Museum hosts international exhibit on legacy of Bauhaus style and design

By Katherine Harding, Office of Communications and Marketing



The Bauhaus school, founded in Weimar, Germany, in 1919 just after World War I by Walter Gropius, has had a lasting impact on design. It introduced what are now seen as founding guidelines of modern architecture.

Clean, minimal lines with bold, simple pops of color on buildings, furniture and home goods reflect the Bauhaus principles. Gropius and his successors, Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, instilled a simple, minimalist design theory that is still an inspiration to architects.

After the school closed in 1933 due to political instability in Germany as well as financial problems, Bauhaus designers spread to other parts of the world including Mexico City, Boston, New York, Russia and Paris. Their design influence can be seen worldwide.

The Bauhaus style is now on display at the Auburn University Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art as the first stop in the United States for the exhibition, "Bauhaus twenty-21: An Ongoing Legacy Photographs by Gordon Watkinson." The exhibit has toured internationally since 2009 and will be displayed in Auburn through May 4.

The exhibit features Gordon Watkinson's photographs of classic Bauhaus architecture, as well as up-and-coming and internationally renowned architects, showing a broad range of Bauhaus-influenced work. Bauhaus-designed furniture created before 1933, yet still manufactured today, is also on display.

Bauhaus, which means ‘house for building' in German, also featured a focus on sustainability, well before it was a popular trend. Bauhaus furniture up-cycled bicycle tubes as the sleek framing for chairs. The architects took into consideration the available sunlight in the buildings and where people spend their time in the home, tailoring the buildings for function. The early Bauhaus-styled buildings were meant to be public spaces and included unemployment offices and public housing.

According to photographer Watkinson, Bauhaus founder Gropius was inspired by Henry Ford's assembly line. Gropius worked to have prefabricated housing pieces that could be assembled to build as many as six houses a week. Watkinson said he finds this level of productivity has been lost, but is something to aspire to in the future.

Watkinson's work features photographs of Bauhaus and Bauhaus-inspired buildings in a blue, black and white color scheme. Watkinson shot the images on Polaroid film until Polaroid closed, and switched to a computer program to filter the images. The point of using the same chromatic filter was to show the similarities of the historic and contemporary buildings. Watkinson explained that the background context is taken away to highlight the consistent design style, making the time period nearly indistinguishable.

Based out of New York, Watkinson, a former commercial photographer, along with Michael Siebenbrodt, director of the Bauhaus-Museum in Weimar, and professor Falk Jaeger in Berlin, chose specific buildings for the exhibit to display the evolution of the Bauhaus design philosophy. The contemporary buildings show how the style has remained classic and minimalist since its inception in the earlier renditions. Watkinson's next project is to explore expressions of modernism, including French Modernism and Midcentury American Modernism.

His complete work is available in a book for purchase in the Museum Shop.

Last Updated: Feb. 26, 2013

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