During my February trip to Paris I visited the Musée des arts décoratifs to take in an exhibition entitled L’esprit du Bauhaus. Having had the chance to visit the site of the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany a number of years ago, I wanted to learn more about this fascinating school and the impact of its brief history (1919–1933).
I was most struck by the scope of the vision of founder Walter Gropius and his ability to draw others to participate in it, either as students or as teachers. Comprising a number of “schools” of artistic and design pursuits—cabinetmaking, textiles, metalwork, typography and photography, for example—Gropius used his own disciple of architecture as a unifying theme to draw the various threads of the programs together. There may not have been a single aesthetic, but there was a shared commitment to reunite design and manufacturing which had grown apart rapidly as industrialization took greater and greater hold on the Western world. This commitment could be seen in the way that students began their studies in foundational courses examining materials and colour theory and in the Bauhaus motto, "Art into Industry." The school did not disdain manufacturing; it aimed to give new life to mass production for the modern world.
The second half of the exhibit comprised more recent works by artists and designers who had been invited to create original works inspired by the ethos of the Bauhaus. I found this portion of the visit somewhat disappointing because it seemed to me that most participants had honoured the 'art' portion of the brief but had neglected the 'into industry' aspect: they had missed L'esprit du Bauhaus. Many of the pieces were visually interesting, but it was hard to imagine them being useful objects in the home or workplace.