The Bauhaus, Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago

by Hans M. Wingler, translated by Wolfgang Jabs, translated by Basil Gilbert
MIT, 696, 778 illustrations pp., $55.00

Painting, Photography, Film

by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, translated by Janet Seligman
MIT (A Bauhaus Book), 160 pp., $7.95

Principles of Neo-Plastic Art

by Theo Van Doesburg, translated by Janet Seligman, with an Introduction by Hans M. Wingler, Postscript by H.L.C. Jaffé
New York Graphic Society, 73, 30 illustrations, some color pp., $7.50

Graphic Work from the Bauhaus

by Hans M. Wingler, translated by Gerald Onn
New York Graphic Society, 168, 84 illustrations, some color pp., $12.50

Painters of the Bauhaus

by Eberhard Roters
Praeger, 216, 92 plates (33 in color) 12 drawings, with a Bibliography pp., $18.5

Walter Gropius
Walter Gropius; drawing by David Levine

Hans Wingler’s magnificent book The Bauhaus begins with two illustrated flyleaves. Both are nearly blank. On the left, just slightly off center and near the bottom, is a sketchy drawing by Paul Klee in facsimile. It illustrates the “Idea and Structure” of the Bauhaus, the pioneering school of design founded by Gropius in 1919. In the middle with a circle around them are the words Bau und Bühne—Building and Theater. Round this circle is a seven-pointed star with each of the crafts or media taught in the various workshops. Circumscribing this star is another circle in which is placed the famous Foundation Course or “Vorkurs” which was the Bauhaus’s distinctive contribution to art pedagogy. An elaborate, perhaps a little overformalized, symbol. At the bottom however (which we had not noticed as we read the Bauhaus program) a small pedestal is drawn. From here a dotted axis goes through the circles to two small pennants placed on top. Klee’s device turns a diagram (to be read like a map) into an illusionistic rendering of a globe. The Bauhaus becomes more than a curriculum of study but at once a work of art and a world in itself.

The other flyleaf is even whiter. Near the bottom margin is a text or motto by Mies van der Rohe: “THE BAUHAUS WAS AN IDEA.”

The Bauhaus was not an institution with a clear program; it was an idea, and Gropius formulated this idea with great precision. The fact that it was an idea, I think, is the cause of this enormous influence the Bauhaus had on every progressive school around the globe. You cannot do that with organization, you cannot do that with propaganda, only an idea spreads so far.

The two flysheets, whose casualness and modesty are of course a typographic luxury of considerable refinement, illustrate in a nutshell the difficulties facing anyone who wants to understand the Bauhaus as it is today, a self-perpetuating legend with an “organization” and “propaganda” apparatus unparalleled in art education. One is overwhelmed by the sheer style of the 50th anniversary exhibition1 where the reality of the disparate and fragile relationship between students and teachers disappears behind the façade of an immaculate presentation. The present volume of documents is a vast anthology from the Darmstadt archive, with everything from the Foundation Manifesto down almost to the petty cash record all woven together into a sophisticated and unbroken visual graphic layout—a veritable “gesamtkunstwerk” of the book.

All these manifestations are typically “Bauhaus”: Klee’s shifting focus between symbol and illusion, Mies van der Rohe’s metaphysical claims behind the resounding phrase, and everywhere the widest possible stylistic integration of diverse material. Nowhere is the power of this rhetorical technique better displayed in action than in the books they themselves published, the series of Bauhausbücher. The blank page was considered as an artistic arena in its own right and…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.