Take a look at the photos of the Bush Tetras – a three-girl, one-man no-wave/post-punk band from the early 1980s Manhattan scene. Now look at the above photo “Marcel Breuer and his Harem” by Bauhaus photographer Erich Consemüller, taken sometime around 1927. Except for the fact that Breuer looks more like Ron Mael from Sparks without Mustache as drummer Dee Pop, you could mistake that for a photo of the punk band. This raises a few questions: Did the art students Bush Tetras make their style dependent on the women of the Bauhaus? Or did the women of the Bauhaus look to the future and see punk? The second scenario seems more likely since the women of the Bauhaus were not well known until recently.
Personally, I feel betrayed after studying art and art history at the university many years ago and only now having met some important artists from the radical German art school founded by Walter Gropius. All its famous exponents and art stars are men, but it seems that the gender balance of the Bauhaus was closer to that of the general population (as was in many cases that of the early punk and post-punk scenes).
But we tend not to learn the names or see the works of these artists, and in some cases their work has even been posthumously attributed to their male counterparts. Nor are we familiar with her progressive personal style, essential in the Bauhaus’s overall approach to revolutionizing the arts, including fashion, as a way to liberate humanity from the dogmas of the past.
How unfortunate that the memory of the Bauhaus, like the memory of punk, has repeated the same old rules that its artists broke. The school’s gender equality was radical, hence the satirical title of the photo, which “expresses the exact opposite of what the photo itself shows,” notes the Bauhaus Cooperation site: “the modernity, emancipation, equality or even superiority of the Women in it.” The “young master” of the Breuer joinery looks at the three artists to his left “skeptically with folded arms” as if to say: “’These are ‘my’ women?!’”. harem”, left to right, are Breuer’s wife Martha Erps, Katt Both and the photographer’s wife, Ruth Hollós, who “seems to be suppressing laughter as she looks at the photographer (her husband)”.
Erich Consemüller, who taught architecture at the Bauhaus, was commissioned by Gropius to document the school and its life. Gropius worked with him with the photographer Lucia Moholy, wife of László Moholy-Nagy (see photo of her above, taken by her husband sometime between 1924-28). In the mid-1920s, Moholy mainly took outdoor shots, such as the photo of her above by Erps and Hollós on the roof of the studio building in Dessau. Consemüller’s work focused primarily on interiors, with experimental exceptions such as the Mechanical Fantasy series shown here, which uses clothing, poses, and double exposures to visually emphasize a sort of unity of purpose and place male and female Bauhaus artists within and to combine almost typographical arrangements.
In fact, almost all Bauhaus artists—as practiced at the school— dabbled in photography, and many used the medium to both casually and consciously document the Bauhaus’s commitment to gender equality and the full inclusion of female artists in his programs, statement painter and photographer T. Lux seems to underscore Feininger in the group photo below of the school’s weavers on the steps of the new Bauhaus building in 1927. (Female artists in the recording: Léna Bergner, Gunta Stölzl, Ljuba Monastirsky, Otti Berger, Lis Beyer, Elisabeth Mueller, Rosa Berger, Ruth Hollós and Lisbeth Oestreicher.)
Bauhaus artists, both male and female, were in some ways very similar to early punks, inventing new ways to shake up the establishment and break out of prescribed roles. But instead of offering an inner-city alternative to the status quo, they offered a recipe for its complete transformation through art. Who can say how far this movement would have progressed if it had not been splintered by the Nazis. “Let us together,” as Gropius wrote, “claim, design, and create the construction of the future that encompasses everything in one form, architecture, sculpture, and painting,” and almost everything else in the built and visual environments, he might have added .
The pioneers of the Bauhaus art movement: discover Gertrud Arndt, Marianne Brandt, Anni Albers and other forgotten innovators
The Politics and Philosophy of the Bauhaus Design Movement: A Brief Introduction
Watch Bauhaus World, a free documentary celebrating the 100th anniversary of Germany’s legendary school of art, architecture and design
Josh Jones is a writer and musician from Durham, NC. Follow him up @jdmagness.