If you’re curious about painting, architecture, sculpture, woodcuts, textiles or any of the allied arts, now is the time (or really past time!) to scurry to the Harvard Art Museums, head straight to Special Exhibitions on the third floor and … linger, seriously.
It is, after all, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, and Harvard has been celebrating already since February! And you?
The important thing is not to blame yourself. Not that you don’t deserve it, but save it at least until the end of July when this celebration finally runs out of breath.
And, if you’re still reading, don’t read every label, for goodness sake, or you’ll be there ’til the end of July, panting!
Celebrate, if lately, with the rest of the party by realizing that if the Bauhaus knew anything, it knew, and knows still, the truth of that old saw: “One picture is worth a thousand words.”
And it was the job of the first director, architect Walter Gropius, to collect a staff who knew how to make speaking pictures – out of any and all materials – and well!
Lyonel Feininger, for example, designed the cover of the Bauhaus’ first modest pamphlet — a woodcut of a Gothic cathedral so subtly inked and crisply composed that it announces, ringingly, the Bauhaus’ sacred dictum: work with your hands and head and heart, with care, and we’ll rise to new heights, together.
So, the tapestry looms were set beside the easels, beside the printing presses, beside the sculptor’s chisel beside the trowels loaded with cement and honest labor inside the house they all built, leak-tight, under budget, and lived in happily ever after, together …
And then, the city council cut their funding. And so they brushed the dust of Weimar from their work clothes and moved and built a new Bauhaus in the industrial city of Dessau. After all, the strong spirit builds where it lands.
And then, after Gropius stepped down, the city fathers of Dessau found fault with the second director’s political leanings. All that working and playing and singing communally, but, whose community? “Who,” they asked, “is your boss? God? Marx? Is he even Aryan?”
The Bauhaus responded with exhibitions of their works that any craft person could see were thoroughly technically crafted and artistically visionary. Even useful!
But that powerful if vague presence the zeitgeist fogged, as early as the 1920s, the vision of patrons and possible customers in Germany.
It was the beat of war drums, of revenge! Not only were shoddy goods being mass-produced, but sentiments too. And poisonous sentiments!
So, after an interlude of private practice, Gropius decamped for London and shortly for a job in America as the new chair of the Harvard Department of Architecture.
He built a new house in Lincoln, sparkling, stunning, principled, that is now open to the public. And he did all he could to spread the seed of Bauhaus design himself and to hire Bauhaus-minded designers.
In that spirit of spread the wealth, look with your own eyes at the captivating visuals inspired by the Bauhaus spirit of simplicity, inner truth and truth to materials.
Worth the visit, for me, was a sharp left at the entrance to find myself immersed in philosopher, poet, activist, sculptor Han Arp’s “Constellation II.”
Slabs of carved redwood that could make a whole picnic table or a single place setting shift shapes on both long walls with an agility that dancers would envy and a choreographer scurry to notate.
Gropius commissioned this sculpture from Arp to adorn the Commons or dining room of the Harvard Graduate Center, a complex of Modernist buildings that Harvard commissioned their chairman of architecture to build in 1950.
The mobility built into each piece by Arp to reflect, if desired, the mobility of our constellations as the seasons change, is a signal not only of his generosity and consummate artistry, but as well, perhaps, of the swift-footedness he himself cultivated as a provocateur who spoke as loudly and pungently as his art. And in dangerous times!
Stop in the doorway to “Bauhaus at Harvard” to listen to the soul and snap of Herbert Bayer’s “Verdure,” 30 feet away and woven of such torsional curves, it has all the verve and presence of a town parade.
Depart right to sample the end room’s hall of tapestries. Engineered on hand looms by Bauhaus students who are now names in the field, they speak as eloquently and as complexly as any abstract in paint, concrete, metal or what have you.
And that’s the Bauhaus philosophy and practice. Know yourself, know your materials and love them to life!
Look to appreciate what the Bauhaus achieved in speaking textures of works large enough to house a community in sane interaction with itself and with the outdoors, and compact enough to engage in a long private moment.
And do it now!
(“The Bauhaus and Harvard” continues through July 28 in the Special Exhibitions Gallery at the Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy St., Cambridge, Massachusetts. Museum hours are daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more details, visit harvardartmuseums.org/plan-your-visit.)