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Beyond the Bauhaus

Beyond the Bauhaus: Cultural Modernity in Breslau, 1918-33 OPEN ACCESS

Deborah Ascher Barnstone
Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Beyond the Bauhaus
    Book Description:

    Although the Breslau arts scene was one of the most vibrant in all of Weimar-era Germany, it has largely disappeared from memory. Studies of the influence of Weimar culture on modernism have focused almost exclusively on Berlin and the Dessau Bauhaus, yet the advances that occurred in Breslau affected nearly every intellectual field, forming the basis for aesthetic modernism internationally and having an enduring impact on visual art and architecture. Breslau boasted a thriving modern arts scene and one of the premier German arts academies of the day until the Nazis began their assault on so-called degenerate art. This book charts the cultural production of Breslau-based artists, architects, art collectors, urban designers, and arts educators who operated in the margins of Weimar-era cultural debates. Rather than accepting the radical position of the German avant-garde or the reactionary position of German conservatives, many Breslauers sought a middle ground. This richly illustrated volume is the first book in English to address this history, constituting an invaluable addition to the literature on the Weimar period. Its readership includes scholars of German history, art, architecture, urban design, planning, collecting, and exhibition history; of the avant-garde, and of the development of arts academies and arts pedagogy.

    eISBN: 978-0-472-90059-6
    Subjects: Art & Art History
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  1. In 1899, a Prussian official approached Theo von Gosen, a young sculptor who was to become one of Breslau’s most important artists, to suggest that he consider a teaching career at the Breslau Academy of Fine and Applied Arts.¹ Von Gosen politely refused, thinking, as he recalled decades later, “So far back there? Somewhere? Never!”² But Breslau’s lure proved more powerful than von Gosen expected. Twice more, in 1903 and 1905, architect Hans Poelzig, a “strange looking, out-of-place, black haired” man, tried to recruit him to the Academy. By Poelzig’s third attempt in 1905, von Gosen reluctantly decided to give...

  2. While it can be difficult to distinguish traditional and modern tropes in visual art or architecture, the economic, political and social dimensions of 1920s urban design make it easy to recognize them in Breslau’s large-scale Weimar-era planning projects. Unlike private houses, these developments were funded through municipal housing authorities or semi-private housing cooperatives. With public funds at stake—and often severely limited—project designers had to consider economics at every level, including spatial, material, and construction-related. Wherever public institutions have a hand, politics play a role: in Silesia, the borderline nature of the province, its political instability, and the dynamics...

  3. “The spirit and conviction of the times, also gives the building arts their tasks, which are only recognized in the context and as part of the great cultural problems,” wrote architecture critic Alfred Krüger in a critique of the recently opened BreslauWerkbundexhibitionWohnung und Werkraum(WuWA).¹ For Krüger,WuWAwas the physical manifestation of contemporary modern culture in its most positive forms.WuWAprojects, he noted, searched for an appropriate expression of theZeitgeistby reacting to conditions of modern living. He cited machines, trains, the automobile, the airplane, and radio as recent inventions that had a profound...

  4. Once deemed the foremost arts academy in Germany by the likes of esteemed cultural critic Adolf Behne, the Breslau Academy of Fine and Applied Arts has been eclipsed over the decades by its more famous contemporary, theBauhaus. But in 1983 Hartmut Frank, a professor of architecture theory, asked, “Was the Breslau Academy a Bauhaus before the Bauhaus?”¹ Frank discovered that Breslau had instituted workshop-based arts education and combined fine and applied arts curricula at the turn of the twentieth century, long before theBauhaus. Although Frank rightly concluded that the answer to his question was “no,” Breslau nonetheless remains...

  5. As important as the Academy was to the rising status of the arts in Breslau, without patronage the city would not have had a contemporary art community. Breslau’s patronage network functioned at many levels. It sponsored public education about art and its value, which was particularly necessary in Breslau, given its notorious cultural backwardness. An important part of this public education was the establishment of exhibition and sales venues, lecture series, and publications. Patrons also created forums for artists to meet each other and develop the support networks that enabled them to flourish artistically. Patrons supported local artists but were...

  6. Fragmentation and variety were defining characteristics not only of Breslau art in the 1920s but also of architectural design. Iain Boyd Whyte and others have argued that, like its art, German architecture of the time responded to the “contradictory conditions of modernity” by neatly dividing into opposing camps organized around traditional and modern values.¹ But Breslau’s architects do not fall easily into either camp; instead, they touch on both. Breslau thus provides a useful case study for correcting simplistic notions of binary division in German architecture. On paper and built, the work of Breslau architects may be disjointed and multivalent,...

  7. Although Breslau’s artistic life coalesced around the Academy, the diverse personalities and interests of Breslau artists made the community truly significant. Looking back on his years in Breslau, the artist Alexander Camaro said, “On the one hand, we have truly lost this city [Breslau], on the other hand, it was an exceedingly fruitful cultural epoch and a spiritually liberal city. Not least, through the concentration, a fortunate combination of a circle of creative men, that seldom occurs.”¹ Camaro implies that the cultural developments in Breslau were particular to the Weimar “epoch” and to Breslau itself. As Carl Lange realized, the...

  8. Epilogue (pp. 196-206)

    Shortly afterWuWAclosed in 1929, the “Prominenten-Krise” (Crisis of the Prominent) erupted amongWerkbundmembers in Breslau. Conservative factions initiated a series of private and public attacks on the Breslau Academy and theWuWAdesigners, especially Lauterbach, Molzahn, Rading, and Scharoun, who were derided as radical modernists. Critics accused the Academy of fostering a decadent atmosphere dominated by famous artists whose work was based in international (read French), rather than German or Silesian, culture. In their opinion,WuWAwas an avant-garde fiasco that did not represent eastern or German design. This critique ignored important facts: several of the architects...

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.
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