Bauhaus at 100

The first visitors explore exhibits at the Bauhaus Museum Weimar

André Kühn, © Klassik Stiftung Weimar
Exhibits at the Bauhaus Museum Weimar
The city best known for Goethe and Schiller is positioning itself as the birthplace of 20th-century Modernism.

New Weimar Museum Welcomes the Avant-Garde Home

Klassik Stiftung Weimar © Jan Keler

Peter Keler, Cradle, 1922

Over three floors, the museum examines Bauhaus teaching practices and functional designs for modern life, presenting items ranging from woven carpets to puppets, from chairs to stoves, and from toys to teapots.

“The Bauhaus comes from Weimar,” the city reminds us at its new museum to commemorate the pioneering art and design academy. The reminder is necessary: for the last nine decades, there has been little evidence that the school Walter Gropius founded 100 years ago was ever based in this small but important German city.

Weimar owes its UNESCO World Heritage status to a cultural movement known as Classicism led by the great German writers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. But it is finally also staking its claim as the birthplace of modernism. In the early 20th century, Weimar was a beacon of the avant-garde under a progressive museum director and patron, Count Harry Kessler. It was fertile ground for Walter Gropius to found the Bauhaus to “conceive and create the new building of the future.”

The school stayed in the city just six years. Under pressure from reactionary nationalist forces, it was forced to move to Dessau in 1925 and to Berlin in 1932. It closed for good in 1933, the year the Nazis seized power. Many of its protagonists fled into exile and scattered, spreading its functional aesthetic and utopian ideals as far afield as Tokyo, Tel Aviv and Mexico and the U.S. The Bauhaus emerged around the world; in glass and concrete towers, minimalist furniture, textiles, crockery and lamps.

The new Bauhaus Museum Weimar opened on April 6 in a monolithic concrete cube designed by the Berlin architect Heike Hanada, a highlight in a busy calendar of centenary events across Germany. It is one of three new German museums to commemorate the Bauhaus; the second, in Dessau, will be inaugurated in September, and the third, a vast extension to the Gropius-designed Bauhaus Archive in Berlin, is scheduled to open in 2022.

The Bauhaus was not only viewed as too revolutionary by the Nazis, but also by East Germany’s communist regime. There was no official recognition of its 50th anniversary in Weimar in 1969 and no attempt to promote its legacy. It was only in 1995 that a provisional Bauhaus museum opened in the city’s former Kunsthalle, but it was much too small for the collection and fell far short of modern conservation standards.

The new museum gives the world’s most famous design school a prominent platform in the cityscape for the first time. Built at a cost of €27 million, it is a sturdy presence set back from a central square next to the park. Narrow horizontal strips of LED lighting around the exterior aim to “softly illuminate and alleviate the heaviness of the building” Hanada says.

House Am Horn, 1923, Architect Georg Muche
Tillmann Franzen, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018

House Am Horn, 1923, Architect Georg Muche

The Museum prior to opening
André Kühn, © Klassik Stiftung Weimar

The Bauhaus Museum Weimar prior to opening

The Museum's first visitors explore the exhibits
André Kühn, © Klassik Stiftung Weimar

The museum's first visitors explore the exhibits

The Bauhaus Museum Weimar by Night
André Kühn, © Klassik Stiftung Weimar

The Bauhaus Museum Weimar by Night

Mies van der Rohe exhibition
Andrew Alberts © heike hanada laboratory of art and architecture 2019

Mies van der Rohe exhibition

The Walter Gropius Collection
Andrew Alberts © heike hanada laboratory of art and architecture 2019

The Walter Gropius Collection

Tomás Saraceno's Sundial for Spatial Echoes in the foyer of the Bauhaus Museum Weimar
Andrew Alberts © heike hanada laboratory of art and architecture 2019

Tomás Saraceno's Sundial for Spatial Echoes in the foyer of the Bauhaus Museum Weimar

Wilhem Löber, Dragonjar, 1923/25
Klassik Stiftung Weimar © Friedmann and Renate Löber

Wilhem Löber, Dragonjar, 1923/25

Bauhaus
Klassik Stiftung Weimar

Marcel Breuer, Batten chair, 1922/24

Bauhaus
Klassik Stiftung Weimar © Vereinigung der Benediktiner zu Maria Laach e.V.

Theodor Bogler, Stock cans, 1923

Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, Small Ship-Building Game, 1923
Bauhaus Museum Weimar

Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, Small Ship-Building Game, 1923. Designer of the reconstruction: Naef Spiele A.G

Erich Dieckmann, Kitchen Chair, about 1925
Klassik Stiftung Weimar

Erich Dieckmann, Kitchen Chair, about 1925

Marcel Breuer, Four-Piece Set Tables B9, 1925
Klassik Stiftung Weimar

Marcel Breuer, Four-Piece Set Tables B9, 1925

Eberhardt Schrammen, Five Hand Puppets, about 1923
Klassik Stiftung Weimar

Eberhardt Schrammen, Five Hand Puppets, about 1923

Inside, it is surprisingly light and airy with windows overlooking the city and a neighboring park. Two narrow, enclosed staircases ascend through the museum–one in the center and one to the side, offering views of the park. Suspended in the foyer is a contemporary artwork by Tomás Saraceno; a web of filaments and clouds of geometrically shaped mirrors called Sundial for Spatial Echoes.

Though Weimar’s collection is not the largest in the world (both Dessau and Berlin have bigger Bauhaus collections), it is the oldest, and was started by Gropius himself. It has since grown to encompass 13,000 objects. Over three floors, the museum examines Bauhaus teaching practices and functional designs for modern life, presenting items ranging from woven carpets to puppets, from chairs to stoves, and from toys to teapots. Among its treasures are paintings by Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky and Lyonel Feininger, all masters at the school, and furniture designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer.

The museum is envisaged as part of a new “Quarter of Modernism” in heritage-rich Weimar, whose long-established and much-visited tourism sites include the beautiful Rococo hall of the Duchess Anna Amalia Library, the homes of Goethe and Schiller and the ducal palace, now a museum with an outstanding array of paintings by Lucas Cranach.

“We hope to finally overcome the notion that Weimar is only about Classicism,” says Hellmut Seemann, president of the organization that oversees the city’s museums. Among the new attractions is a permanent exhibition at the Neues Museum, located in the former Grand Ducal Museum, which was built in 1869 as one of the first museums in Germany.

The exhibition there highlights the forerunners of the Bauhaus; Realist, Impressionist and Jugendstil artists and designers of the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain. Among its exhibits are paintings by Claude Monet, Max Beckmann and Christian Rohlfs and some exquisite furniture designed by Henry van de Velde, the architect of the Weimar buildings that originally housed the Bauhaus.

The only work of architecture the Weimar Bauhaus ever actually built opens to the public on May 18. The Haus am Horn, completed in 1923 as a prototype for modern living, was designed by Georg Muche, a master at the school. Its innovative fittings include a gas oven, radiators and electric lights designed by László Moholy-Nagy.

The House of the Weimar Republic, commemorating the Weimar Constitution of 1919, will open in the vacated Kunsthalle later this year. In 2020, an exhibition about forced labor during World War II will open in the south wing of the so-called Gauforum, a monolithic Nazi-era building that served as the regional power center of the Third Reich. Weimar has taken the 20th century on board–the darkest and the brightest chapters.

Get more information on Weimar’s Quarter of Modernism. See an overview of Bauhaus centenary events across Germany.

About the Author

Catherine Hickley

Catherine Hickley is a Berlin-based arts journalist and the author of The Munich Art Hoard: Hitler's Dealer and his Secret Legacy (Thames & Hudson, 2015).

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