The Bauhaus student does “not always create ‘works of art,’ but rather experiments,” Bauhaus instructor Josef Albers remarks in the quote that opens this exhibition. “It is not our ambition to fill museums: We are gathering experience,” the late artist adds. While this is a noble goal for a school, it’s problematic for a museum. Many works in “Bauhaus Now: Contemporary Applications” don’t rise above the level of experiment.
The Bauhaus operated in Germany from 1919–33. It revolutionized design education by introducing techniques aimed at erasing traditional distinctions between “art” and “craft.” Curated by Natalie Clark, “Bauhaus Now” attempts to explore how Bauhaus design principles influence 21 contemporary artists from around the world. But most of their pieces have only tenuous connections to Bauhaus ideas, and on the day I visited, several of the show’s kinetic and interactive works were broken. Mark Porter’s installations combining found objects and self-made mechanisms suffered from malfunctioning motion sensors. An armature had fallen off one Porter installation and lay on the gallery floor.
William FitzPatrick’s Interior Tryptic (2011) is more successful. FitzPatrick created the installation’s floor lamp, wall hanging and chair from repurposed wood, brick, concrete and glass blocks. Though the furnishings’ postindustrial aesthetic contrasts with the “shiny new” look expected of classic Bauhaus design, the artist combines the school’s daring approach to materials with a 21st-century concern for sustainability.
Susan Schmidt also recalls Bauhaus aesthetics as she photographs vegetables and household objects for her “Poetics of the Everyday” (2004) series, fetishizing these items’ formal qualities rather than their functionality. Such works are in the minority, however. “Bauhaus Now” begins with an interesting premise but leaves the visitor feeling unsatisfied.