The Bauhaus was an arts education institution founded in 1919 in the city of Weimar. After its dissolution in 1933, many of its faculty members immigrated to the United States where they established a new Bauhaus movement. In 1938, the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA) held its first Bauhaus exhibition, which marked the American acceptance of the Bauhaus.
This paper examines the early American acceptance of the Bauhaus, with a particular focus on the first Bauhaus exhibition by MoMA in 1938. We look at how the Bauhaus principles were accepted and visualized in the United States post-emigration, and hope to shed a light on the influence of the Bauhaus movement that spread through the U.S. First, we examine the cultural and social landscape of the United States in 1920s-1930s, which eventually paved the way for acceptance of the Bauhaus movement. After the First World War, artists in Europe and the U.S., despite their differing social contexts, shared their ideas and ideologies in diverse fields of 20th-century art. The exchange was led by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., who was also the founding director of MoMA. He was well aware of the artistic scene in Europe, and used the exchange efforts as a momentum to spur the development of American arts and culture, as well as their system. The Bauhaus, which had been introduced to the U.S. mainly through its architectural achievements from the early 1920s, was also part of these exchange efforts. With its functionalist concept of “International Style”, the Bauhaus movement formed a close relationship with the American modernist movement.
The American acceptance of the Bauhaus movement was paved by the formalist programs by MoMA in the early 1930s. The ‘Bauhaus 1919-1928’ exhibition was an extension of these programs, and while it saw some achievements, it also showed limitations. The exhibition attempted to convey the fundamental principles of the Bauhaus as an educational institution, which was in line with the Bauhaus' previous attempts to overcome its initial acceptance as a ‘formalist movement’. The result was a whole new presentation of the Bauhaus, quite different from its initial recognition as a systematic approach to art.
This paper analyzes the ‘Bauhaus 1919-1928’ exhibition with a focus on the achievements of Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and Walter Gropius. Barr and Gropius were responsible for stripping away the achievements of the completed Bauhaus principles. Instead, they resurrected first hand, the elements that had been rendered as peripheral; that is, the early experimental spirit of Bauhaus, and its practice-based training. By reviewing their work, we analyze the scene where the ideologies of this historical institution, rooted in practicality, were revived. This will show that the existence of the Bauhaus is grounded in its acting principles: the Bauhaus doctrine is not permanent, instead it founds its identity within the real world by maintaining close links with the changing social conditions.
During the inter-war period, there was a call for the Bauhaus to clarify its identity and role in the U.S. Its founding principles which had been intentionally concealed in the context of modernism and in the aesthetics of formalism was resurrected, and as a result, the Bauhaus was re-defined. This shows that Bauhaus did not become fossilized as a cultural ideology but instead was accepted as a solution and an innovative method, and a response to the social changes of the contemporary era. And as a result, the Bauhaus suggested a new possibility for a new art, which transcends the dualistic world of, or the artistic and non-artistic philosophies of modernism. It presented a whole new expanded sphere of art, which integrates the individual subjects under a universal definition. The Bauhaus is rooted in real-life experiences, transcending the divisions and the hierarchy of art. Such concept and principle of Bauhaus provides an insight to the modern definition of Bauhaus today.