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Bauhaus Harvard – Interview with Laura Muir

January 28, 2019

image © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Photo: Harvard Art Museums

The Bauhaus and Harvard, on view February 8 through July 28, 2019, will feature approximately 200 works, including textiles, paintings, photographs, furniture, and archival materials, drawn almost entirely from the Busch-Reisinger Museum’s rich collection. Laura Muir, Research Curator for Academic and Public Programs at Harvard Art Museums, gives an overview on the show.

What are some of the goals of the exhibition?

Laura Muir, Harvard Art Museum

Laura Muir: The Bauhaus centennial gives us the opportunity to reflect on the unique character of this collection and the circumstances that led to its formation in the late 1940s with the help of Walter Gropius. Gropius, director of the Bauhaus from its founding in 1919 until 1928, remained in close contact with many of his former colleagues long after the school closed in 1933 under pressure from Germany’s Nazi government. In 1937, Gropius came to Harvard to join the Department of Architecture. (…) In the exhibition, we want to recognize Gropius’s essential role in establishing the Bauhaus collection, but also underscore the fact that it was very much a group effort. (…) Other institutions with major Bauhaus holdings are also planning anniversary exhibitions that consider different aspects of the Bauhaus and its legacy. By telling our particular story, this project will illuminate a key episode in the history of the Bauhaus in America. (…).

Why is the Bauhaus still relevant today?

Muir: Because of the way it brought together art, architecture, and design; it was multimedia, it was multidisciplinary, and it was attempting to eliminate hierarchies between fine and applied art. There are also the aesthetics associated with it: clean lines, geometric shapes. Even 100 years later, the Bauhaus seems very forward-thinking and pioneering—a lot of artists and designers are still drawing inspiration from that. (…)

With more than 30,000 objects in the Bauhaus collection, how did you choose just 200 for the exhibition?

Muir: I started with a list of about 400 objects and then narrowed it down. I wanted to give visitors a sense of the breadth and depth of the collection, but also highlight important strengths, such as materials related to Bauhaus pedagogy, the weaving workshop, and the domestic interior. (…)

What might visitors learn from the exhibition?

Muir: People often associate the Bauhaus with certain iconic objects, like Marcel Breuer’s tubular steel chair, Wilhelm Wagenfeld and Carl Jucker’s glass table lamp, and László Moholy-Nagy’s abstract paintings. We have examples of these objects, but what might surprise visitors is that we also have deep collections of materials related to these singular objects. For example, in the exhibition we’ll show the Breuer chair along with advertising materials that were produced at the Bauhaus to promote the sale of that chair. We have samples of the fabric designed in the weaving workshop, specifically for tubular steel furniture. And we have Lucia Moholy’s photographs of Bauhaus interiors that show the furniture in its original context. Through these conversations between objects, we want to stress the important role of collaboration between artists and designers.

We are also excited to consider the Bauhaus/Harvard connection through a section of the exhibition devoted to the Harvard Graduate Center (1950), designed by Gropius’s Cambridge-based architectural firm. A complex of dormitories and a commons building (now the Caspersen Student Center at Harvard Law School), it was the first modernist building on campus and integrated architecture, furnishings, and artworks commissioned from leading contemporary artists

On a personal level, what have you found so fascinating about the Bauhaus?

(…) When I came to Harvard, I was thrilled to be able to work with this incredible collection (which includes the Feininger archive). I’ve long been fascinated by the story of how the collection came together and the role that Harvard played at this particular moment in Bauhaus history. It’s not as well known as it could be, and the centennial seems a perfect moment to take a close look at it through the objects in this remarkable collection.

A full length version of the interview can be found here.

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