Aspen Institute hosts experts for capstone of year-long Bauhaus 100 celebration
The Aspen Times
IF YOU GO …
What: Barry Bergdoll, ‘Constructing and Deconstructing the Myths of the Bauhaus’
Where: Doerr-Hosier Center, Aspen Institute
When: Monday, Aug. 5, 4:30 p.m.
How much: $25
Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; aspenshowtix.com
More info: The Aspen Institute’s Society of Fellows symposium “Bauhaus: The Making of Modern” will run Sunday through Tuesday. Tickets are available to the public for $1,500 to $2,500; aspeninstitute.org
ASPEN TIMES BAUHAUS 100 COVERAGE
JULY 31, 2018 ‘Aspen to celebrate Bauhaus centennial’
NOV 1, 2018 ‘Rarely seen Herbert Bayer photographs on view’
DEC 19, 2018 ‘Aspen’s Bauhaus Roots’
JAN 10 ‘Prepping for WinterSculpt’
JUNE 6- ‘Richard Carter, Full Circle’
JUNE 13- ‘Mountain Mayhem: Bauhaus Ball’
Bauhaus experts are descending on Aspen this weekend, as the final major events of Aspen’s yearlong Bauhaus centennial take over the Aspen Institute campus.
The symposium “Bauhaus: The Making of Modern,” running Sunday through Tuesday, is a capstone event bringing together scholars, curators and creators with the public, coming on the heels of dozens of exhibitions, workshops and lectures since Aspen’s centenary celebration opened in July 2018.
Every arts organization in the Roaring Fork Valley has participated as the town celebrated the German art school and movement along with the life and work of Aspen icon and Bauhaus master Herbert Bayer with lectures, art exhibitions, art-making workshops, walking tours and a festive costume ball at the Wheeler.
Scholars coming to town for the conference said they are hopeful the global centennial celebration of the Bauhaus has given the public a more nuanced understanding of the school and dispelled long-held misconceptions about it.
“Everything associated with minimalism became associated with the Bauhaus,” said Barry Bergdoll, a professor of art history at Columbia University who organized the major 2009 survey “Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity” at the Museum of Modern Art.
Bergdoll will give a public lecture Monday aimed at clearing up misconceptions about the Bauhaus.
“The Bauhaus was a school — it wasn’t a style, there is no such thing as Bauhaus style,” he said.
Artists like Bayer, he noted, continued to evolve after they left the school. So defining everything Bayer ever did — including his three decades of work in Aspen after World War II — as “Bauhaus” is reductive.
“I am not condemned forever to be a representation of where I went to school,” Bergdoll said. “I don’t see going to or teaching at the Bauhaus meaning that absolutely everything that one does afterward as part of the Bauhaus or even Bauhaus-influenced.”
For instance, Bayer’s most prominent legacy in Aspen is his architecture. Yet he never studied architecture at the Bauhaus. So, Bergdoll asked, can we call in Bauhaus architecture?
“I’m interested in how people who had a Bauhaus background changed in new environments,” Bergdoll said. “Whether it’s Herbert Bayer in Colorado or Walter Gropius at Harvard or Hannes Meyer in Mexico City. … Living and working in America contributed as much to the work of Walter Gropius, Bayer and Marcel Breuer as did coming from the Bauhaus.”
The centennial also is giving scholars an opportunity to expand the ranks of publicly celebrated Bauahus artists. After decades of neglect by historians and curators, the women of the Bauhaus — Gunta Stölzl. Marianne Brandt and Lucia Moholy among them — are getting their due.
“People who are preparing Bauhaus exhibitions, most of them are realizing that it’s inadequate to tell the story of this school through five dudes,” said Elizabeth Otto, professor of art history at the University of Buffalo and author of several Bauhaus books including “Bauhaus Women” and “Haunted Bauhaus,” about experiments in spiritualism, religion and politics at the school.
“There are a lot more chances to realize how wide and diverse the Bauhaus was, and that it was both a movement and a school,” Otto said.
