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Birgit Jooss

Experiences and principles of the Bauhaus for the New Kassel Werkakademie in the postwar period

Considerations on the equal treatment of free and applied art, as Arnold Bode had originally wished for the first documenta in 1955, were not new in postwar Kassel. As early as 1947, together with friends, he had founded the Kassel Werkakademie, which explicitly referred to the Bauhaus.

In the Werkakademie’s program for 1951 it becomes clear that it did not aim solely at training in the genres of painting and sculpture, but rather at practice-oriented teaching, which included the applied arts. It’s obvious that the Werkakademie followed a similar orientation to Bode's original ideas for the first documenta.

Considerations on the equal treatment of fine and applied art, as Arnold Bode had originally wished for the first documenta in 1955, were not new in postwar Kassel1/9. Only a few years earlier, in November 1947, he had founded the Kassel Werkakademie, initially with Ernst Röttger and shortly afterwards also with Paul Haeßler, Kay Nebel, Hermann Mattern, and Stephan Hirzel, as the successor institution to the Art Academy, which had closed in 1933.

Their program followed a similar orientation to Bode's ideas for the first documenta. It was not aimed solely at training in the artistic genres of painting and sculpture, but also at practically oriented teaching that included the applied arts. In addition to academic artists, this new Art Academy primarily aimed to train practitioners for a modern, reconstructed Germany.

Apart from "Werkbund" ideas, the Kasseler Werkakademie explicitly referred to the Bauhaus. 1951 saw the publication of its first program guide. Right at the beginning it is explained in which tradition the university saw itself:

more about Arnold Bode
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more about the first documenta
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more about the Kassel Werkakademie
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more about Ernst Röttger
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more about Paul Haeßler
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more about Kay Nebel
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more about Hermann Mattern
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more about Stephan Hirzel
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more about the Deutscher Werkbund
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»
Tradition has become synonymous with deliberate recourse to congenial epochs of world art. In the recent past, the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau, which had already become historic, was one of the points of contact for right-wing art education. To copy it or even revive it in its old form would be to completely misunderstand tradition. It is necessary to apply and further develop the experiences and principles of the Bauhaus in accordance with the changed conditions of the present.
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Source

Werkakademie Kassel: Das abc der Werkakademie, Kassel 1951, p. 3

Those responsible did not want to copy the Bauhaus, but to adapt its ideas according to their own views.

The workshops were regarded as the backbone of the new Werkakademie. The classes led by professors were subordinate, as Werner Haftmann#a diagnosed for the Bauhaus:

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The visual arts were only meant to be the fine superstructure from which new creative impulses were to penetrate the workshops.
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Source

Werner Haftmann: Malerei im 20. Jahrhundert, Munich 1954, pp. 335–340

The carpentry workshop was soon followed by workshops for painting techniques, ceramics, bookbinding, screen and lithographic printing, and later also textile printing. Only after two years of prevocational training and craft training were students able to switch to the professors' classes.

A further reference to the Bauhaus is revealed in the "Lectures" chapter of the program brochure. In addition to its own teachers—including the first secretary of documenta, Herbert von Buttlar—it also names the guest lecturers. Among those invited were the former Bauhaus master Johannes Itten; Ludwig Grote, who had brought the Bauhaus from Weimar to Dessau; Teo Otto, who had studied with Bode, accompanied their teacher Ewald Dülberg, to the Bauhochschule Weimar and later to the Krolloper Berlin in 1927, and who was to accept a teaching position at the Werkakademie between 1953 and 1957; and Tut Schlemmer, who had spent many years at the Bauhaus with her husband Oskar Schlemmer. The Kassel college and the students were supposed to learn as much as possible about the Bauhaus, which was closed in 1933, at first hand.

Stephan Hirzel, a member of the Deutscher Werkbund and himself very familiar with the teachings of the Bauhaus, was a theorist at the Kassel Academy, which he directed between 1948 and 1960. The unusual name "Werkakademie,” with its link to all crafts, goes back to him and reveals the aim of the newly founded institution. On the other hand, the former art teacher Ernst Röttger put strong emphasis on pedagogy.

more about Herbert von Buttlar
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more about Johannes Itten
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more about Teo Otto
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more about Ewald Dülberg
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more about the Krolloper Berlin
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more about Tut Schlemmer
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more about Oskar Schlemmer
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The Werkakademie’s program was aimed at a practical redesign of life in the areas of "household goods, space, construction, and landscape.” In order to be able to solve acute housing problems quickly and well during the period of reconstruction and the economic miracle, especially in the heavily destroyed city of Kassel, this was given higher priority than art that was far removed from everyday life. So the Werkakademie’s reference to the Bauhaus appeared to be a logical consequence. A memorandum on its new foundation in 1947—with reference to the Deutscher Werkbund and other art schools that emphasized the "Werkgedanken," or “hands-on idea,” such as the Bauhaus in Dessau—referred to the new aspects of education:

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In close contact with industry, it is important to educate the next generation in practical tasks. Those who prove themselves in this preliminary stage and are particularly qualified are free to study fine art. But fine art study is also closely related to the workshops, stimulating and responsibly collaborating on the great common tasks.
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Source

“Denkschrift über die Neugründung der ehemaligen Staatlichen Kunstakademie zu Kassel in Form einer Staatlichen Werkakademie“, in: Hessische Nachrichten, Kassel, March 1947

The connection to the Bauhaus was further strengthened when in 1955 Fritz Winter, a Bauhaus student and highly touted representative of abstract art, was engaged as a professor in Kassel #e.

Shortly before his death, Arnold Bode referred clearly to the important relationship to the Bauhaus in the orientation of the Kassel Werkakademie:

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This Werkakademie concept certainly had something of the Bauhaus. It was simply in the air. Werkbund, Bauhaus, these were concepts and guiding principles that were still very important for us. The Bauhaus also had architecture, green planning, and many workshops, and we wanted to have these things to. And we slowly managed to achieve this. […] These cross connections, painters with architects, architects with green planners, etc., were a great opportunity for us. The Bauhaus, in particular, proved what can be made out of them.
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Source

Arnold Bode: “… daß wir in Kassel nicht belastet waren, das war die große Chance des Neuanfangs. Ein Interview,” in Karl Oskar Blase (ed.): Dokumentation 1. Kritische Festschrift zur 200-Jahr-Feier der Staatlichen Hochschule für bildende Kunst, Kassel 1977, pp. 13–15.



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