Documentary; in English, German, and Spanish with subtitles; Center for Contemporary Arts, 3.5 chiles
Perhaps German architect Walter Gropius could not have predicted the lasting impact of the Bauhaus school he founded in Weimar in 1919. But a century later, its influence is still seen in the realms of design, architecture, sculpture, painting, and more — even if the ideal creative utopia envisioned by its proponents never crystallized in the way they intended.
Bauhaus Spirit: 100 Years of Bauhaus, a wide-ranging new documentary by German directors Niels Bolbrinker and Thomas Tielsch, is a briskly paced, fascinating overview of the movement and its aims to usher in a mechanistic modern society championed by its artists. It’s a worthwhile look at the relevance of art and how it propels society forward.
Gropius sought to combine multiple artistic practices into a single discipline. It seemed an auspicious time. World War I had ended, and with the signing of the constitutional assembly in Weimar, the same year Gropius founded his school, Germany seemed poised to become the de facto center of European culture. At the dawn of the Weimar Republic in 1918, cities like Berlin, Munich, and Dresden all became prominent art centers. The Bauhaus influence extended to the architecture of cities such as Dessau and Berlin. It eschewed the emotional and psychological characteristics of Expressionism in favor of a more objective, rational aesthetic.
Bauhaus Spirit touches the challenges faced by its members, which included Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and László Moholy-Nagy, among others, in the face of rising political extremism and the inexorable threat of Nazism. Gropius himself fled to Britain in 1934, arriving in America three years later. Many of the Bauhaus artists followed suit, and the movement, while no longer extant as such, continued to be felt outside of Germany. In the United States, for instance, Color Field painting and Hard-edge painting arose directly through the influence of Bauhaus artists who managed to escape Nazi persecution.
To its credit, the film doesn’t get bogged down in the well-known history of the Bauhaus, anchoring its narrative in the present. The documentary makes plain how the vision of the Bauhaus artists still drives cross-disciplinary creative ventures today. Where the aims of its adherents were to merge fine art, craft, and technology, their utopia — essentially a perfect future world, built on the ruins of a nation ravaged by war — is a dream that continues in the realms of sustainable architecture, urban planning, and design.
Bauhaus Spirit’s most profound takeaway is that, while the school was ostensibly about constructing a world — the name means “School of Building” — it was always really about the best way to live.