Sunday, 8 July 2012

Bauhaus: Art as Life, Barbican Art Gallery, London

This was my first trip to a show in the Barbican on my own since I lost my sight.  I called the Box Office and they explained what they could offer the visually impaired community.  One of the options was a curator guided visit and this could be arranged with some notice depending on interests and requirements.

With an exchange of emails with Rebecca Oliver, I got a phone call from Corinna Gardner and discussed what I could see and where my interests lay.  I mentioned items I had enjoyed and written about in the blog such as the Zoffany theatre paintings and the sharp lines in Gerhard Richter and also that I had been through parts of Germany in the past and was not unfamiliar with the Bauhaus movement.  I casually mentioned to some friends that I was going and they wondered how I was going to get there.  I decided to do a reconnaissance trip the day before.  ( )

On 4th July I arrived at the Barbican Gallery for my tour and Leila Hasham, assistant curator was there to take me round the gallery.  With some 400 items of art, film, photo, design, textile, print, books etc there is a lot to do.  I indicated that I would appreciate Leila’s choice (curators always have interesting tales as they have to do a lot of the research, negotiations and liaisons with authorities) and this is apparent in the end result.

I first went to Weimar in 1979 and visited the city again in the 1980s.  I had been to both Goethe and Schiller houses as well as some of the museums and galleries.  I still have a hardback guidebook for Weimar from the former East Germany (DDR), although I had only been driven through Dessau.  I had, however, been to Berlin often and had studied in Munich. 

My peripheral vision allows me to see shapes and Bauhaus is ideal.  So, if you can make out triangles, cubes, circles and geometry, then Bauhaus may be a genuine pleasure.  I commented on how the Picasso show, Henry Moore’s sculpture and the paintings of Bacon and Sutherland were lost on me.  My colour perception is variable and though I could make out the blue and even reds, I failed to pick up on some yellow on a parchment background.  The lighting was appropriate and the lines in a Sitten sculpture were very clear in my mind, even though it was white on white.  It had a Robert Adam effect that I noted in Osterley House.

White on white sculpture
Bauhaus: Art as Life (3 May – 12 August, 2012), Barbican Art Gallery, London
© Luke Hayes

Many of the drawings were accessible and though some objects were cordoned, most could be approached close up.  I was also struck by a setting where the Bauhaus furniture was arranged with a backdrop of the Gropius study office view through perpendicular windows.  I commented to Leila that in Edinburgh there was an installation of Rennie McIntosh furniture against a backdrop of Mrs Cranston’s Tea Shop in Glasgow.  Bauhaus, however, is more angular than McIntosh and has no gimmicky chairs.

There are some benches to sit on so after my tour I went round again using some landmarks which Leila had described in our 90 minute tour. 

On my return home, Leila had already sent me text files of the captions and some photos of the installations for the show.  Leila also kindly wrote down the caption note and artist on some items which I liked.  In going round a second time, I viewed a black & white film with gamelan music chosen by Nagy’s daughter.  There is a little background music in the show but it does not grate.  Surprisingly my mobile phone went off twice on my second round (reception not great)!

The gift shop has much to offer in textiles and books including a Bauhaus styled catalogue.   I bought some Brio magnetic wooden blocks to try out as I am quite messy with acrylic paint these days.  The post card choice is mainly restricted to photographs, which was part of the Bauhaus training.  I did however buy 3 post cards:

Paul Klee: watercolour from the Gropius portfolio
Oskar Schlemmer: Figurationen, 1923
Laszlo Moholy-nagy: z 1’ 1922/23

Overall, a wonderful tour and a relaxed 2nd round on my own with a chance to fix some of the works in my mind.  I have listed below the items which I particularly liked.  Leila Hasham noted down the names and titles for me and a friend has read and typed the notes.

Room 1

Lyonel Feininger, Studio Window, 1919
Lyonel Feininger, Gelmeroda II, 1920

The Feininger woodcuts were used in the Bauhaus prospectus or manifesto.  The movement also moved away from traditional Gothic German Fonts in order to develop clearer fonts.  (Richard J Evans’ books on German history are available on RNIB Talking Books and are a useful chronological accompaniment to the Bauhaus emerging in 1919 to its end in 1933)

Room 2

Hedwig Jungnick, Gobelin with abstract forms 1921-23

Tapestries can be difficult for me but the textile and weaving patterns are all clear.  I discussed weaving with Leila on what I had made out in the Dovecote Gallery in Edinburgh.

Tapestries with clear lines
Bauhaus: Art as Life (3 May – 12 August, 2012), Barbican Art Gallery, London
© Luke Hayes

Adolf Sommerfeld, Swivelling Bookcase, 1922 from ‘Sommerfeld House’

The house was destroyed but a relative in the family has loaned this attractive bookcase.

Wassily Kandinsky, Questionnaire, 1922-23

Kandinsky’s shapes reminded me of an eye test I had taken the week before in Judd Street.  Geometric shapes are used in these. 

