cult of the machine: cataclysms of progress

The distinctive beauty of the ugly. Is ornament unhealthy? A crime? Is a suppression of the decorative a necessity in regulating passion? Bauhaus was, in part, a reaction against the sensuality of art nouveau, the decadence of the curves replaced by an austerity absent of joie de vivre. The evident talent on the part of the school’s faculty which was of celebrity status can not mask the immovable obstacle of a fundamentally methodological, technical approach to cultural production and the ease with which Bauhaus modern could become available for multiple purposes after the limited art aspect was subsumed by design. These problems had been foreseen by Walter Benjamin in his well known warning against the estheticization of politics by fascist artists using modernist techniques;  design practice based almost solely on technical competence leading to an imposed purist ideology. The violence of the bauhaus towards art has been asserted by D. Kuspit who said bauhaus represented the end of art as a humanizing – or even spiritual activity- and the start of technology as entertainment. Bauhaus can bee viewed as a calculated dead end, the junkyard, but one with a destructive power within the context of the cult of the machine.

Walter Gropius. Adler Cabriolet. Read More:

…Let’s be even more farfetched: I suggest that Bauhaus works of art have a drone-like quality, that is, they are oddly like the unmanned drones beginning to be widely used in contemporary warfare. They anticipate and prophesize the future, as art has been said to do, making them “futuristic” — indeed, in Marinetti’s sense, for they are the ultimate instruments of the war of the new against the old that he celebrated (along with war in general as a cleansing purge, which is what, it so happens, Marcel Duchamp thought Dadaism was; is there a Dadaist nihilistic undertone — a purge of “ethnic” or “native” art — in Bauhaus art?). Bauhaus drones are made in art factories — haven’t art schools become art factories these days, and also places where art is mass-produced, however “customized” to suit “individual” tastes — and seem self-propelling. It is as though no artist made them, even if an artist “controls” them from an “abstract” distance….

Read More: ---The talented Herbert Bayer, on the other hand, who came as a student to Weimar and ended up a master of the visual communication and typography workshops in Dessau, and whose work remains one of the school’s most paradigmatic products, created designs following the Bauhaus period that fit as seamlessly into Nazi publicity campaigns as into those of the Container Corporation of America and other commercial and institutional clients in the United States, where he emigrated in 1938.---

…They’re precise enough to hit a target audience and do physical and emotional damage in the lifeworld — reduce it to its “bare” essentials, which turns it into an inhuman wasteland (look at the Bauhaus malls, industrial parks, rows of skyscrapers along Sixth Avenue, all barbarically anonymous). Deadpan Minimalism is its degraded ancestor — even as boxy International Style skyscrapers, with their grid construction, signal the triumphant conventionalization of Bauhaus, and with that its trivialization into a formula — and the sterile grid its tedious emblem… Read More:


Read More: --- The flattening of the geometry of the actual Bauhaus staircase causes the figural forms to become interwoven with the compositional grid, as in a Bauhaus tapestry. The solidity of the figures seems to be dissolving into the matrix of diffuse primary colors, especially in the upper half of the canvas. In the painting’s metaphysicalized ambience, the slow, purposeful ascent of the students reads as an allegory of history. The apparitional figure who has turned around to look down recalls Benjamin’s angel propelled backward into the cataclysm of “progress.”---

The curve is a formalist element that was structurally forbidden by such pioneering modernist architects as Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, although they later turned to it. Perhaps it was initially rejected because they regarded it as conspicuously feminine and thus irrational. Mondrian said as much in a statement declaring his opposition to it. He never wavered from his censorship, remaining a determined rationalist to the end, however intricate his angular paintings became.

Image: ---Bayer’s pragmatic complicity with the Nazis in the ’30s, like the dalliances of both Mies and Gropius with the regime before each decided to move permanently to the U.S., has perhaps been sufficiently aired in recent literature (design historian Rolf Sachsse has called Bayer’s sea change from Nazi propagandist to American marketeer an extraordinary “mutation trick”). But it is a little shocking to come across a wall and a half in the last gallery at MoMA given over to projects by the lesser-known but also multitalented Kurt Kranz. A Bauhaus student from 1930-33, Kranz would not only be a close collaborator with Bayer and continuer of his graphics in die neue Linie and other publications, but would go on to work for Nazi engineer Fritz Todt’s organization during the war. Later based in Hamburg, Kranz, like Bayer, would have a successful postwar career as a designer, artist and educator. The unsavory background is worth mentioning not so much to impugn a reputation at this late date (although one might have expected a curatorial allusion or two) as to underscore the contradictions implicit in a form of practice automatically deemed “progressive” by virtue of its experimentalism and avant-gardism.---

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