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Birgit Jooss

Kassel in the 1920s — contacts to the Bauhaus

Even in the 1920s, the connections between Kassel and the Bauhaus were closer than was generally known. From 1923 Hans Soeder, the newly appointed director of the Art Academy, reformed it in line with the current reform movement. The reform had already been implemented in Weimar in 1919 under Walter Gropius, which meant above all that the free and applied arts were to unite—a successful model that prevailed at many educational institutions.

In 1923, Arnold Bode gained his own impression of the situation in Weimar and made his first contacts with Bauhaus artists. Their works could finally be seen in large numbers at the two nationally acclaimed exhibitions in Kassel in 1927 and 1929. Bode's good contacts may already have been of great use at that time, but above all they were especially useful for the first documenta in 1955.

In 1973 Arnold Bode remembered in retrospect to the proximity to Bauhaus in the 1920s:

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We were very well informed here, nearby the Bauhaus, in the 1920s; Kassel was not far from Weimar.
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Source

Arnold Bode: “Interview mit Matthias Grzimek 1973,” quoted from Günther Grzimek, “Der poetische Raum,” in Lothar Orzechowski (ed.), Arnold Bode – Essays, Kassel 1986, pp. 26–29, here p. 26

The connections between the Bauhaus and Kassel were particularly noticeable in the Art Academy’s new concept as well as in Kassel's nationally significant exhibitions.

The Art Academy in Kassel, which had previously been solely for painters, was reoriented from 1923 onwards. Just three years earlier, the merger of the fine arts academy and the school of applied arts that had been called for had met with great resistance. The young Arnold Bode had also signed the letter written by the students. In this letter they demanded: "Artists must be free in every respect," because the "industrialization of art means its decline," and the "artistic influence exerted by the arts and crafts school can only be negative." They were able to assert themselves, and so the attempt to establish a unified art school in Kassel initially failed.

As a result, the focus was on reforming the Art Academy, while retaining applied arts school. In 1923, the Prussian Ministry of Culture appointed the architect Hans Soeder, who had an affinity for the Bauhaus, professor of architecture and at the same time director of the Art Academy. His mission was to make the academy more progressive and to expand the teaching of architecture and arts and crafts. Hans Soeder promptly introduced architecture as a full-fledged subject. Together with his colleague, painting professor Ewald Dülberg, he combined "free" academic art with "applied" art in a holistic, practice-oriented teaching concept. The existing workshops were expanded and the collaboration between masters and students on commissions intensified #g.

The art school reform movement also showed its effect in Kassel, Walter Gropius albeit with a delay and in a modified form. Many art academies had been reorganized in the Weimar Republic, but in particular had been able to market the forced unification in Weimar, which had taken place in 1919, accordingly. Thus, the Bauhaus eclipsed the other standard art schools and became a magnet for many art lovers. In the summer of 1923, Arnold Bode traveled to Weimar to see the Bauhaus for himself. In his autobiographical notes there is the following reference:

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Met: Klee + Feininger + Schlemmer, Kandinsky, and young artists like Breuer.
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Source

Arnold Bode: “Biographische Daten und autobiographische Notizen,” quoted from Heiner Georgsdorf (ed.): Arnold Bode. Schriften und Gespräche, Berlin 2007, p. 300

His first contacts may have helped him in his later activity as an exhibition organizer. In 1927, he participated in the great anniversary show "150 Jahre Kasseler Kunstakademie (150 Years Kassel Art Academy)," initially as an exhibiting artist. This exhibition presented not only local artists, but also many well-known artists from Germany. Three Bauhaus masters were among them, and are named under "Dessau" in the exhibition guide: Lyonel Feininger, Carl Fieger, and Paul Klee. The renowned critic Georg Jacob Wolf wrote enthusiastically:

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Everything conservative stayed away. The painters of the Bauhaus in Dessau, the New Munich Secession, the extreme wing of the Berlin Secession, the most modern Dresdeners are on hand.
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Source

Georg Jacob Wolf: “Jubiläums-Kunstausstellung Kassel 1927,” in: Die Kunst, 1927/28, p. 71 ff.

Just two years later, young Arnold Bode and his then friend Heinrich Dersch were appointed to the organizing committee for the next exhibition. It was shown in 1929 under the title "Große Kunstausstellung – Neue Kunst in der Orangerie (Great Art Exhibition – New Art in the Orangery).” They were responsible for the “New Art” department. The exhibition once again took place in the baroque Orangery, which after years of decay had been restored for the "Casseler Kunstausstellung 1922" and from then on served as a kind of art venue.

To be able to compile the works, Bode obtained an overview of the current situation of art in Germany. In his autobiographical notes he wrote: “Great journey via many cities in Germany to Zurich.” Arnold Bode also visited Dessau. His family remembers the incident:

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To select paintings from the Bauhaus masters in Dessau, Bode arrived on a Fieseler Storch flown by his brother Paul.
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Source

Arnold Bode, “Biographische Daten und autobiographische Notizen,” quoted from Heiner Georgsdorf (ed.): Arnold Bode. Schriften und Gespräche, Berlin 2007, p. 301

Unfortunately, no records have been kept of his visit to Dessau. But he seems to have persuaded some Bauhaus members to participate in the exhibition.”

In fact, many were present with works in Kassel, including Joseph Albers, Lyonel Feininger, Werner Gilles, Gerhard Marcks, and Oskar Schlemmer.










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Many years later, at the first documenta in 1955, all of the aforementioned artists were represented in Kassel again. Of the 58 German artists on view at the first documenta, twenty-eight had already been exhibited in Kassel in the 1920s #2

The young artists Bode and Dersch had tremendous success with their presentation, which earned them an excellent review by the renowned Berlin art critic Paul Westheim. Arnold Bode thus had already developed his skills and tools in the Kassel exhibitions of the 1920s, which he would later need as a documenta maker. He knew the most important German artists of his time, knew how to select artworks, knew the structures needed to organize a large-scale exhibition outside an institution, and had learned that Kassel could compete with other art metropolises as an exhibition city.

Arnold Bode: Stadt in der Provence (around 1927/28), in: Vierte grosse Kunstausstellung Kassel 1929, Neue Kunst in der Orangerie, veranstaltet vom Kunstverein zu Kassel, 1.Juni bis 1.September 1929, p. 63

Gerhard Marcks: Wandelnder (1928), in: Vierte grosse Kunstausstellung Kassel 1929, Neue Kunst in der Orangerie, veranstaltet vom Kunstverein zu Kassel, 1.Juni bis 1.September 1929, p. 57
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Oskar Schlemmer: Raucher (1928), in: Vierte grosse Kunstausstellung Kassel 1929, Neue Kunst in der Orangerie, veranstaltet vom Kunstverein zu Kassel, 1.Juni bis 1.September 1929, p. 53


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