György Kepes at Tate Liverpool

György Kepes Leaf and Prism

György Kepes was a Hungarian-born painter, designer, educator and art theorist. In 1930, he moved to Berlin, and later joined the studio of László Moholy-Nagy, the Hungarian photographer who had taught at the Bauhaus Dessau. Moholy-Nagy left Germany to escape the Nazis, moving to Amsterdam, then London and then finally settled in Chicago where he set up the “New Bauhaus”. Kepes followed him and was invited to work at the new art school as head of the  department of Colour and Light.

Although he didn’t consider himself a photographer (he was a painter, a designer and a film-maker), he worked in the medium and produced some excellent images. The Tate exhibition shows 80 of his photographs, photomontages and photograms produced during his time in Chicago, around 1938-42

There were some conventional photographs, although not the subject matter was not entirely mainstream

György Kepes ‘Ear (AN 514)’, c. 1939–41
© estate of György Kepes

Ear (AN 514) c. 1939–41 (Source Tate website)

He also shot “still lives” using scientific apparatus, sometimes in conjunction with natural objects.

But many of the images on display were photomontages and photograms. A photogram is a photographic print made by laying objects onto photographic paper and exposing it to light. It was a favourite technique of Moholy-Nagy who began experimenting with them during the 1920’s.

The Tate website tells us

Kepes’s photograms, made without a camera, were instead produced in the darkroom by arranging and exposing objects directly on top of light-sensitive paper. The subjects – such as leaves, eyes, feathers and cones and prisms  – reflected Kepes’s varied interests and included scientific and mechanical items alongside objects from the natural world.

There’s a good review of the technique here, which includes a discussion of Kepe’s work

György Kepes ‘Hand on Black Ground’, c. 1939–40
© estate of György Kepes

Hand on Black Ground c. 1939–40 (Source: Tate website)

György Kepes ‘Leaf and Prism’, c. 1939–40
© estate of György Kepes

Leaf and Prism c. 1939–40 (Source: Tate website)

With it’s surreal images, the exhibition complements the Leonora Carrington exhibition also showing at the Tate. It also ties in with LOOK/15: the Liverpool International Photography Festival. This is the third biennial photography festival held in the city and there are photographic exhibitions showing at venues including the Walker Art Gallery, the Bluecoat and the Open Eye Gallery.

Mondrian at Tate Liverpool



The latest exhibition at the Tate Liverpool is in two parts devoted to artists from opposite sides of the world – Piet Mondrian from the Netherlands and Nasreem Mohaidi from India. I’m going to concentrate on the better known of the two in this post and return to Nasreem in the near future as she is well worth a post of her own.

Mondrian was a leader of the De Stijl movement that advocated pure abstraction and universality by a reduction to the essentials of form and colour. He is best known for his “neoplastic” paintings with  a grid of straight black lines on a white background with some of the rectangles coloured in using a palette of three primary colours.

Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red (1937-42)

The exhibition, which marks the 70th anniversary of his death, was a survey of his work from his early days as an artist in the Netherlands, moving with him to Paris, London and New York. It

considers not only Mondrian’s significance, but also the circumstances (in both life and painting) that led him to make the switch from successful figurative artist in his homeland to international radical innovator. Taking visitors through Paris, London and eventually New York, the exhibition tracks Mondrian’s personal and aesthetic journey, and finds threads between the two (exhibition website)

In his early work he depicted landscapes, trees and buildings, adopting an abstract cubist style as in this painting that featured in the exhibition.

Piet Mondrian The Tree A c.1913 Tate collection

The Tree A (c.1913)

As we moved through the rooms we could see how his style evolved gradually moving toward the characteristic grids.

Piet Mondrian ‘No. VI / Composition No.II’, 1920<br />
© 2007 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International, USA

No. VI / Composition No.II (1920)

It obviously took a little time to reach his “final destination” but once he’d arrived there he clearly didn’t want to go anywhere else – artistically that is as he moved from France to Britain and then on to America once the Second World War broke out.

Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1927, by Piet Mondrian

Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue (1927)

Yet, although his basic approach didn’t change,  he did experiment and introduce variations, albeit subtle (e.g. different thickness of the lines, different sized shapes), that we could see as we progressed through the rooms.

The title of the exhibition reflects the focus on his studio. There’s a mockup  / reconstruction of his  Paris studio in the Rue du Départ where he worked in the 1920’s and 1930’s

Visitors inside the recreation of Mondrian's Paris studio at Tate Liverpool

With brightly coloured rectangles carefully positioned on the white walls, it’s almost like a three dimensional version of one of his works.

‘It is as difficult to paint a room as to make a painting. It is not enough to set a red, a blue, a yellow, a gray, etc., next to each other. That would be mere decoration… It is all in the how: how the elements are placed, how the dimensions are worked out, how the colours of the various elements are interrelated…’

It was a lot tidier and cleaner than other artist’s studios I’ve seen before  (particularly Francis Bacon’s in the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin).

His London studio was also recreated, “virtually” in this instance, with computer mock ups displayed on a TV.

Mondrian influenced many artists working in the 1930’s and 40’s, notably, Ben Nicholson.

His paintings with the grid structure is very architectural, reflecting his early interest in buildings, and Mondrian and De Stijl in general with it’s emphasis on primary colours, rectangular forms and straight, horizontal and vertical (never diagonal) lines, had a significant influence on the Bauhaus. This was apparent during our trip to Dessau in March where the importance of primary colours was quite clear in both the school building and the Masters’ houses.

One criticism of exhibitions focusing on one artist, particularly one like Mondrian where his work, once he had settled on his style, is somewhat “samey”, is that visitors can lose interest after seeing so many similar paintings. There was a risk wok that with this exhibition but rather than occupy all the space on the fourth floor with Mondrian’s work, the Tate had a second exhibition occupying the last of the large rooms. This was devoted to another artist who developed an interest in grids and structure in her work. Someone I’d never encountered before but whose work made an impression on me. More about that in another post.


The Konsum Building


The Törten Estate in Dessau was built on the edge of the town, so some distance from shops and facilities. So Gropius designed a building for the local consumer co-operative society  – the Konsumverein, or Konsum. It was built in 1928 during the final third stage of the estate development.


The flat one-storey section was designated to a central grocery store, which was connected to a butcher’s shop and a bakery on either side by folding walls. The five-storey section contained staff rooms and three apartments.

Today, the Konsum Building is used as a visitors’ centre for the Törten Estate as well as apartments and a dentist’s surgery.

The Törten Estate, Dessau


A journey on the tram from Dessau train station to the south of the town took us to the Törten Estate. This is  development of affordable workers’ houses designed by Walter Gropius, the Director of the Bauhaus.

The estate was commissioned by the municipality of Dessau as affordable houses for working people and was built between 1926 and 1928 in three phases. The load bearing walls are made of prefabricated and inexpensive hollow slag-concrete blocks and the ceilings Rapidbalken (precast concrete joists), prefabricated on- site to reduce the cost of construction. The work was carefully planned to avoid periods of inactivity, again aimed at keeping down costs. There was a definite influence from the English Garden City Movement with lots of green space and tress around the estate. All the houses have large gardens so the owners could grow their own food, keep chickens etc.

Aerial shot of the estate (Source: Bauhaus Dessau Foundation website)

A total of 316 houses were constructed with differing designs for the three phases. They were relatively small by today’s standards, but need to be viewed in the context of the time. And they are still occupied today (although many have been extended).

The design of the houses followed Bauhaus principles. Basically cubic with flat roofs and with strip windows with metal frames. So were quite radical for their time. Compare them with the homes constructed in contemporary developments in the UK such as Letchworth and Port Sunlight – similar planned towns and villages for workers where the houses were of Arts and Crafts influenced vernacular styles.

