Publishing Modernism: The Bauhaus in Print

July 25 – October 28, 2011

East Building Ground Level, Library

THIS EXHIBITION IS NO LONGER ON VIEW AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY.

Overview: How is it that an art school that was open for a mere 14 years—during which time it suffered chronic financial shortfalls, survived a turbulent political situation, claimed just 33 faculty members, and graduated only about 1,250 students—came to have such a lasting impression on modern design and art education? Yet despite these difficulties (and more), the Bauhaus did precisely that. The personalities involved, some of the leading lights of modernism, surely had much to do with so outsize an influence, as did the school's international focus and the wide dispersal of the staff and student body upon its dissolution. Even more, however, it was the publications the Bauhaus produced that proved vital in spreading its influence; these same publications play a significant role in forming our contemporary cultural image of the school.

This exhibition, drawn from the rare book collection of the National Gallery of Art Library, highlights the works published by the Bauhaus and illustrates how changes in its printing activities reflect the evolution of the school. From a traditional printing shop focused on artists' woodcuts, engravings, and lithographs, to a typography workshop that would ultimately serve as part of an advertising department, we see the growth of the school along with its leading role in the advancement of modernism.

The Bauhaus was founded in Weimar, Germany, in 1919 when Walter Gropius took leadership of both the city's fine art academy and its school of applied arts, and merged them. The school's idealistic beginnings and mission of uniting fine art theory with traditional artisan craft skills is seen in its manifesto, featuring Lyonel Feininger's Cathedral woodcut on the cover. The school's early expressionist period is represented by the printing workshop's graphic portfolios as well as page designs and typography developed for outside publications. A 1923 exhibition catalogue designed by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Herbert Bayer marks a turning point in the mission of the school when, under a constructivist influence, the curriculum was reoriented to marry art with technology.

The ensuing establishment of the Bauhaus Verlag, a commercial publishing venture, and the fact that the 1923 catalogue was printed by machine—rather than in the school's own printing workshop—marks this change in course. This venture proved financially unsustainable, but Albert Langen Verlag of Munich commercially published the series of books called the Bauhausbücher between 1925 and 1930, when the school was moved to Dessau and the printing workshop was replaced by a typography course. Part self-promotion, part modern aesthetics, part educational theory, and part survey of the avant-garde, the books weave an intricate history of the school and the evolution of the curriculum. Beyond this, however, the books themselves demonstrate the very principles that the Bauhaus strove for in the period from 1923 to 1928. Fully embracing technology, the designs for these books reflect thoroughly modern sensibilities with aggressive headings, large numerals, heavy rules, vertical and diagonal text, and bold rather than italic type for emphasis. The final conversion of the Bauhaus into an architectural academy supplemented by an advertising department under the direction of Hannes Meyer can be seen in the journal published from 1926 to 1931. Publishing activities were effectively ended as typography was formally integrated into the advertising department under Mies van der Rohe.

Organization: Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

Image: Theo van Doesburg, 1883–1931, Grundbegriffe der neuen gestaltenden Kunst, Münich, 1925, National Gallery of Art Library, David K. E. Bruce Fund