“Bauhaus 1919—1933: Workshops for Modernity” at MoMA

I visited the Museum of Modern Art on January 7th, with my girlfriend, Anna, because she really wanted to see the new Tim Burton show. Yes, it was interesting, and yes, it was incredibly crowded; the entirety of the exhibit plus the people viewing it was a huge fire hazard. After we left the Burton show, I saw a few signs flitting about pointing upstairs to a Bauhaus show—this greatly piqued my interests, so I proceeded to convince Anna that the upstairs show was going to be incredibly awesome, and she followed.

Unsurprisingly, I found that the Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity show was indeed awesome. Anna however, after five minutes, left me upstairs and went back to the Tim Burton show. My first impressions of the show was that there was a lot of pieces to take in all at once. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as viewers have the freedom to gravitate towards which aspects of the Bauhaus they find most interesting. As a graphic designer by training, I was immediately drawn to posters, typographic exercises, and other two-dimensional paper media pieces done by the likes of Herbert Bayer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Vasily Kandinsky, and the students they taught, such as Heinrich-Siegfried Bormann, and Joost Schmidt.

Above: Herbert Bayer’s design for a cinema. 1924-25

Above: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Z VIII, 1922-23

Of the aforementioned designers/artists, I found Bayer’s work the most gripping, as he was amongst the most prolific artists in the show; museum goers could view Bayer’s thought process from exercise to finished poster—from beginning to end. Like Kandinskys’, Bayer’s exercises done in the Bauhaus were done with extreme care and precision. Each exercise is not just an experiment in color theory, or a design of a home or movie theatre, but each exercise is a dynamic visual piece unto itself. This concept of the exercise itself becoming a visual piece reminded me much of the work I had to do in visual theory classes and in intro-graphic design classes, where not only did students have to experiment with color, ground versus foreground, or typography, but we needed to produce visually stimulating works of art. Whilst viewing many of the exercises in the exhibit, what I saw was really the beginning of the modern day art school.

Above: Heinrich-Siegfried Bormann’s visual analysis of a piece of music. 1930

Bayer and Moholy-Nagy had a number of posters in the show that really grounded modern graphic design— they were dynamic, used modernist typography such as sans-serif typefaces, or even Bauhaus typefaces, used strict ratios and rules to develop layout and space, and were produced to look very mechanically made. Although I understood that these were all very important, significant works, my absolute favorite piece in the show was done by a student of Kandisky’s: Heinrich-Sigfried Bormann. Bormann. The piece is a poster of sorts that visually analyzes a piece of music using color theory and shape, completed in October, 1930. The piece shows the very early beginnings of information design, and was beautifully executed. Many mathematical-based visualizations of abstract concepts owe much to this design, as well as the general concepts taught by the Bauhaus.



  1. gerry

    Good on the show, but you have missed out the discussion of Morris’ influence on the Bauhaus and the differences between Bauhaus philosophy and Morris.

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