From July 25 to – October 28, 2011 – National Gallery of Art

This exhibition, drawn from the rare book collection of the National Gallery of Art Library, highlights the works published by the Bauhaus and illustrates how changes in its printing activities reflect the evolution of the school. From a traditional printing shop focused on artists’ woodcuts, engravings, and lithographs, to a typography workshop that would ultimately serve as part of an advertising department, we see the growth of the school along with its leading role in the advancement of modernism.

The Bauhaus was founded in Weimar, Germany, in 1919 when Walter Gropius took leadership of both the city’s fine art academy and its school of applied arts, and merged them. The school’s idealistic beginnings and mission of uniting fine art theory with traditional artisan craft skills is seen in its manifesto, featuring Lyonel Feininger’s Cathedral woodcut on the cover. The school’s early expressionist period is represented by the printing workshop’s graphic portfolios as well as page designs and typography developed for outside publications. A 1923 exhibition catalogue designed by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Herbert Bayer marks a turning point in the mission of the school when, under a constructivist influence, the curriculum was reoriented to marry art with technology.

How is it that an art school that was open for a mere 14 years—during which time it suffered chronic financial shortfalls, survived a turbulent political situation, claimed just 33 faculty members, and graduated only about 1,250 students—came to have such a lasting impression on modern design and art education? Yet despite these difficulties (and more), the Bauhaus did precisely that. The personalities involved, some of the leading lights of modernism, surely had much to do with so outsize an influence, as did the school’s international focus and the wide dispersal of the staff and student body upon its dissolution. Even more, however, it was the publications the Bauhaus produced that proved vital in spreading its influence; these same publications play a significant role in forming our contemporary cultural image of the school.

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