Walking round the estate indicated to me that people are essentially conservative when it comes to their houses as changes made by the owners is evident – particularly to the size, shape and positioning of the windows.

This is one of the Phase 1 houses built in 1926. This particular example has been restored to it’s original condition and has the distinctive strip windows and steel front door.


Prismatic glass blocks have been used to one side and above the front door. They would have allowed light into the hallway and are an attractive feature. It’s possible to look around the inside of this house, which is owned by the loacal Council, during an organised tour of the estate. (Unfortunately we had missed the start of the tour).

This is an example of a Phase 2 house from 1927.


There were some substantial modifications. Here the glass blocks have been used to provide light to the staircase (a little like the large staircase windows in the Masters’ houses). The Phase 2 houses were slightly smaller than those built during Phase 1 but had a separate bathroom on the first floor

One of the Phase 3 houses  at Mittelring 38 was restored to its original condition in 1992. Today, it is used by the Moses Mendelssohn Society, and is open to the public for a modest entry fee (2 Euros for adults).


We were given a tour of the house by the warden. He spoke only German, but luckily Caroline our “interpreter” was with us. The tour was very informative and we were able to see the original features, including the boiler and the earth closet toilet. It is smaller than the houses from the earlier two phases and has a “split level” design with some of the living rooms in the basement – the strip of windows at the bottom of the facade is actually high up  in the room on the lower level.

This is the garden at the back of the house


So occupants certainly had plenty of space outdoors. I doubt that many of the modern occupants use it for growing vegetables and keeping chickens, though.

There’s also an experimental steel house, designed by Georg Muche and Richard Paulick, that was constructed on the estate during the first phase. As the name suggests, it’s fabricated from metal.


The house was occupied into the 1990’s. It must have been murder to heat in the winter and keep cool in the summer. And also must have suffered from condensation. Today it’s been restored to it’s original condition and can be visited during the tour of the estate.

The Bauhaus Masters’ Houses


It was just a short walk from the Bauhaus school building to reach the Master’s Houses, which had been designed by Gropius. There were originally 3 pairs of semi-detached houses for the senior Masters and a detached house for Gropius himself all set in the pine woods which were then on the edge of the town. An idyllic setting. The detached house was destroyed during the war but is being rebuilt. The semidetached houses are essentially the same with the same floor plan, albeit mirrored and rotated by 90°. They were built from prefabricated elements – “cubes”. Their use facilitating construction.

It was possible to access 5 of the Master’s houses which have been renovated. The first we looked at were those initially occupied by Klee and Kadinsky. It was hard to believe that we were walking through the same rooms where they lived and worked. They were quite spacious and had large balconies and massive workrooms/studios with large north facing windows to let in the light but also so passers by could see them at work.






It wasn’t possible to see all the rooms as some weren’t accessible and it would have been nice if they had been furnished. When originally built, all the houses were equipped with modern furniture, and fitted cupboards were integrated between the kitchen service area and the dining room and between the bedroom and the studio.



Gropius and Moholy-Nagy fitted out their houses exclusively with furniture by their Bauhaus colleague,  Marcel Breuer, but the other masters brought their own furniture with them.




The staircases had long windows extending almost the height of the building which let in plenty of light


and provided views over the other houses and woods.



There are spacious balconies which could, in effect, become outdoor rooms during pleasant weather.



We gained a good impression of how the Masters lived. It must have been a pretty ideal living and working environment, but with a lack of insulation and single glazed windows with metal frames, the houses must have been either pretty cold in the winter or cost a fortune to heat.

