"Not one Bauhaus, but many Bauhauses."

Curator Jolanthe Kugler talks about ‘The Bauhaus #itsalldesign’, her current exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum.

The Bauhaus was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919. The worldwide fascination with the Bauhaus remains unabated. Hardly any other institution is surrounded by as many myths and legends as the most influential art and design school of the 20th century. ‘The Bauhaus #itsalldesign’ at the Vitra Design Museum transports the Bauhaus into the present.

Jolanthe Kugler, what makes the Bauhaus relevant even almost one hundred years after it was founded?

The Bauhaus set the standards for the art of the avant-garde, while at the same time becoming an agent of social transformation. Artists, scholars, arts patrons and architects were involved at the Bauhaus in various ways: as teachers and guest lecturers, as contributing authors to the series of Bauhaus Books, or as members of its supporting Circle of Friends. The Bauhaus developed a concept of design that left a deep imprint on the 20th century – and that holds potential approaches and possibilities for a concept of design in the 21st century. All of the protagonists at the Bauhaus were connected by the common idea of reshaping every area of daily life with the goal of creating a new society. And of course this idea – with a shift of the parameters – is highly relevant today: we also find ourselves in a period of great social change.

’The Bauhaus #itsalldesign’ also shows works by contemporary artists that were inspired by the Bauhaus. How is the Bauhaus concept manifested in these works of art?

The contemporary artworks on display in the exhibition can be divided into two categories: ‘quotes’ and objects which demonstrate that contemporary designers continue to actively reflect on the Bauhaus concept, and works that were created by an artist or designer especially for this show upon the basis of a specific Bauhaus theme.

On the one hand, the exhibition features works by designers such as Jerszy Seymour, who – just like the original members of the Bauhaus – experimented with materials and production methods, or the Opendesk platform, which questions today’s industrial manufacturing and distribution processes. The commissioned works, on the other hand, cast a critical eye on our way of viewing the Bauhaus and its iconic objects. For example, Olaf Nicolai creates a performance based on the unpublished titles of the Bauhaus Book series.

The ideas and approaches of the Bauhaus were very diverse. As a curator, how do you deal with the complexity of the Bauhaus?

The Bauhaus #itsalldesign’ places a central focus on the Bauhaus members’ understanding of design as an endeavour that encompassed all aspects of life, and on how they defined the role of the ‘designer’ (a term whose current meaning, of course, was still evolving). I have repeatedly said that there was not really one Bauhaus, but many Bauhauses. Although the Bauhaus appears to be exhaustively researched, it still retains a certain degree of obscurity due to its multifaceted nature. Despite its remarkable productivity, it still was, first and foremost, an idea, a fictive means of orientation, a holistic utopian vision. The Bauhaus was an idea and a conception of life, not a style, but a new way of thinking – in both small and large dimensions. This is what the exhibition aims to demonstrate.

The hashtag #itsalldesign is part of the exhibition title. Why?

The Bauhaus did not merely regard the form of a chair as a question of design, but also the form of communal living, society, community, social structures, institutions and processes. According to this view, architecture and design were endowed with formative and pedagogic powers, so that the ultimate purpose of design was to achieve greater justice in the world.

The Bauhaus was an idea and a conception of life, not a style, but a new way of thinking.

In a similar way, today’s designers are increasingly ignoring the boundaries of their traditional roles. They are experimenting with new forms of social participation in the processes of design, utilisation and usage. #itsalldesign builds a bridge between the ‘Bauhaus’ and today’s design trends, which are also strongly influenced by phenomena such as the digital revolution and social media.

The idea of a ‘new type of designer’ was revolutionary in its day. Which currents could be regarded as equivalent in the realm of design today?

The Bauhaus marked the starting point of a comprehensive understanding of design, which is indeed being demanded again today with a new urgency: this is now happening under the rubric of ‘social design’, ‘open design’ or ‘design thinking’. A fundamental discussion is taking place with regard to how designers can situate their work in a larger context and contribute to the shape of society.

More information at:www.design-museum.de →


Publication Date: 10.7.2015
Author: Vitra
Title Image: Kurt Schmidt with F.W. Bogler and G. Teltscher, »The Mechanical Ballet«, 1923, New Production Theater der Klänge, 2009, photo: O. Eltinger

Exhibition Images: © Vitra Design Museum, Mark Niedermann