Her work unveils how Bauhaus members experimented with new religions, the occult, utopian societies and new models of gender roles and sexuality.
“Bauhaus is seen as the most rational of all modernist movements — and, if anything, as the boring modernism — and this book is saying that’s not true,” she said of “Haunted Bauhaus.” “It was much more about creating thinkers who had open minds, open spirits, who were attuned to the world around them.”
Robert Wiesenberger, associate curator of contemporary projects at the Clark Art Institute, spearheaded the Harvard Art Museums’ digital archive of its extensive Bauhaus collection, itself founded in the late 1940s as the world’s first Bauhaus archive. That work underscored the diversity of the Bauhaus, he said.
“I was surprised by the stylistic pluralism of the place,” Wiesenberger said. “By how many different directions people were going simultaneously.”
As a college freshman, spurred by his interest in Bayer and the Bauhaus, Wiesenberger made a trip to Aspen to see Bayer’s local sculptures, earthworks and the Aspen Institute campus. Returning this weekend for the symposium, Wiesenberger believes Aspen is pivotal to Bayer and Bauhaus studies.
“It contains almost everything he did,” Weisenberger said of the artist’s work shaping the town’s culture, preserving its architectural past and setting its design philosophy. “His interests, at that point, were increasingly environmental in scale, in environmental design and thinking beyond the traditional easel and canvas. … To understand Bayer, you have to visit Aspen.”
Wiesenberger also underscored the idea that “Bauhaus” is often misused as a catch-all term for minimalism.
“Bauhaus, the word, is thrown around so much and ascribed to so many things, when in reality it was a small school that operated for a set number of years,” he said. “It was a clearing house for avant-garde ideas.”
An element of the Bauhaus legacy that’s gone largely unremarked upon during Aspen’s celebration is Bauhaus members’ work for the Nazi regime following the school’s closure in 1933.
Bayer, in the years between the Bauhaus and his move to the U.S. in 1938, contributed work to Nazi propaganda campaigns and exhibitions. This work, the subject of an essay by Timothy Brown in the Aug. 1 edition of the Aspen Times Weekly, has largely been ignored during Aspen’s Bauhaus 100 celebration.
Experts coming to the Institute have contended with the work of Bayer and others for the Nazis.
“There is no reason to excise that from the record any longer,” Wiesenberger said. “I’m so struck that it’s only in recent years that that’s been discussed. It’s not a small, incidental fact. It’s quite a major one. How successful Bayer was in that role, how visible he was in that role. It’s crucial to acknowledge it and grapple with it.”
Wiesenberger noted that Bayer studied, wrote about and mastered the psychological effect of visual art. He put those skills to use for commercial enterprises, including the burgeoning Aspen resort and skiing, Walter Paepcke’s Container Corporation and both sides of World War II.
“Bayer was a master propagandist,” Wiesenberger concluded. “In a very short time, after his arrival in the U.S., he turned around and propagandized for democracy and the Allied cause in the war. I think it’s central to our understanding of him and how seductive his work might be.”
Otto recalled feeling betrayed when she first viewed a propaganda brochure that Bayer made for the Nazis in 1936, coinciding with the Berlin Olympics.
“I really judged him. I thought, ‘How could you?’ with an arrogance that you can only have if you don’t really understand how complicated things were,” she said.
Otto noted that Bayer viewed himself as apolitical, that his wife and daughter were Jewish and that he used a Bauhaus exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1938 as his ticket out of Germany. (That show would acquaint Bayer with Walter and Elizabeth Paepcke, who brought him to settle in Aspen in 1946.)
“In hindsight, we know how much danger they were in, but they couldn’t have known,” she said.
Bayer’s work with the Nazis has to be evaluated in the context of the mid-1930s in Germany, Bergdoll emphasized.
“History has to be understood in real time, not with perfect moral 20/20 rearview vision,” he said. “Trying to accommodate the regime coming to power, not knowing where it’s going, this is the same situation we have now with the horrors of the Trump administration. … I don’t think it’s fair to take these people back into some kind of high court to assess them as collaborators.”