Harald Kimpel

»Quintessence« of New Building: Bauhaus architectures in photo portraits

Built architecture, one of Arnold Bode’s main areas of interest, is difficult to show in an exhibition. But what could be done if the first documenta was not only conceived as a painting and sculpture exhibition, but also sought to include the so-called »sister arts«? In order to take into account, the »quintessence« of New Building in the twentieth century,

at least in the form of illustrations, Bode designed a phalanx of sixty photographic portraits of important architectures between 1905 and 1955 in the upper half rotunda of the Museum Fridericianum. Buildings by Bauhaus directors Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe were included in this parade of exemplary designs.

Arnold Bode staged the »quintessence« of »architecture from 1905—1955« at the first documenta in the half rotunda of the attic floor of the Museum Fridericianum. As catalog author Stephan Hirzel pointed out, a selection of sixty black-and-white photographs with examples of New Building during the first half of the century were used in the context of the art exhibition to demonstrate

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the considerable interaction between architecture, painting, and sculpture, which has had a decisive influence on the face of new art since the turn of the century.

Stephan Hirzel: Zur Architektur von 1905—1955, in documenta exhibition catalog.
Kassel 1955, no page reference.

In front of the concave rear wall, views of the buildings of twenty-seven internationally renowned architects were integrated in double rows into a constructive grid of black wooden slats.

With this compilation, Bode hinted that he was interested in ensuring that the first documenta did not appear solely as a presentation of fine art. For with a total artistic claim — which, however, could only be realized to a limited extent for cost and space reasons — the exhibition as a cultural synopsis should also include the so-called »sister arts,« including music, literature, theater, and architecture.

With twenty-five photographs, the only existing view of the projection wall covers less than half of the panels. It shows, however, that in this parade of international avant-garde architects, alongside Erich Mendelsohn, Hans Scharoun, Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Frank Lloyd Wright, and others, the Bauhaus directors Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe were also included with important buildings. Designed by the latter, the Barcelona Pavilion of the 1929 International Exhibition was represented with two views.

Walter Gropius is present with his house in Lincoln (Mass.), which he designed for himself and his family in 1938 after emigrating to the USA, where he lived until his death in 1969. Also on view is the Harvard Graduate Center in Cambridge (Mass.), which Gropius, appointed head of Harvard University’s architectural department, conceived as an ensemble of eight buildings from 1949 to 1950 as the mastermind of the Architects Collaborative (TAC) he founded in 1945.

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Walter Gropius: Faguswerke Alfeld, 1913

Mies van der Rohe: Theatre in Mannheim (model), 1953

Mies van der Rohe: Theatre in Mannheim (model), 1953

Walter Gropius’ Faguswerke Alfeld (1913) and Mies van der Rohe’s (unrealized) model design for the Nationaltheater Mannheim (1953) are not shown on the photo wall.

The large photos were sponsored by the Göppinger Kaliko- und Kunstleder-Werke. Thirteen of them were included in the exhibition catalog.

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