Bauhaus: Art as Life exhibition at the Barbican. Looks familiar?

The Little Hunchback by Kurt Schmidt  and Toni Hergt

The Little Hunchback by Kurt Schmidt and Toni Hergt (

What’s interesting about the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican, London is that so many of the images, sculptures, buildings, fabrics, furniture is so familiar today.

The school was founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius and its aim, outlined in what came to be known as the Bauhaus manifesto as shaping “the structure of the future”. It was a call to return to the crafts and it aimed to confer the same status on the craftsperson as the artist already enjoyed.

From a quite artsty crafty beginning, Bauhaus evolved into a group which focused on technology and geometry and a celebration of the square and the triangle.

But what looked so familiar in the exhibition?

Triadic ballet outfits

Outfits for the Triadic ballet

Pet Shops Boys anyone? Or New Order’s True faith video?

Just typing the phrase “inspired by Bauhaus” into Google brings up over 74000 hits – and I’m presuming that not a great many of these results refer to the band …

The name Ikea kept springing to mind as I went round the exhibition. One of the exhibits was the design of the price list for their furniture (the school had to sell its products to partly fund itself) was practically identical to the way Ikea sets out its prices in its catalogues. There was a striped wall hanging which I could easily imagine as an Ikea rug.

The specially-built Bauhaus building in Dessau wouldn’t look out of place today.

Rectangular and square blocks of colour are seen everywhere. In fact, one of the first buildings I saw on leaving the Barbican had a square of bright orange painted on its white walls.

White Stripes De Stijl cover

White Stripes De Stijl album cover

The artwork for White Stripes album designs was influenced by De Stijl, when its founder starting giving classes at the school in 1923.

A rotating dark wooden bookcase I know I’ve seen in Sunday supplement catalogues.

And of course some of the classic designs are still being sold – the Wassily chair designed by Breuer was on sale in the Barbican shop for a mere £1472:

Wassily chairs in Bauhaus, Dessau

Wassily chair in the Bahaus building, Dessau

A 1923 photographic collage of bits of buildings by Paul Citroen (Metropolis) is said to have inspired Fritz Lang’s film of the same name, which in turn is still an inspiration for films (eg, Bladerunner) and music videos (eg, Queen’s Radio Ga Ga). Citroen studied under Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky at the Bauhaus school.

Metropolis collage by Paul Citroen

Metropolis collage by Paul Citroen (

And perhaps it’s just a reflection of my own interests, but I swear that Tim Burton has been study Bauhaus – their handpuppets anyway. See below the puppet on the far left, Ghost of a Scarecrow which I wouldn’t be suprised to hear influenced his work on Beatlejuice:

Ghost of a Scarecrow and others by Paul Klee

Ghost of a Scarecrow and others by Paul Klee (

Even Steve Jobs was influenced by the minimalist and functional nature of Bauhaus design, according to his biographer Walter Isaacson.

The school broke up in 1933 when pressure from the Nazis and the “degenerate art” label given to them became too much. Key teachers and students left the country to disseminate their ideas throughout the world, and thankfully we’re still reaping the rewards.

As the exhibition runs to 12th August there’s still plenty of time to see it, and for more QT-recommended events in London this year, have a look at 2012’s best exhibitions


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