The Bauhaus Dessau


On the second full day of our holiday in Berlin we travelled over to Dessau. It was here that the Bauhaus was based between 1925, when the political situation meant they had to leave Weimar, and 1932 when again, they had to move when the Nazis took control of Dessau. With the move to Dessau a new building was constructed, designed by the School’s Director, Walter Gropius. Looking at it today it is hard to appreciate just how revolutionary it was at the time it was built – with it’s flat roof, the massive expanse of windows – the first ever glass curtain wall – the overall asymmetric design, the separation of the parts of the building according to their functions. Other buildings were constructed in the town – including housing for Gropius and the senior Masters and an estate of workers’ houses on the outside of the town.

We were tired and were up a little later than planned but we still managed to get some breakfast and catch our train from Alexanderplatz. Our ticket, a special day return valid after 9 o’clock which we’d bought over the Internet when planning our holiday,  cost 29 Euros and up to 5 people could have travelled on it. Quite a bargain. The journey took just 15 minutes less than two hours, so we arrived in Dessau just before midday.

It was  a short walk to the Bauhaus building from the station. I was worried that having so looked forward to this trip I might feel let down, Not a bit of it. The building was fantastic. Everything I expected and more.

We approached the building via Bauhaus Strasse and this was the view that greeted us


The large square block with balconies is the accommodation block and the bridge that connects the two main wings – one for the workshops and the other containing classrooms. The bridge contains offices, including the Director’s. The accommodation block, which was used by junior Masters and students, is connected to the Workshop wing by a canteen, theatre and lobby.


We had a look around outside the building and then went inside where we purchased a day ticket that covered the Bauhaus building, plus a tour in German and the Master’s houses. I also bought a photo pass which allowed me to take photographs inside the school and Masters’ houses. We actually visited the Masters’ houses, which are only a short walk away from the school , first. But they deserve their own post. As does the Torten Estate of workers’ houses designed by Gropius which we visited after the tour of the school building.



The guided tour of the building is only run in German but we decided to join it as it takes you into parts of the building that were otherwise inaccessible including  the theatre, canteen and Gropius’ office. Normally the tour would also visit the accommodation block but, unfortunately, that was closed for renovation.

It would have been difficult to follow much of what the guide was saying, but luckily for us there was another English couple on the tour, Chris and Caroline. Caroline had studied German literature and had lived in Berlin for a year while at University. She was translating for Chris and very quickly allowed us to listen too.

The building was marvellous. As well as a beautiful design and structure there were so many clever design features. An amazing attention to detail. We learned about the construction methods, materials, were allowed to play with some of the features – I turned the wheel to open some of the windows. There was even a logic behind the colour scheme.  The fixtures and fittings were designed by Bauhaus Masters and Students and there were some very innovative ideas. The interior decoration of the entire building was done by the wall painting workshop, the lighting fixtures by the metal workshop, and the lettering by the print shop.


Bauhaus designed furniture was installed, including the chairs in the lecture theatre.



This is the canteen.


Large doors could be opened so that the canteen and theatre combined to form one large space.



This is Gropius’ office.


As many of the ideas introduced in this building have become mainstream it’s hard to imagine just how revolutionary and strange it looked at the time it was built. But it is still a very beautiful structure which still looks incredibly modern.

Paul Klee at the Tate Modern

The EY Exhibition: Paukl Klee banner

One of the highlights of our holiday in Berlin last summer was our visit to the Museum Berggruen. Our main reason for that visit was to see their excellent, large collection of works by Picasso. However, we found ourselves spending the majority of our time there looking works by the Swiss-German artist Paul Klee, of which they had an extremely large number.

Paul Klee 1911.jpg

Although I’d heard of Klee before the visit I’d never really paid much attention to his work, but while wandering round the Berggruen I found myself becoming more and more fascinated by his work – the brightly coloured, small scale pictures, painted in different styles, that occupied room after room in the Gallery.  The interest was reinforced knowing that Klee was a major figure at the Bauhaus during it’s Dessau period, and I’ve become particularly interested in the history of the Bauhaus in recent years. So when I heard that the Tate Modern were to hold a major retrospective survey of his work, we arranged to take a brief holiday in London early January before I got too busy at work.

