Martin Groh

Bauhaus artists at the second documenta, 1959

At the second documenta, the so-called "Arguments" section documented pioneering styles and modern art movements with one representative of each. This time the Bauhaus was also included, represented with an oil painting by Oskar Schlemmer.

In addition to Schlemmer, the Bauhaus masters Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee were also regarded as »teachers of twentieth-century art.« The other Bauhaus artists, each with several exemplary works, were distributed among the sections of »Kunst nach 1945«) (Art after 1945), including Mordecai Ardon, Max Bill, Werner Gilles, Gerhard Marcks, Richard Oelze, and Fritz Winter.

Arnold Bode thought through the first ideas and concepts for documenta 1955 with a circle of art experts and enthusiasts, colleagues from the Werkakademie Kassel, and representatives of the urban community. A large part of this group of supporters was involved in the Gesellschaft für Abendländische Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts e.V. (Society for Western Art of the 20th Century), founded in 1955, which in the end was primarily responsible for the organization and realization of the exhibition.

While in 1954—55 there was still a lot of improvisation and decisions were made and organization carried out at short notice, the planning for the second documenta began during the first. The clearest sign of the structural professionalization was the founding of documenta GmbH during documenta 2 in the summer of 1959.

The Hauptausschuss, or Main Committee, was now empowered to issue directives, for example regarding the selection of artists. Aside from Arnold Bode, who in the meantime had changed from being an artist and designer to a »cultural manager,« only art scholars, museum people, and curators were represented in it.

In the fall of 1958, the Main Committee drew up a draft for the second documenta. The exhibition was to document the »best achievements of the individual personality in painting, sculpture, architecture, and graphic art« and focus on postwar art and current developments. It was therefore given the subtitle »Kunst nach 1945 (Art after 1945)«. The early plans, however, still clearly bore the handwriting of Arnold Bode.

Once again, Bode favored a comprehensive show that would document not only classical genres, but also architecture, including industrial forms and tapestries. As early as December 1958, however, it became clear that the finances were not sufficient for such a broad presentation. So they concentrated on the individual artist personalities, and had the exhibition begin with a kind of prelude. It was divided into three sub-chapters: »Arguments of 20th-Century Art,« »Mentors of 20th-Century Art,« and »Pioneers of 20th-Century Sculpture.«

In the »Arguments« section, pioneering styles and movements in modern art were documented with one representative each, this time including the Bauhaus. In the introduction to the documenta 2 painting catalog, Werner Haftmann provided a definition for »Arguments of 20th-Century Art«:

more about Werner Haftmann
Index: People
Now, however, the art of our time cannot be considered in isolation from the general arguments and personal designs that have set visual art in motion since the beginning of the century and made it sustainable for the new content and modes of perception.

Werner Haftmann: Malerei nach 1945,
in II. documenta ’59. Kunst nach 1945. Internationale Ausstellung, Kassel,
11. Juli bis 11. Oktober 1959,
catalog, Band Malerei, Cologne, 1959, p. 16.

Oskar Schlemmer: Konzentrische Gruppe, 1925

The oil painting »Konzentrische Gruppe (Concentric Group)« from 1925 by Oskar SchlemmerOskar Schlemmer hung on behalf of the Bauhaus school in the »Arguments« section.

At that time the Bauhaus had just moved from Weimar to Dessau, and the following four years in Dessau are regarded as the most important creative phase in Schlemmer's life, marked by his main theme of »the human figure in space,« to which »Konzentrische Gruppe (Concentric Group)« is again one of the key works. The art historian Will Grohmann, a member of documenta 2’s Main Committee, described Schlemmer’s approach as follows:

more about Oskar Schlemmer
Index: People
The space was given as the place of action. The person who receives and transmits energies is put into it, energies that intermesh seamlessly, so that in the end it is difficult to fathom with whom the main theme lies. Both are moved and conditioned by structure and expression. 

Will Grohmann: Geleitwort, in: Oskar Schlemmer. Aquarelle, Wiesbaden 1960, o. S.

Unfortunately, there is no photographic evidence of exactly how Schlemmer’s exemplary Bauhaus work was staged at the second documenta. But the works of the thirty-two artists in the »Arguments,« »Mentors,« and »Pioneers« sections were without exception placed in the large ground floor hall of the eastern wing of the Fridericianum. They were hung in front of white walls or walls covered with light gray fabric, or put on black plinths.

Mordecai Ardon: The House of Maggid, 1954

Aside from Schlemmer, only Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee represented the Bauhaus in this prelude to documenta 2, but they were not defined as Bauhaus artists. Rather, along with Piet Mondrian, they were called »masters of twentieth-century art.«

The other Bauhaus artists at documenta 2 were distributed among the various sections of »Art after 1945,« each with several exemplary works. In the »Painting after 45« section, oil paintings from 1954—1958 by Mordecai Ardon, Werner Gilles, Richard Oelze, and Fritz Winter were predominantly on view.

more about Wassily Kandinsky
Index: People
more about Paul Klee
Index: People
more about Mordecai Ardon
Index: People
more about Werner Gilles
Index: People
mehr über Richard Oelze
Index: People
more about Fritz Winter
Index: People

© Photo: unknown / documenta archiv

Room with the "Arguments", "Teachers" and "Pioneers" of 20th century art, in the background the work "Ueberschach" (1937) by Paul Klee, Museum Fridericianum,
documenta 2, 1959
© documenta archiv / Photo: Günther Becker / Succession H. Matisse / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

Wassily Kandinsky´s artworks "Auf Spitzen" (1928) and "Komposition Nr.4" (1911) on the groundfloor of the Museum Fridericianum, documenta 2, 1959

© documenta archiv / Photo: Dieter Rudolph

In the »Sculpture after 45« section, Max Bill showed among others the constructivist marble work »22,« created from 1953 to 1957, and Gerhard Marck’s bronze of the biblical figure Job from 1957 was also on display.
Finally, in the prints section at Palais Bellevue, which also covered the period from 1945 to 1959, zinc and silkscreen prints, woodcuts and lithographs by Bill, Gilles, Marck, and Winter were presented.

The sculpture department in the ruins of the Kassel Orangerie, front right »Hiob« (1957) by Gerhard Marcks,
in the background »22« (1953-1957) by Max Bill, documenta 2, 1959
© documenta archiv / Photo: Hilmar Deist / Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation, Licensed by / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

more about Max Bill
Index: People
more about Gerhard Marck
Index: People

Once again, Fritz Winter played a small yet special role in the exhibition production, as Bode showed a large-format warp-knitted carpet by him from 1956/57 in the central rotunda staircase of the Fridericianum. As a reminiscence of his original plans for a wide-ranging show encompassing almost all the arts, Bode had been able to include twelve works by various carpet artists in the exhibition, virtually outside the main program.

If you would like to contribute, do not hesitate to e-mail us.