Matthew Teismann will be in Germany in late March conducting research on the interaction between Theo van Doesburg and the Bauhaus in its early days of operation. Between March 28-April 5 Teismann will visit the Bauhaus archives in Berlin and the campus in Dessau. On April 1, 2015 Teismann will participate in an international symposium: Translating Architecture, Walter Gropius and the Legacy of the Bauhaus.
Derivations in Abstraction: De Stijl, the Bauhaus, and Chance Encounters with Cornelis can Eesteren:
During his brief stay in Weimar in the early part of the 1920s Theo van Doesburg organized an international congress in September of 1922. Partnered with representatives of Constructivists, Dadaist, and de Stijl, van Doesburg promoted open criticism of the work of expressionism. Notably absent was both Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten. Purportedly never part of the Bauhaus faculty, van Doesburg offered private instruction to many of the students between 1921-1923, and often gave lectures ‘praising the pedagogical ambitions [of the Bauhaus] but disparaging the directions taken.’
One year later in an ‘explicit change’, the Bauhaus aligned itself with outside retailers and manufacturers under what Gropius, in the opening day of the 1923 exhibition of student and faculty work, called: ‘Art and Technology: a New Unity.’From this point forward, as noted by Leah Dickerman, Bauhaus artists ‘decisively dropped the robe of the shaman to take on the guise of the technician.’ Under this change in the same year, Moholy-Nagy was hired by Walter Gropius to give leadership a ‘new direction.’ Drawing from the formal lexicon of de Stijl and often van Doesburg’s elementalism - in which diagonal lines are given preference over horizontal and vertical - Moholy-Nagy’s work at the Bauhaus served as both a ‘manifesto and testing ground’ for the ‘intersection of abstract forms in abstract space, and are inhabited by floating planes without mass and of varying degrees of transparency.’
The legacy of de Stijl’s persistence of abstraction was quickly adopted by the Bauhaus, only later to be pared down to a gird of points and disjointed planes. The work of the Bauhaus during the early 1920s instantiates a model that was no longer perspectival - things as they are seen - but rather derivative of descriptive geometry. The twin premises of de Stijl: the reduction of fundamental forms through primary colors, and the integration of these forms to render a whole, soon became translated into a new model for architecture, in which ‘planes slide past one another on a three-dimensional grid rather than the closed boxes of traditional architecture.’
On May 4 1922, Cornelis van Eesteren, recent recipient of the Prix de Romevisited an exhibition of student work at the Bauhaus and met with director Walter Gropius. This conversation, however, did not go so smoothly, likely because Gropius at that time was under fire from the conservative reaction on the one hand and the avant-garde, with Van Doesburg, on the other. That same evening he met Van Doesburg and talked extensively with him on art and its conflict with the Bauhaus, which planted the seed for a collaboration that would last four years until 1926 - and the production of, most notably, the Maison d’Artistein 1923.
Although allegedly never approached to join the Bauhaus faculty, shortly after his departure from Weimar, the sixth iteration of the Bauhaus journal was dedicated to Theo van Doesburg’s theory and practice, edited by Gropius and Moholy-Nagy. Was this a ceremonial Tschüss? What was his disagreement with Walter Gropius? Moreover, why was Moholy-Nagy, an artist with similar theoretical ideology and formal approach, hired in 1923 in lieu of Theo van Doesburg?
Focusing on the years 1921-1925, immediately before the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, this paper will interrogate the physical, ideological, and philosophical intersection of Theo van Doesburg and Walter Gropius in particular, and the parallel work of de Stijl and the Bauhaus. Drawing on historical texts (Bauhaus #6), philosophical debates (Bauhaus and de Stijl Manifestos), and architectural provocations (Maison d’Artiste 1923), this research will develop a general model for how the work of Theo van Doesburg may have influenced the trajectory of the Bauhaus, situated within both the International Congress in Weimar and coeval chance meetings with with Cornelius van Eesteren.