The exhibition, which occupies 17 rooms on the third floor of the former power station certainly did not disappoint. It was a chronological survey, the pictures displayed in the order in which they were produced. Made easy by the fact that Klee had a meticulous numbering system for his paintings.

As an artist he defies categorisation – although he was unquestionably an abstract painter, his style changed over time. He was an accomplished draftsman and he sometimes incorporated cartoon like figures into his works. But for me he is particularly notable as a real master of colour. He knew how to combine colours, what to put next to each other to contrast and complement. Often employing the colours on a grid like structure.

Paul Klee Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms

Paul Klee, Redgreen and Violet-Yellow Rhythms (1920)

Paul Klee Steps 1929

Paul Klee Steps (1929)

In the 1930’s he adopted a pointilist style, although still abstract, for many of his paintings, such as this one

Paul Klee Polyphony (1932)

He worked in a range of different media – including oils, watercolours, tempura, collage – applied to all sorts of surfaces. He even invented a new technique – oil transfer sketches – where line drawing were traced onto a canvas from his original drawing using a type of oil based “carbon paper” that he’d invented. The following work  Twittering machine is an example of such a work. He’s traced his cartoon like drawing of a group of birds standing on a wire or roughly sketched branch, connected to some sort of hand crank, onto a blue and black watercolour painted background. On one level it’s quite an amusing sketch, but also rather sinister and disturbing.

File:Die Zwitscher-Maschine (Twittering Machine).jpg

Paul Klee Twittering Machine (1922)

Surrealist influences are evident in some works, such as this one.

Paul Klee, 'Comedy' 1921

Paul Klee, Comedy (1921)

Although essentially an abstract artist he did incorporate figurative elements in many works. He seemed to have a particular penchant for fish which appear in several works including this one,one of my favourites in the exhibition.

Fish Magic - Paul Klee

Paul Klee Fish Magic (1925)

I found this this later work quite striking. At first it looks like a mess of randomly drawn blue and black squiggles. But a closer look reveals the features of a group of witches gathering on Walpurgis Night, the eve of the first of May, to perform rituals to ward off evil.

Paul Klee, ‘Walpurgis Night’ 1935

Paul Klee Walpurgis Night (1935)

There was a lot to see and we spent about two and a half hours wandering through the rooms. But it wasn’t oppressive. Although busy, it wasn’t crowded. Just as well or it would have been difficult to look at and study the largely small scale works. But we had time, and room, to do just that. And were even able to wander back and have another look at some of our favourites.

My only criticism was that I’d have liked to have seen more contextual information about Klee’s life and work and more information on his theoretical work – he wrote several books, and published the teaching manual he wrote while he was a Master at the Bauhaus, das Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch (‘Pedagogical Sketchbook’). But an excellent exhibition and the chronological approach worked for me as we were able to see how his work developed, evolved and changed over time. As with many such large scale shows it would benefit from further visits as there was really too much to take in during the course of a few hours. But I got a copy of the catalogue for Christmas and downloaded the Tate’s iphone / ipad app so can relive the experience to some extent (although not as good as a re-visit to see the works “in the flesh”)

Art turning left

2013-11-24 16.06.59

Last Sunday we decided to drive over to Liverpool to have a look at the new temporary exhibition at the Tate – "Art turning left". It’s billed as 

"the first exhibition to examine how the production and reception of art has been influenced by left-wing values, from the French Revolution to the present day."

The exhibition takes a thematic approach asking questions such as,

  • ‘Do we need to know who makes art?’,
  • ‘Can art affect everyone?’,
  • ‘Can art infiltrate everyday life?’,
  • ‘Can pursuing equality change how art is made?’,
  • ‘Does participation deliver equality?’,
  • ‘How can art speak with a collective voice?’ and
  • ‘Are there ways to distribute art differently?’

It’s had very lukewarm reviews in the Telegraph, Guardian and Observer, but as members it’s free to get in and being sympathetic to the politics, it was something we wanted to see. After our visit I’d tend to agree with the reviews that it is a bit of a mixed bag, at least as far as the works on display is concerned. However, for me, it achieved it’s objective in making me think about the questions being posed.

Art Turning Left web banner for Tate Liverpool exhibition

One of the questions I found particularly relevant in a week where a picture by Lucien Freud sold for a rather obscene 142.4 million dollars was “do we need to know who makes art?”. Does the worth of a painting depend on who painted it? In the auction houses the value of a work depends on who painted it and whether it includes their signature. Does the purchaser of the Bacon painting value the painting for what it is or because it was painted by Bacon and is signed by him? Does the purchaser actually like the painting or does he/she like the signature? How much would it be worth if there was no evidence that he painted it? This type of question is raised by the German born Uruguayan artist, Luis Camnitzer in his work Self-Service ,

sheets of paper were ceremoniously displayed on five white plinths, where different sentences such as “Aesthetics sell; ethics waste” and “One signature is action; two signatures are transaction” could be read. By the side of the papers was another plinth with the artist’s signature rubber stamp and a box to collect money. Anyone who visited the show could leave with an “original copy” of a Camnitzer’s work in exchange for one coin, just by using the rubber stamp with Camnitzer’s signature on the photocopies available. (source)

Visitors can stamp one of the sheets and take it away for a modest fee of 20 pence which is donated to Liverpool Food Bank.

Although there are no really "great" works on show, there were some of interest. In particular some Russian Constructivist paintings, posters by the Atelier Populaire from Paris 1968,

Atelier Populaire poster

works by the Guerilla Girls, which raise important questions about the place of women in the world of art (well, the world in general, actually)

Guerrilla Girls, ‘[no title]’ 1985-90

some pictures from Brecht’s "War primer", including an aerial shot of Liverpool in the aftermath of an air raid during WWII, some items from the  Bauhaus (most of them loaned from the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, which we visited earlier this year) a political jukebox, and a copy of Jacques Louis David’s "Death of Marat"

Jacques-Louis David The Death of Marat (La Mort de Marat) 1793–4 Oil paint on canvas depicting Marat lying dead in his bath as he was writing a letter

David, a supporter of the the French Revolution, wanted to find  ways of makig art more widely available and had copies of his painting made by workers in his studio and distributed across the country.

Amongst my favourites of the works on show (and a discovery) were a small number of political woodcuts from the 1930’s by a German artist Gert Arntz.

Linocut print by Gerd Arntz

who deserves to be more widely known.

So although it wasn’t a particularly coherent exhibition, and not everything appealed, it was well worth the visit and we do intend to go for another look before it’s run comes to an end.  An exhibition to make you think, not simply admire pretty pictures.

The Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin – Architecture


The Neue Nationalgalerie, with its collection of 20th century European painting and sculpture up to the 1960’s, is just a short walk (or bus ride) along the canal from the Bauhaus Archive. Quite appropriate, really, as the building was designed by one of the Bauhaus’ Masters, and it’s last Director, Ludwig Mies Van de Rohe. It was his last work, which opened in 1968 not long before his death in August 1969. The building is very typical of his work – the upper pavilion a large open space with walls of glass that allow light to flood in.


Aerial view – Picture source Wikipedia

There are two floors to the building. The upper, glass clad pavilion raised on a granite platform above street level, accessible on three sides by flights of steps. The lower floor, where most of the art collection is displayed, is effectively underground, encased by the platform – only the rear, which overlooks the sculpture garden, with any windows.

The sides of the upper pavilion are 51.8 metres long enclosing an open area of 2,683 square metres. It consists of a square pre-stressed steel plate roof,1.8 meters thick and painted black supported by eight T shaped cruciform columns, two on each side, placed so as to avoid corners.


The curtain walls, made of glass in an unobtrusive metal frame, is not load bearing and allows light to flood inside. The design creates a massive internal space, which would be great for sculpture exhibitions and displaying large works, but the lack of walls means that it is not exactly ideal for exhibiting paintings. Hence they are on display downstairs.

The two large column like structures inside the pavilion are not load bearing and must be conduits for the various building services – electrical cables etc.


On the day we visited the upper storey was displaying sculpture from the 1800’s from the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche (Friedrichswerder Church) which is currently undergoing restoration. They don’t really fit into the remit of a Modern Art Museum and weren’t really of interest to us. But I enjoyed experiencing being inside this massive, light, airy space.

At the back of the building, at street level, there’s a sculpture garden which looked very pleasant. And the sculptures on display, which we could see looking down from the podium were of more interest. However, it wasn’t accessible during our visit. I later discovered that access is only available by special request.


A number of Modern Art sculptures are displayed outside the pavilion on the platform, including works by Alexander Calder


Henry Moore


and Thomas Schütte.


The building is due to close in 2015 for three years for a major renovation, overseen by British architect, David Chipperfield, the designer of the Hepworth in Wakefield, and who has recently worked on the Neues Museum on the Museum Island in Berlin.

The Bauhaus Archive


The Bauhaus was arguably the 20th Century’s most important and influential school of art and design. Founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 191. Forced out when the regional government came under the control of the right, it moved to Dessau to a purpose designed building embodying the Bauhaus style in 1928 until 1932 when it was again forced to move by the Nazis when they tool control of the Dessau town council. Moving into a disused factory building in Berlin, it lasted a year before being permanently closed down by the Nazis.

Unlike other art schools at the time the Bauhaus approach was to bring together the various arts of painting, architecture, theatre, photography, weaving, typography, etc., into a modern synthesis, ignoring the conventional distinctions between the "fine" and "applied" arts. And they encouraged their students to develop well designed products that could be manufactured on an industrial scale. The Masters included Walter Gropius, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Vasily Kandinsky, Josef Albers, Oskar Schlemmer, László Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Today it’s hard to appreciate just how radical the Bauhaus designs were at the time when they were first created. The style has become so much absorbed into the design of many everyday objects today, like the classic cantilever metal tubular chair.


(Picture source Wikipedia)

During our recent trip to Berlin, we had intended to take the train to Dessau to have a look at the Bauhaus school building and master’s houses, but that plan soon went out of the window. However, we did make sure that we visited the Bauhaus Archive which in Berlin itself.


As it’s name implies, the Archive was established as a depositry of books, journals and catalogue material as well as manuscripts, letters and a variety of publications on the Bauhaus. But it was also decided to establish a museum with an exhibition about the Bauhaus and work by it’s Masters and students.

It’s in a building designed by the founder of the school, Walter Gropius. The Archive was founded in Darmstadt in 1960 and it was originally planned to construct the building there. But this fell through and the Archive moved to Berlin in 1971. A new building to a modified version of Gropius’ design  was constructed completed in 1978.


Although I was disappointed at not being able to get out to Dessau, I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Archive – both the building and the exhibition. There were displays about the courses taught at the school, particularly the radical Introductory courses and examples of works by Masters and students in all the subjects studies – ceramics, metalwork, photography, fabrics, painting, theatre design, furniture and architecture. The organisation of the exhibits was a little disorganised but that didn’t spoil the experience for me. The information panels were in both German and English and an audioguide was included in the entry fee (covered by our 3 day Museum pass) – although they did demand visitors left photo-identity or 10 Euros as a a deposit.

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I particularly enjoyed the examples of photographs, a number of the paintings on display, the examples of metal work including lamps and coffee pots, and the models of the buildings designed by Gropius, Mies Van de Rohe and others.

Lamp designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld (image source Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed in the exhibition, and the Archive website has only a very limited selection of pictures. However, we were able to purchase a reasonably priced guide to the museum.