Sunday, September 28, 2014

Taboo Tableaus & Aryan Voodoo

 In an attempt to erase diverse aesthetic ideologies from the Bauhaus in favor of an Aryan standard, Walter Gropius removed Stolzl- Breuer's infamous "Negro Chair" (Wilk 100) from public consumption, and prevented it's exhibition of Bauhaus works at MoMA in 1928.  The earliest furniture piece from the Bauhaus created by Marcel Breuer and Gunta Stolzl in 1921, the "Romantischer Lebnstuhl" (Romantic Chair) or "African Chair" (as Breuer called it) surfaced in a Bauhaus filmstrip in 1926.  The film's storyline begins with the current unique, hand-carved (rough hewn and colorful) chair on a timeline of images whose "technological progress" imagines a future of mass produced, monochromatic (metal and manufactured materials), then eventually ends with a line stating that we could dispense with the need for chairs- and allow one to sit on "a resilient column of air". 

Gropius' Bauhaus Manifesto called for a "new unity" between technology and art, forged by a brotherhood of craftsman who would build a "chrystal symbol of a new faith".  A constructivist rebound to post WWI wreckage, and a stark contrast to the "crude, primitivizing"(Wilk 102) handmade Breuer aesthetic; Gropius' film argues against the Expressionist artists of the Brucke school whose "works were inspired by arts of Africa, Oceania, Asia and [sometimes] studied firsthand in German museums"(Wilk 100). While the chair's design origins are a possible totemic amalgam of Hungarian folk crafts, Viking Saxon Longhouses, or German Expressionism, the woven "Goblin" technique (Stolzl) is not African.  As Wilk argues, African chairs rarely had backs, and when they were drawn from European models, they weren't high. Perhaps Breuer and Stolzl's myth of the 5-legged chair's origin cast a sense of authenticity amidst the popular Western worship of Nietzsche's "primal vitality"?  German Expressionist artists revered non-Western ethnographic art and design for it's anti-bourgeois "spirit" (Wilk 102).  

The complicated eugenics of Bauhaus Western, and Non-Western styles of design and media dispersion weave a historic fiction at both the personal and patriotic scale in the "Negro Chair". Subsequent dissipation of the Bauhaus moving from Expressionist-Folk (with Itten at the helm, and Gropius as pupil) towards Constructivist-Nationalism (Gropius leadership) struck a key aesthetic and socio-political removal of ethnically inspired work in favor of rationalist Aryan purity.   

 Two Breuers One Chair 


Marcel Breuer and Gunta Stolzl "African Chair" 1921 Christopher Wilk (p. 100-109)

Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity

 Barry Bergdoll, Leah Dickerman