When entering the exhibition, I didn’t know where to look first. The minimalistic and geometrical style that is central to the Bauhaus art school – block colour and the contrast of black and white photography – arrests the eye. The Homage to the Bauhaus exhibition expands over three gallery rooms and, drawing on the Kirkland Collection, brings together works of Bauhaus pioneers, artists influenced by their style and over 100 typefaces by First Year Graphic Design students at Nottingham Trent University.
The Bauhaus was open only for a relatively short period from 1919 until its closure 1933, followed by the emigration of key figures. Yet, it has now influenced art for 100 years and its innovative ideas have spread around the world. Central to the exhibition the uniting of works from different decades and regions, shining a light on the impact of the Bauhaus on Japanese, North American and Latin American artists
The Bauhaus was founded to bring together art and craft, the latter being something perceived as lost in the age of rising mass manufacturing. The circular chart displayed at the entrance of the exhibition illustrates the preparatory course of six months that all students had to take before progressing to the study of materials, construction and nature. Something to remember about the Bauhaus style is that while many of the works appear rigid and static in their geometry with their clear lines and block colours, creating them was a very dynamic process. The vinyl for Josef Albers’ Homage to the Square: “Post Autumn” (1963) cites him describing his painting process as spreading “butter over Pumpernickel”. Looking at the painting from the side, vigorous brushwork and layers of oil paint are indeed noticeable. The same dynamic way of working is evident in Arthur Siegel’s Untitled (Light-Motion-Study, 1940). Moving lights forming shaky lines are frozen in a bulb exposure shot onto a gelatine silver print. Siegel is one of the many artists who experimented with abstraction in the medium of photography. As the exhibition shows, stark lighting in photographs was often used to show architectural structures in their industrial context - factories, chimneys, steam pipes, staircases. Other artists chose pictorial objects from the every-day life like cardboard boxes (Klára Langer, 1940s) or an egg abstracted into a white oval on black (Hans Finsler, c. 1925).
The exhibition also allows us to trace the enduring influence of the Bauhaus school on later works of art. Among these is Untitled by Donald Judd (1986). Judd, a member of the Minimalist movement, created a steel and purple Plexiglas sculpture that was made using techniques associated with the Bauhaus. Under the gallery’s lights, it casts an intriguing shadow play both into the cube of the sculpture and onto the white wall behind. The exhibition also features the typographic work of Nottingham Trent students which perfectly captures the Bauhaus style and materiality. It forms the newest chain link of the continual impact of the Bauhaus School and is a bridge into the next 100 years of Bauhaus influence.
Two of my favourite works of the exhibition are Study for Triadic II by Anni Albers and Untitled by Mario Carreño. Anni Albers, who in 1922 was assigned to weaving because she was a woman, went on to beacon the discipline with new materials and designs, transitioning into printmaking after 1963. Her Study for Triadic II from 1969 seems influenced by her textile design background in its pattern repeat of triangles in mesmerising green. Mario Carreño’s Untitled (c. 1953) is compelling because of its texture. The artist uses oil paint and sand on Masonite to create a geometric painting in earth tones. Paired with a passepartout of coarse white canvas and a green frame with visible wood texture, it is a fascinating combination of surfaces and materials in the spirit of the Bauhaus.
This centenary exhibition showcases an impressive collection of rarely seen works that demonstrate the enduring influence of the Bauhaus beyond Europe and across generations.