No institution had more impact on the development of 20th century art, design and architecture than the Bauhaus, a German art school with such famous teachers as Anni Albers, Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius and Wassily Kandinsky.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of its establishment, a milestone that has sparked at least 600 exhibitions and other events worldwide, including an internationally touring show titled “The Whole World a Bauhaus.”
‘The Whole World a Bauhaus’
When: Feb. 23-April 20
Where: Elmhurst Art Museum, 150 S. Cottage Hill Ave.
The offering, which opened last summer at the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo in Buenos Aires, Argentina, will make its only American stop at the Elmhurst Art Museum. Postponed one week because of shipping delays, it is set to open Feb. 23 and run through April 20.
Because the Elmhurst museum’s campus incorporates a structure designed by former Bauhaus director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, it has an important link to the celebrated school. “The opportunity to host something on the anniversary and to connect with something that is unique to our museum just seemed like something I couldn’t pass up,” said executive director John McKinnon.
“The Whole World” was organized by ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), a 102-year-old German arts organization which, among other activities, oversees 40 traveling exhibitions a year. Much of its funding comes from Germany’s Federal Foreign Office.
Germany’s Goethe-Institut, which has a branch in Chicago, approached the museum about hosting the show as part of the Year of German-American Friendship, which the cultural institute and the Foreign Office initiated.
The Bauhaus operated in three successive cities – Weimar, Dessau and Berlin – from 1919 until it closed under pressure from the Nazis in 1933. It promoted the total integration of the arts and the fusion of art and technology and played a pivotal role in the rise of the pared-down International Style with its maxim, “form follows function.”
According to Valérie Hammerbacher, ifa’s artistic director, the idea for a Bauhaus exhibition came up two years ago, and the organization turned to Boris Friedewald, an expert on German avant-garde art in the 1920s and 30s, to serve as guest curator.
The show is divided into eight sections and contains more than 400 selections. Most are digital reproductions of photographs and archival materials from the Bauhaus, but about 40 are rare original objects, such as furniture, textiles and ceramics as well as drawings and original prints by such artists as Kandinsky and Lyonel Feininger.
Among the highlights are Breuer’s B9 tubular-steel nesting table (1925-26), Mies van der Rohe’s cantilevered armchair Model No. MR 534 (1927-32); Bayer’s emergency currency for Thuringia, a state in east-central Germany (1923) and Marianne Brandt and Hin Bredendieck’s Kandem table lamp (1928).
The show’s title is taken from a quote from Fritz Kuhr, a student and later a teacher at the Bauhaus. In this context, the “Whole World” is meant to highlight the Bauhaus’ lack of borders between artistic mediums and its international influence, including alliances with avant-garde movements elsewhere. “We want to point out this global, transcultural network that the Bauhaus established already in the 1920s,” Hammerbacher said.
One section of the exhibition titled “Encounters,” specifically explores these connections. In 1929, for example, 30 of the school’s 170 students came from such countries as Turkey, Japan and the United States and helped spread the school’s ethos when they returned home.
At the same time, Hammerbacher said, the title also suggests the multiplicity of philosophies under the Bauhaus umbrella, a “melting pot of political, aesthetic and personal ideas” that sometimes conflicted with each other.
Chicago was an obvious choice as the host city for this exhibition, said Margret Kentgens-Craig, author of “The Bauhaus and America,” because it is a “hotspot” of Bauhaus influence that radiated to other parts of the country. “Chicago,” she said, “got what nobody else got in this country — the educational legacy plus probably the No. 1 architect who was connected to the Bauhaus.”
Fleeing the Nazis, Hungarian-born László Moholy-Nagy finally settled in Chicago in 1937, where the Bauhaus teacher established and led what was known informally as the New Bauhaus. Patterned after its German forbear, the institution later became the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
In addition, Mies van der Rohe, the third director of the Bauhaus, moved to Chicago after the school closed to lead the department of architecture at the Armour Insititute, which evolved into IIT. He designed some of the city’s most iconic buildings, including the residential towers at 860-880 Lake Shore Drive.
In 1952, the celebrated architect designed a home for Robert Hall McCormick III and his wife Isabella Gardner – one of just three single-family residences he oversaw in the United States. The structure was moved in 1994 and is now a signature component of the Elmhurst Art Museum.
In conjunction with “A Whole World,” two Chicago-based artists will transform the McCormick House. Israeli-born Assaf Evron will create an installation inspired by Mies’ handmade collages and German-born Claudia Weber will reside in the house, meet with visitors and create changing installations during her stay. Those presentations will run through April 20.
Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.