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4. The Total Work of Art

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In the 1921 Weimar Bauhaus programme Walter Gropius announced the creation of a total work of art:

»The Bauhaus strives for a unity of all artistic creation, the reunification of all the art disciplines – sculpture, painting, the crafts and trades – to form a new art of building in which they are all indispensable components. The final, if distant goal of the Bauhaus is the unified work of art – the grand building – in which there are no borders between monumental and decorative art.« (...) »The Bauhaus wishes to train architects, painters and sculptors of all standards according to their abilities to become either hard-working artisans or free artists, and to found a working community of leading and young working artists, a community that knows how to design buildings in their totality – shell construction, fitting out, and ornament and decoration  – in a like-minded spirit and unified design.«

This »grand building,« based on ideals of Medieval cathedral construction, remained utopian, but in several projects the Bauhaus did come close to the total work of art. In 1921, students took part in building Walter Gropius‘s and Adolf Meyer’s »Haus Sommerfeld« in Berlin. In 1923 numerous masters and students – from the weaving, carpentry, metal, and ceramics workshops – worked on the »Experimental House at Horn,« designed by painter and Bauhaus master Georg Muche. The Bauhaus building in Dessau, designed by Walter Gropius and opened in 1926, and the master’s houses there were also »total« works, in which masters and students worked together and used products from the Bauhaus workshops. This led to the making of metal and wooden furniture, lamps, and also to the colour plans for the interior.

The wish to create a total work of art is also seen in the work of the theatre workshop, in the expressionist plays of Lothar Schreyer at the Weimar Bauhaus, in which language, gestures, colours, and sculpture were all radically interlinked. Plans for theatre by László Moholy-Nagy, such as the »Sketch of a Score for a Mechanical Eccentricity: Synthesis of Form, Movement, Sound, Light (Colour) and Smell,« also had the character of a total work of art, or a »total work,« as Moholy-Nagy put it.

Curator: Boris Friedewald


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