‘bauhaus Now’ at Museum of Brisbane

February 2, 2021


After a year of not being able to leave the country and relish visiting galleries of renown, it was great to view the ‘bauhaus Now’ exhibition, ‘a legacy of migration and modernism in Brisbane.’ As the title suggests Professor Andrew McNamarra curated an eclectic mix of art, design and architecture originating from the avant-garde Bauhaus school that was established in Weimar/Germany in 1919. My husband and I have had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful city with its Bauhaus Museum, of which Goethe was a resident, a few years’ ago.

Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius sought to harmonise art and technology. His concept was based on shifting the emphasis of traditional teaching methods to an ‘imaginative interpretation, self-development and thinking for oneself.’ Students were encouraged to explore, apart from paper and canvas, materials like stone, wood, metal, leather, ceramics, glass, carpentry, and weaving. The combination of hand-made and machine-made art became an innovative concept of which we can admire some examples in this exhibition.

I love the clean and simple construction of Marcel Breuer’s 1925 chromed steel and black leather ‘Wassily chair’.

I long to have a sit in it, it looks so comfortable, stylish, and timelessly elegant, utterly modern! It would fit in so perfectly well with my home decor. Alas, I will keep dreaming. 

The principles of the Bauhaus movement were introduced to Australia by migrants, refugees and émigrés fleeing the rise of 1933 Nazism in Germany. 

Brisbane became the choice for the Viennese artistic couple Karl and Dr Gertrude Langer who settled here in 1939. One of Karl’s legacies is the 1950 built heritage listed Langer House on Swann Road, St Lucia. 

Langer’s 1960s fibre-tipped pen and ink drawing of the Glasshouse Mountain is a bold, stark, and beautiful capture of this monolith. 

Dr Langer was the first woman in Australia to hold a PhD in art history, a subject she taught in Brisbane. She was also one of Australia’s longest serving art critics. The couple were instrumental in introducing the Bauhaus movement to Brisbane, gathering a crowd of emerging artists and donating works of significance like that of the Bauhaus teacher Wassily Kandinsky. 

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, who studied lithography in 1919 at the Weimar Bauhaus under Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, found his way to Australian internment in the early 1940s. He left his Bauhaus inspired influence in Australia not only through his philosophy but also his works. His watercolour and pencil work ‘Work camp’ painted between 1945-1949 encapsulates the colour harmonies and a mood reminiscent of Van Gough’s wheat fields. 

Hirschfeld-Mack also developed a ‘colour-chord’ instrument which aided socially disadvantaged students to play music through colour prompts rather than formal education. In the 1950s he aimed to introduce this concept into hospitals and health care facilities. As is evident the Bauhaus ideas influenced many facets of Australian art. 

Harry Seidler, another victim of Nazi oppression migrated to Australia via Canada in 1946. He was mentored by Walter Gropius and left his mark on Brisbane architecture, like the Riverside Centre, Riparian Plaza, and the Hilton Hotel. 

We can admire his drawings of the Hilton interior from 1984-1985 as well as the 2000 scale model of the Riparian Plaza. 

The Bauhaus influence is still alive, thriving and extending to present day artists. 

Andy Harwood is a contemporary Brisbane artist; whose work draws on the Bauhaus techniques of ‘overlapping squares in varying shapes to create a dynamic visual effect’ thus challenging visual perception. 

Brisbane artist Justene Williams paid homage to the Bauhaus movement by creating costumes that reflect the colour wheel and making playful references of Hirschfeld-Mack’s Farbenlichtspiele (colour light plays). 

I felt invigorated after this visit and inspired to know that Brisbane was and is, host to such creatively artistic activity.

The exhibition is open till the 18 April 2021.

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