50 Years after ‘50 Years of the Baushaus' 1968

May 5 – September 23, 2018

Walter Gropius at the opening, addressing the demonstrators with a megaphone
President Heinrich Lübke visiting the exhibition '50 Years of the Bauhaus', 1968, at the Württembergischer Kunstverein


From May 5 to September 23, 2018, the Württembergischer Kunstverein (WKV) will be showing the exhibition 50 Years after “50 Years of the Bauhaus,” 1968. The exhibition, curated by an international panel of experts, is part of the large-scale, Gemany-wide anniversary project 100 Years of Bauhaus,1 coordinated by the Bauhaus Association 2019.
The point of departure is the legendary exhibition 50 Years of the Bauhaus, produced in 1968 by the Kunstverein in collaboration with major Bauhaus figures like Walter Gropius and Herbert Bayer. At the time, the exhibition achieved a far-reaching international radiance. By tying into this success, the Kunstverein is now pursuing an up-to-date survey of the Bauhaus, thematizing the aesthetic and sociopolitical approaches in play from 1968 to today.


On May 4, 1968, a day after students in Paris had proclaimed the so called “May 68,” the exhibition 50 Years of the Bauhaus opened at the Württembergischer Kunstverein (WKV) Stuttgart—accompanied by protests against the planned closing of the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) in Ulm founded in 1953 as a successor to the Bauhaus project.
This exhibition, conceived by Herbert Bayer, Hans Maria Wingler, Ludwig Grote, and Dieter Honisch (director of the WKV at the time), was to be shown through 1971 at eight additional museums in Europe, the United States, Canada, South America, and Asia. It was of high national importance to the still-young postwar Germany, since at stake was no less than the rehabilitation, at international levels, of Germany as a cultural nation in the aftermath of National Socialism.
Fifty years after the opening of 50 Years of the Bauhaus, the Kunstverein is now undertaking a critical rereading of this exhibition alongside three narrative lines: the enmeshment of modernism and totalitarianism (especially during German Nazism and the Cold War); the aesthetic and sociopolitical upheaval of the years around 1968 (and how this changed the view of the Bauhaus and of modernism); and current discourse on other / multiple modernities. Against this backdrop the exhibition will present contemporary as well as historical art works, objects, and documents. Some artists have been invited to produce new work for this project.

On the Enmeshment of Modernism and Totalitarianism (German Nazism, Cold War, etc.)

A central point of departure for our rereading of the Stuttgart exhibition from 1968 concerns its depiction of the Bauhaus as a cultural achievement of the Weimar Republic2 that could be built upon seamlessly after 1945. Here we intend to illuminate in particular the blocking-out of the entanglements and ambivalent relations between Bauhaus protagonists and National Socialism: particularly in the areas of industrial construction, rationalization, and propaganda exhibitions. The myth that all participants of the Bauhaus, which was closed in 1933 by the Nazis, automatically would have been dissidents of the Third Reich has been questioned at least since the 1990s.3  A fundamental change in the debate and perception  of the Third Reich and its actors in Germany started in the 1960s and had a strong impact on the student movements in Germany at that time.
In our critical rereading of the 1968 exhibition, our aim is less to pass judgment on the moral posture of individual “Bauhäusler,” and instead to reflect on the extent to which National Socialism (specifically, and European fascism generally) is itself a part of that project we term “modernity.”
A further aspect of our current project involves questioning the extent to which the 1968 exhibition—with all its omissions—sought to present the Bauhaus not only as an expression of a democratic (anti-fascist) mindset, but in this context as an antipode to communism and socialism. Thus, not only did the exhibition marginalize the second director, Hannes Mayer, as an “academic Marxist” who intended to “give the Bauhaus a . . . political character and deprive it of its artistic climate,”4 but it also completely ignored the extraordinary significance of institutions such as the Vkhutemas School in Moscow (1920–30), which had been active in parallel to the Bauhaus.

The aesthetic and sociopolitical upheaval of the years around 1968 (and how this changed the view of the Bauhaus and modernism)

The second important focus of our rereading is related to the Marxist, feminist, and decolonial discourses and movements of the 1960s that have lastingly altered our understanding of modernity and modernism—and thus also our perception of the Bauhaus—well into the present day. This concerns, on the one hand, a critique of the modernist functionalization and rationalization of life (that is, of the city, of labor and dwelling), and on the other hand, it is related to a questioning of modernity as dominated by the West (and by male artists).
The 1968 Bauhaus exhibition failed to note the critical approaches and alternatives to the functional city already present at that time: neither movements like the Situationist International and its precursor, the Mouvement international pour un Bauhaus imaginiste (MIBI), nor figures like Constant, Henri Lefebvre, Alexander Mitscherlich, or Lucius Burckhardt. MIBI was founded in 1955 in Alba after a failed attempt at collaboration between ex-COBRA member Asger Jorn and the HfG Ulm, the school that once had been founded as a sucessor of the Bauhaus and that was closed in 1968.
The upcoming exhibition will consider the critical voices against and the alternative models to the functional city and other modernist concepts, reflecting on both from contemporary and historical perspectives.

Current discourse on the other / multiple modernities

We are ultimately concerned with questioning the Bauhaus (or modernism) as purported domains of the West, closely examining in the process parallel positions, developments, and manifestos. Thus, the current exhibition project expands the approach to the Bauhaus and modernity not only with respect to the significance of Vkhutemas, but also to that of further schools and developments beyond Western Europe and North America. Overall, the idea is to negotiate the Bauhaus (and modernism) not as a homogeneous project, but rather along its fissures, contradictions, and nexuses with other developments.

Educational Program

An extensive framework and mediation program is planned to accompany the exhibition, targeting various audiences through tours, workshops, performances, film screenings, and lectures. An integral part of the exhibition will be thematic clusters, exhibition tours, and workshops designed especially for youth, so as to make the historical and future-oriented views of the Bauhaus experienceable in a tangible way.

Schlossplatz 2
D-70173 Stuttgart
Fon: +49 (0)711 - 22 33 70
Fax: +49 (0)711 - 29 36 17
50 Years after '50 Years of the Bauhaus', 1968
Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart