50 Years after 50 Years of the Bauhaus 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

Artists
Piotr Andrejew, Daniel G. Andújar, Gerd Arntz, Ambrish Arora, Arte Nucleare, Yochai Avrahami, Galina Balashova, John Barker / László Vancsa, Willi Baumeister, Herbert Bayer, Ella Bergmann-Michel, Akshat Bhat, Marianne Brandt, Lucius Burckhardt, Abin Chaudhury, Constant, Peter Cook, Le Corbusier, Guy-Ernest Debord, Die neue Linie, Yvonne P. Doderer, Atul Dodiya, Ines Doujak, Drakabygget, Egon Eiermann, Francis Gabe, Annapurna Garimella, Erich Glas, Grapus, Eileen Gray, Walter Gropius, Dmitry Gutov / David Riff, John Heartfield, Helmut Heißenbüttel, Ludwig Hilberseimer, Internationale lettriste, Internationale situationniste, Isidore Isou, Jineolojî, Jacqueline de Jong, Asger Jorn, Shimul Javeri Kadri, Jitish Kallat, Revathi Kamat, Mustapha Khayati, Alexander Kluge, Kurt Kranz, Les Groupes Medvedkin / Colette Magny, Les Lèvres Nues, Michail Lifschitz, El Lissitzky, Mona Mahall / Asli Serbest, Vincent Meessen, Rahul Mehrotra, Kaiwan Mehta, Erich Mendelsohn, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, László Moholy-Nagy, Mouvement international pour un Bauhaus imaginiste, Ernst Neufert, Hans Ferdinand und Hein Neuner, Mateusz Okonski, Gabriel Pomerand, PROVO, Madhav Raman, Lilly Reich, Josep Renau, Józef Robakowski, Joost Schmidt, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Vishwa Shroff, Alison und Peter Smithson, Herman Sörgel, Gruppe SPUR, Superstudio, Jan Tschichold, Raoul Vaneigem, Gil J Wolman… and others

Introduction

On May 4, 1968, one day after students in Paris had occupied the University of Sorbonne and announced the so–called May 68, the exhibition 50 Years of the Bauhaus was opened at the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart. The opening was accompanied by protests against the planned closure of the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, which was founded in 1953 as a successor to the Bauhaus project.

Designed by Herbert Bayer and conceived by Hans Maria Wingler, Ludwig Grote, and the Kunstverein’s director at the time, Dieter Honisch, the exhibition was shown in eight additional museums worldwide until 1971. To this day, it is considered one of the most important postwar exhibitions on the Bauhaus and was of the highest significance in terms of cultural policy for the still-young Federal Republic: since at stake was not least 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 Württembergischer Kunstverein is undertaking a critical rereading of this exhibition. The rereading takes as its point of departure the sociopolitical upheavals of the 1960s and considers the Bauhaus, its historical contexts and the history(ies) of its reception from today's perspective. The idea of the Bauhaus as a self-contained, homogeneous system is to be challenged, as are those narratives that negotiate the Bauhaus and Modernism as unquestioned synonyms of progress, freedom and democracy. Instead, at issue are the ambivalences inscribed in both, as for example with regard to totalitarianism and colonialism.

The exhibition 50 Years after 50 Years of the Bauhaus 1968, which extends over the new and old buildings of the Stuttgart Kunstgebäude (art building), follows four thematic strands, including numerous digressions and byways. They revolve around the role of the Bauhaus in the exhibition and graphic design of the 1920s to 40s; around artistic counter-models to the functional city and consumer society; around the relationships between the avant-garde and the military-industrial complex as well as around perspectives on the concept of multiple Modernisms.

Some of the digressions have been developed specifically for the exhibition by various artists and curators. They include disruptions, in-between discourses, and interventions by:

Daniel G. Andújar, Yochai Avrahami, John Barker / László Vancsa, Yvonne P. Doderer, Ines Doujak, Dmitry Gutov / David Riff, Alexander Kluge, Mona Mahall / Asli Serbest, Vincent Meessen, Kaiwan Mehta, Mateusz Oko?ski and María Salgado (Temporary performance).

The introduction to the exhibition is provided by a collection of objects that—ranging from a model of the exhibition to an audio recording of Walter Gropius—make reference to the exhibition of 1968 and its era and were central points of reference for the current project.

The prologue is provided by Helmut Heissenbüttel at the entrance to the first exhibition hall: Seated on Marcel Breuer’s renowned B3 steel chair (also called the Wassily Chair), he takes down gender relationships with his poem der mann, der lesbisch wurde (the man who became lesbian, 1967): and along with them the central pillar of our modern world order based on binary ways of thinking.

It is virtually countered in the entrance to the opposite second hall by John Barker and László Vancsas, with their video Consequences, which they produced for the exhibition and which highlights, among other things, the male dominance over the Bauhaus discourse.

