Bauhaus is usually associated with its enduring legacy of angular modernist buildings and distinctive graphic design. Bauhaus: Art as Life at the Barbican, though, charts the development of the movement from its formative years as a craft-focused group to the holistic powerhouse that continues to influence architects and designers today.
The resulting exhibition is a graphical history lesson showing the turbulent path the Bauhaus School trod until it was disbanded in 1933 at the behest of the Nazis.
The decision to weave the movement’s most celebrated stars – including Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, both of whom have works on display – into the wider narrative, rather than highlighting them individually, is astute.
The exhibition, laid out in roughly chronological order, matures as the Bauhaus School became more tightly focused, with the more interesting – and easily recognizable – pieces congregating towards the end (although an early series of creepy puppets made by Paul Klee for his young son Felix are a highlight). The architectural designs and interior furnishings, in particular, show just how influential Bauhaus has been.
The problem is that Bauhaus was a live art, created to be used and built and touched. Viewing it in a gallery is a little like admiring a pinned butterfly; interesting, often beautiful, but rendered somewhat sterile by its environment. That said, the utilitarian surroundings of the Barbican gallery is as apt a showroom for a Bauhaus exhibition as London has to offer.
First published in City A.M.