Kandinsky circle - 'landmark' in exhbition
Bauhaus: Art as Life (3 May – 12 August, 2012), Barbican Art Gallery, London
© Luke Hayes

The captions which are in large print for visitors is as follows:

A Kandinsky Painting is in this view.

Circles in a Circle, 1923
Oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection 1951

When Kandinsky arrived at the Bauhaus in summer 1922 he was moving away from the amorphous forms and mottled colours of his Expressionist canvases and towards incorporating harder-edged geometric shapes, influenced by his contact with Russian Constructivists in Moscow during the War. In its use of intersecting lines and overlapping geometric shapes, Circles in a Circle has affinities with work of Moholy-Nagy. Kandinsky, however, employed a wider range of colour to create a sense of movement and depth and believed that the circle had a ‘link with the cosmic’.

-end of caption

Paul Klee, Tomb in three parts, 1923

Klee has beautiful colours and his work is well known.  He was also influential in the puppet and theatre design with Oskar Schlemmer.

(For those with screen readers, note how JAWS has switched the pronunciation of Kandinsky and Klee.) 

Wassily Kandinsky, Circles in a circle, 1923

This is a cordoned picture and can be observed in one of the illustrations. 

Alma Buscher, Building Blocks, 1923-24
Gunta Stölzl, Wall hanging in black and white, 1923-24

Oskar Schlemmer, Triadic Ballet, 1923
3 figurines: These can be viewed as reconstructions from the sketches. 

Gunta Stölzl, Five chairs
Anni Albers, Wall hanging 1926
Gertrud Arndt, Wall hanging, 1927

Wassily Kandinsky, Development in brown, 1933

This item is rather sombre and there is a hint of rebirth of the movement as members of the school relocated to the USA and Hampstead in London. There is an organised walk from Belsize Park to Frognal illustrating the buildings associated with Bauhaus émigrés following the 1933 Nazis in Power.

The 2 items which I found myself on my 2nd trip and asked other visitors to note were as follows:

Charlotte Voepel, Poster Design for Nivea, 1928
Nivea Crème zur Hautpflege

The tin of Nivea caught my eye as it was an iconic image.  The brand name and rights had been dispersed following the First World War (Henkel lost Persil in USA and UK markets)

Xanti Schawinsky, Circus stage and clown

I was attracted to this beautiful sketch and though the name was difficult to pronounce, I rembered Xanti, listed as a student of the Bauhaus.  

My perception:

There was a rotating spiral with a shadow in a triad of puppets which I liked a lot. 

Triadic Ballet
Bauhaus: Art as Life (3 May – 12 August, 2012), Barbican Art Gallery, London
© Luke Hayes

The following is taken from the captions sent to me by Leila with this photograph of the reconstruction:

Oskar Schlemmer
The Triadic Ballet Turc I (Pink Series), 1922 (remade 1995)
Silk, velvet and felt on wire figure
Bühnen Archiv Oskar Schlemmer, The Oskar Schlemmer Estate and Archive

For Schlemmer the costumes were the most important part of The Triadic Ballet. He designed the 18 with the full intention that they constrict the wearer’s range of movement and thereby generate new dance expressions. The ‘figurines’, as he termed them, were formed from geometrical shapes made from stuffed and padded textiles as well as papier mâché, wood, glass and metal.

- end of caption

There is a film clip showing a spiral object which has a kinetic effect.  In fact the film reminded me of some images I see first thing on waking which suggests Charles Bonnet Syndrome, something that often affects people with significant sight loss. 

There are many fine examples of metal craft of everyday objects such as ashtrays, kettles, teapots, cups and saucers.   There are also showcases of glass and ceramic objects.  The town of Jena is famous for glass and optical glass products and brands such as Schott Jenaer Glas and Karl Zeiss Jena were well known. 

The Bauhaus movement inspired so much design changes and it is hard to realise that many of these early objects were in fact handmade objects.  While some in the movement wanted to link design to industrial production there was always some friction within the Masters and some of there students. 

A note in the Barbican What’s On include a gold metalwork exhibition as follows:

The Goldsmiths Company
1st June – 28th July
Goldsmiths’ Hall, Foster Lane, EC2V 6BN

This is an exciting exhibition.  I have not read any reviews though I heard some favourable comments on the radio. The live guiding system in operation obviously works and my access to one of the curatorial team was much appreciated.  Leila had guided me in a way where I was able to remember most of the “landmarks” in the show.  The clear lines of the Bauhaus are pleasing even to those with visual impairments and I would recommend this show to anyone interested in this important short period of invention in what were difficult times.   

Many thanks to Leila and the Barbican Gallery for making this exhibition so accessible! 

I have described the way to the Barbican from the Barbican Station on the London Underground in my earlier post:

For access details contact :
Rebecca Oliver
Licensing & Access Manager
Barbican Centre