The more than 500 exhibits by around 60 artists and around 40 lenders cover both historical and contemporary works, and documents from the fields of fine arts, literature, photography, film, design, architecture and urban development.

The exhibition is part of the large-scale nationwide anniversary project 100 Years Bauhaus, which will be coordinated by the Bauhaus Group in 2019.

It is accompanied by a concentrated discourse and communication program, which includes, among other things, a performance that the Spanish artist Maria Salgado developed with reference to the poem by Helmut Heissenbüttel and will be presented within the framework of a conference in September. For the exhibition, a brochure will be published as well as an extensive publication (during the course of the exhibition).

PROLOGUE

Helmut Heissenbüttel, der mann, der lesbisch wurde, 1967

Poem, presented by Helmut Heissenbüttel in Marcel Breuer’s B3 steel chair (Wassily). Excerpt from Urs Widmer’s television documentation Zweifel an der Sprache. Helmut Heißenbüttel, ein Portrait (Doubts about Language: Helmut Heissenbüttel, a Portrait).

STOCKTAKING

Diverse objects: posters, catalogues, audio recordings, photographs, et cetera.

The start of the exhibition comprises a range of objects from the surroundings of the Bauhaus exhibition of 1968, which make reference to questions that underlie the current project. They refer to the following aspects:

Continuity

The title 50 Years of the Bauhaus already suggested a continuity and homogeneity that, given the only fourteen-year existence of the Bauhaus, seems constructed. The current exhibition instead asks about the fractures, branching-outs, and parallel developments in the surroundings of the Bauhaus, which range from the Moscow school VkhUTEMAS, to the Imaginist Bauhaus and Situationist International, to contemporary positions regarding the colonial implications of Modernism. 

Rehabilitation

With the exhibition of 1968, the image of German culture, which was badly tarnished abroad after World War II, was supposed to be rehabilitated. The Bauhaus was correspondingly presented as a cultural achievement of the Weimar Republic, to which it was possible to forge a seamless connection after World War II: in the sense of a re-import from the United States, where the Bauhaus had been able to calmly mature. The Bauhaus was therefore stylized as a German-American brand. After the closure of the Bauhaus by the National Socialists in 1933, many ex-Bauhaus members who had remained in Germany worked with the Nazis on exhibition and graphic design, industry and housing construction, and in part committed themselves to Nazi ideologies. These aspects were completely ignored in 1968. The Bauhaus and its actors were instead stylized as guarantors of freedom and democracy. The current exhibition is interested not in judging the moral stance of individual “Bauhaus members,” but rather in reflecting on the extent to which totalitarianism itself was part of the project that we call Modernism.

Foreign Relations

The national and international scope of the exhibition is indicated not only by the patronage of the German President, Heinrich Lübke, but also, in particular, by the central role that the Institut für Auslandsangelegenheiten (IfA; Institute for Foreign Affairs), under the supervision of the Auswärtiges Amt (Federal Foreign Office), has assumed in it. It not only financed the exhibition in Stuttgart and bore the costs for transport and insurance for all the other stations, but also organized the tour of several years in a smaller version following the actual exhibition. The IfA also republished the original catalogue in a condensed form.

Homogenization

The exhibition of 1968, which was dedicated to Walter Gropius, was indebted to his perspective on the Bauhaus. The founding director had already collaborated 30 years before on the exhibition Bauhaus 1919–1928, which Herbert Bayer designed for MoMA in New York and which, as the title already says, was restricted to Gropius’s time at the school. His viewpoints included a certain depoliticization of the Bauhaus as well as disparagement of the second director of the Bauhaus, Hannes Meyer, whose openly Marxist stance Gropius strongly disapproved of. Hans Maria Wingler, founder of the Bauhaus-Archiv, co-curator of the exhibition of 1968, and author of the first extensive monograph on the Bauhaus to be written by someone who was not involved, also represents a consolidation of Gropius’s position. Meyer was therefore dealt with in the exhibition of 1968, generally speaking, as a mistake and a traitor. Developments parallel to and conflicting with the Bauhaus as well as positions critical of functionalism, rationalism, and capitalist consumer culture were also ignored.

1968

The year 1968 represented a highpoint in the international student protests. In addition to the occupation of the Sorbonne in Paris, in which the Situationist International, among others, was involved, this was also expressed in the occupation of diverse art events such as the 14th Milan Triennial for Applied Art at the end of May 1968. The German contribution to this triennial, which would never open its doors, came for the most part from the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm, whose closure was imminent. At the opening of the exhibition 50 Years of the Bauhaus, there were protests with banners with a visual language that differed radically from that in Paris.
An audio recording reproduces Walter Gropius’s address to the protesters, which begins with the depoliticization of the Bauhaus.
The rebellion of the young generation in Germany was also linked with a call for for an in-depth reappraisal of the Third Reich, its followers, and continuities. With respect to the Bauhaus, this took place in the 1990s in particular.

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50 Years after '50 Years of the Bauhaus', 1968
Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart