Friday, 15 November 2013

Internationalizing the Bauhaus

Bauhaus/Dessau in presenting "Das Bauhaus in Kalkutta: Eine Begegnung Kosmopolitischer Avantgarden“ unsuccessfully tries to make a mountain out of a molehill" (Hatje Cantz, 2013.) It is surely significant to publicize the intellectual ambitions of the future Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and his innovative University with world culture intentions. But Kandinsky, Itten, Feininger, and Klee do not represent the German Bauhaus in any significant way. And the Indian commentary on Kandinsky’s experimental abstractions is more Indian local than Bauhaus global and utterly unconvincing: Kandinsky, the Russian painter has been for more than ten years the herald of the “Spiritual in ART2".

His power of abstraction is unswerving, put into action as it is by the fervor of a mysticism which has no other name but that of Russia. He was the first to paint pictures without any subject matter. /God help us!/ He avoided all allusions to literature and nature and so made himself free to infuse his inner experience into mere lines and mere colours which are organized into compositions of intoxicating Harmony.” (pp. 2-3.) "De gustibus” but this Indian “thinker” needs to visit Gabriele Münter’s Murnau home where Vladimir glorified their furniture with rural iconography as he tried so hard to feel like a farmer! And then he absconded to Russia with Nina, leaving poor Gabriele to wait in vain for him in Stockholm! Artist’s blather is just that, not to be believed forever.

Indeed, in my Albert Kahn-influenced judgment the Bauhaus was a real Floperoo, a failure that post Nazi guilt has created a laughable myth. Gropius gave up on the Bauhaus in 1928, when badgered by his hot shot faculty into calling them “Professors” not the idyllic “Masters” as the budget reduction hit them hard. A local journalist was harassing him for “double dipping”—one salary as Director and another as Törten Junker suburb! It’s even whispered that Herbert Bayer was pursuing his second wife Ilse. Remember, the first architecture course was in 1927, taught not by Gropius, but the Swiss Communist Hannes Meyer. That was the end of the Bauhaus! Pious and Marianne Brandt fled to Berlin to create Siemenstadt.

Gropius knew that appointing a Communist the Bauhaus director was the end of the Bauhaus—as Dessau’s City Hall slithered to Naziism. But Meyer and several of Commie students fled to Moscow in 1930 where Kruschev had cancelled Stalin’s “Wedding Cake architecture” (It was too expensive!). The modern “Bauhaus” buildings Meyer and his former students built so impressed Holland’s most innovative architect arrived as a journalist to report and he recently revealed that it turned him into an architect. 

Incidentally, my Detroit hero Albert Kahn faced with a depression in Detroit worked several years in Russia. He returned to Detroit because the Soviets were slow to pay him. Back in Detroit, he held a Conference at the University of Michigan in 1941 (where he had made many of the major buildings) for architects who wanted to build defense factories: Present were both Gropius and Mies as well as the Finnish giant Eliel Saarinen, director of Detroit’s Bauhaus, The Cranbrook Academy of Art, along with his brilliant son Eero. 
Kahn greeted Gropius and Mies teasingly as “the Glass House Boys” and lectured them that architecture was 90% business and only 10% ART. He chided them about fancy facades when they should be assessing the factories’ programs and build to achieve those aims. The Germans got no defense assignments.
Meanwhile other Bauhaus students went to Palestine where they eventually made Tel Aviv into the greatest Bauhaus suburb in the world. Back in Berlin, where Mies became the third director of the Bauhaus kicked out of Dessau. He dismissed the Communist students who hadn’t followed Meyer to Moscow and rented an abandoned telephone factory for the failing school. He had an immediate problem: his first building (1926) a Denkmal in a Berlin Cemetery for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg attracted the attention of Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler’s propaganda chief. He asked Mies what the hall was he doing praising the founders of the Germany Communist Party who had been assassinated by right wing soldiers. GULP. Mies became instantly a Nice Nazi! And spent the next eight years unsuccessfully begging Albert Speer for commissions—until Gropius, by then Dean of Harvard’s architecture school, got him in 1938 a commission for a millionaire’s summer home in Yellowstone, Wyoming. (Mies was first considered for the Deanship but he couldn’t speak English!)
Mies had an inferiority complex from being the blue collar son of an Aachen stone mason. In 1910 whe he was one Azubi of four for the great AEG architect Peter Behrens: the others were Corbusier, Gropius and his future silent partner, Adolf Meyer. Mies bitterly resented having to report to upper class Gropius. Unhappily for him, the parvenu Clevelander Philip C. Johnson (1900-2005) made Mies his protégé in America. Johnson was an unbalanced gay man who dropped out of Harvard several times as he pursued historical studies. He had a German nanny so he gladly chased other gays in Berlin in 1926. His other mission was to be the architecture scout for the future director of the Museum of Modern Art, planned for a 1928 opening. Johnson excitedly phoned him to come to Dessau where he declared their glassy HQ the greatest modern building. 

Alas, the professors and students grumbled that that they froze in the winter and sweated in the summer! Johnson turned Nazi as he partied in Berlin.He returned to America bleating anti-Semitic blather for the Catholic radio preacher Charles Coughlan who fumed that FDR created a “Jew Deal”. Johnson promoted FDR’s opponent in the 1936 election, Huey Long, the governor of Louisiana. When Long was assassinated, Johnson quit politics and entered Harvard, where he studied architecture for the first time—under Gropius. He wrote hateful letters accusing Gropius of being obsessively in pursuit of housing for the working classes. That indeed was the original ideal of the Bauhaus!
Incidentally, I serendipitously became the “student” of the greatest architect to come out of the Bauhaus, Bertrand Goldberg, a Chicago Jew in the last 1933 class. When the Bauhaus folded he became Mies’s Azubi until he fled Berlin for Paris and Chicago as Hitler took over. Until he died in 1997, he was my mentor. To his dieing day he was proudly faithful to Gropius’s working class ideal. Peter J. Blake, a pseudoname for a Jew who became an American journalist, declared in his obituary of Johnson that he corrupted for a century a serious dialogue about the social importance of architecture. And Mies went along with him. The real internationalization of Bauhaus ideals is ignored, from ignorance and malice by the Bauhaus Triennale organized in 2013 to prepare for hoopla for the school’s centennial in 2019. 
They should be ashamed, not only for their glib ignorance of the Bauhaus’s true history but for the secret scandal of banning me from their press lists. While Mies was a Nice Nazi the triple brass has descended into Nasty Nazism for blacklisting me: Beruf Verbot is evil. Gropius deserved better. Though he was confused at the end of his life. When the putative successor to the Bauhaus, the Ulm School of Design was threatened with closure, the students swarmed about Gropius as he gave a final speech there. He denied to support the students. “There is no connection between Art and Politics!” Oh, Pious, what a comedown. It’s tome for the Bauhustlers who have darkened his name to talk truthfully about the Bauhaus and its history. The Kalkutta essay is, sadly, “poudre aux yeux.”

Gropius deserves better, in spite of all his errors.”

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