The Bauhaus in Oldenburg: avant-garde in the province
Searching for traces: the Bauhaus in Oldenburg?
In the research project “The Bauhaus in Oldenburg – avant-garde in the province, which was launched in 2016, we set out to find traces and to take a closer look at the regional Bauhaus history. The findings show: Oldenburg is a must on the Bauhaus map! The funding director of the Oldenburg State Museum, Walter Müller-Wulckow, was one of the first museum directors in Germany to support the Bauhaus ideas early on by purchasing furniture and products. Both for his own collection as well as for the museum opened in 1923, he acquired tubular steel furniture, ceramics by Otto Lindig or the famous “Bauhaus chess game”.
[Translate to English:] Absatz 2 und 3
However, – prompted, encouraged and facilitated by Müller-Wulckow, the “Vereinigung für junge Kunst” (“Association of Young Art”) and the State Museum – young artists from the Oldenburg region and East Frisia set out to continue their studies at the avant-garde university in Weimar and Dessau. They returned to their region infected with the virus of modernism and brought back impulses from the pioneering art and design school.
In Oldenburg the enthusiasm for the Bauhaus’ work was significantly supported by the Association of Young Art headed by the lawyer Ernst Beyersdorff. Some of the highlights of the collaboration with the Bauhaus Dessau are the exhibitions “Paul Klee”, “new architecture” and “textiles and ceramics”, the “stage design exhibition” – under the participation of Oskar Schlemmer and László Moholy-Nagy – and “the cheap flat” that was on exhibit between 1926 and 1931 in the Castle or in the Augusteum. The exhibition “The face of graphic art” in 1932 not only showed works by the Bauhaus masters Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer, but also works by the Oldenburg Bauhausler Karl Schwoon. A solo exhibition was planned for 1933 with the newest works of Josef Albers, who had been appointed Bauhaus master in 1925. The exhibition fell through due to the forced closure of the Bauhaus by the National Socialists and the dissolution of the Association of Young Art.
Within the scope of the research project funded by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony, the work of the Bauhauslers from North-West Germany was explored for the first time, breaking new ground in the scholarly field. Based on the journeys of the lives of Hans Martin Fricke, Karl Schwoon, Hermann Gautel and Hin Bredendieck, the history of utopia, adjustment, emigration and the ongoing effect of the Bauhaus idea in our time is exemplarily portrayed.
In this context the architect Hans Martin Fricke (1906–1994) can be seen as being somewhat Janus-faced, as what the architectural historian Werner Durth describes as “biographical interconnections” in “German Architects” (1986) can be applied to Fricke’s life. While studying at the Bauhaus during the Weimar Republic, he worked as national leader of the Reich Chamber of Culture and as architect during the “Third Reich”, while he became an important force for reconstruction in Oldenburg after the War. His buildings from the 1920s – representing the reform spirit of the Weimar Republic – only survived in the form of draft sketches and photos, his post-war buildings are an example of the return to modernism in the young German Federal Republic.
[Translate to English:] Absatz 6
The native-born Oldenburger Karl Schwoon and Hermann Gautel largely owe their admission to the Bauhaus Dessau to the support of Walter Müller-Wulckow. Hermann Gautel (1905–1945) had already received first stimuli at the Oldenburger Werkhaus – the Oldenburg school of arts, where he also met Karl Schwoon. Following his studies at the Bauhaus Dessau, where he worked together with Marianne Brandt and Hin Bredendieck at the metal workshop, he opened an innovative furniture and interior design store in downtown Oldenburg (Burgstraße 4) and passed the Bauhaus idea on to the region – at times in the sense of a “new cosiness” e.g. combining steel tubing with padding.
[Translate to English:] Absatz 7
Karl Schwoon (1908–1976), who initially worked as scene painter at the paint shop of the Oldenburger Landestheater (State Theatre), received essential inspirations from Klee and Kandinsky at the Bauhaus. After the War he returned to Oldenburg and programmatically devoted himself to the cultural reconstruction of post-war Germany, first as managing director of the Oldenburg Kunstverein (“Oldenburg art society”) and later with his own “galerie schwoon”. “We witnessed that serious art can be labelled as banal if its outer frame is willingly destroyed and propagandistic methods are applied through declaring the works of art as such”, evoking the Nazi iconoclasm at the opening of his gallery, encouraging open-mindedness vis-à-vis contemporary art.
[Translate to English:] Absatz
Faced by economic constraints – also part of economic and social history of the early post-war period – his gallery had to close just after a few years, whereupon Schwoon became photo editor of the Western-German radio and television magazine “Hör Zu!” (“Listen!”).
The life of Hin Bredendieck (1904–1995), who was born in Aurich, represents the tragic history of the expulsion of the Bauhaus from Germany, which, however, was essential for the export and the spreading of the Bauhaus idea around the world. Following his exceptionally successful collaboration in the Bauhaus’ metal workshop and his stay in Switzerland, where he worked together with Sigfried Giedion and Max Bill, he came to Oldenburg in 1934, from where he emigrated to America in 1937. As a teacher for the “new bauhaus chicago” – founded by Walter Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy – he conveyed the Bauhaus ideas to the “new world”, before he finally became a founder of the industrial design course at the Department of Industrial Design of Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Along with the Bauhaus Masters Josef Albers, Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, Lyonel Feininger, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and László Moholy-Nagy, who had also emigrated to the US, he became one of the most influential representatives of the Bauhaus ideas in America. The unexpected discovery of Bredendieck’s large artistic estate in January 2018 was an extraordinary stroke of luck for the Oldenburg project and is still leading to new findings, as research has not yet been concluded.
After the Second World War the Bauhaus legacy lived on in Oldenburg: Karl Schwoon had already evoked “Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus” for the newspaper Nordwest Nachrichten, as “in times of reshaping after a breakdown our sense of order calls for simplification and clarity in the things of everyday life (…).” In 1947 Oldenburg even considered establishing a school of design modelled on the Bauhaus. The former Bauhaus master Georg Muche specially came to Oldenburg and gave a lecture on the “phantasy and reality in modern painting”.
“Thinking the World Anew” – 100 years bauhaus
On the occasion of the Bauhaus centenary the Oldenburg State Museum for Art and Cultural History will hold a comprehensive Bauhaus exhibition from 27th April until 4th August 2019: Under the title “Between utopia and adjustment. The Bauhaus in Oldenburg”, the works of the Bauhauslers from the region are presented at the Oldenburg Augusteum and are juxtaposed with epochal works of the Bauhaus masters. The highlights include, a.o., works by Wassily Kandinsky, Oskar Schlemmer, László Moholy-Nagy, Josef Albers, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Marianne Brandt and others.
[Translate to English:] Absatz
Some of the exhibits – that could already be shown in the groundbreaking exhibition of the Association of Young Art during the Weimar Republic – now return to Oldenburg after almost 100 years. In the meantime they are no longer only examples for the unique experimental spirit of the highly effective school, but also form incunabula of modernisms’ art history: “The Bauhaus didn’t only exercise its influence in Germany, but really in all cultural countries”, as Julia Feininger told the Oldenburg painter Emma Ritter 1948 from the ‘new world’.
A comprehensive volume accompanying the exhibition will be released by the Michael Imhof Verlag. The project is supported by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony as well as the Federal Cultural Foundation and is the central contribution of the State of Lower Saxony for the Centenary of the founding of the Bauhaus in 2019.
[GS, RS 2019]