the two aims of the book, the first is by far the more interesting and makes The Spirit of the Bauhaus a worthwhile contribution to the literature of this well-covered topic.
While not a particularly scholarly work, Nicolas Fox Weber’s “Not Just Lucky Enough to Know Them But to Eat With Them” stands out among the catalog’s essays. Fox Weber’s reminiscences are a unique and welcome contribution, not only because they reveal the important relationship between art and food in a place where the idea of blurring art and life was so deeply rooted, but also because they reanimate a group of artists who have been petrified in the pages of books and the walls of museums over the past eighty years. The funky essence of Bauhaus life is palpable here.
Another essay by Raphaèle Billé, “Series Production at the Bauhaus: Ambition and Reality,” delves into one of the great misunderstandings about the school. Although many Bauhaus artists extolled the virtue of simple, well-designed mass-market objects, the Bauhaus was not, despite common assumptions, founded as a production studio. It was first and foremost meant to be a school modeled after the medieval guild system. Over time, prototypes and small-batch series were produced—particularly in the lighting and textile workshops—but just a few dozen copies of each item were typically made. Billé reminds readers that while Bauhaus objects evoke the spirit of factory production with their sleek designs, they were almost always bespoke.
The Spirit of the Bauhaus is a good addition to any library collection. While readers may be able to note that the text has been translated from the French in some cases, it is written in clear and straightforward prose throughout, making it suitable for an undergraduate audience. The over three hundred high-quality images—including reproductions of many archival photographs—makes the text a useful resource for students and scholars of this important artistic movement.