5. New Man

It was the aura of a radical new start, particularly after the First World War, that people at the Bauhaus embraced from the outset, and that particularly attracted the young. They not only wanted to give a new shape to the world tomorrow, but also to their own lives. Bauhaus members quickly got a reputation for unconventionality, which included their bob hairstyles and the relaxed relations between men and women, and also the fact that some Bauhaus families were living together without being married.

As early as May 1919, when the Bauhaus had only been open for just a few weeks, painter and Bauhaus master Lyonel Feininger wrote to his wife Julia: »What I have seen from the students thus far looks very self-assured. Nearly all of them were soldiers during the war. This is a completely new kind of person. I think they all want to create something new in art and are no longer so timid and harmless.« And Oskar Schlemmer declared in 1921 »that the Bauhaus is ‘building’ in a very different sense than expected – building people. Gropius seems to be very aware of this, and he notes the weaknesses of the academies here, where educating people to be people is neglected.« But what this new man might actually look like, and which values and capabilities he would have, was the subject of controversy throughout the entire Bauhaus period. Johannes Itten, for example, thought that breathing and physical exercises and a vegetarian diet must promote individual self-awareness, while Oskar Schlemmer focused on theatre, in which the relationship of every character to space was to be explored beyond the level of a »typical body.« There was also painting and photography, where abstraction, distortion and collage were leading to new images of humanity, and the »communist faction« of students in favour of a »world revolution« under director Hannes Meyer, who saw himself as a »scientific Marxist.«

The goal of work at the Bauhaus was to make contemporary products for a new and future generation. For art critic Adolf Behne, this was evident in the architecture of Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus building:

»Here in the new Dessau Bauhaus building we see a striking and pure expression (…) of the fact that a new type of man and a new relationship to the world is both the starting point and the aim of this new movement in architecture. New materials, new forms of construction, and new technologies are important and must be discussed, tried out, and observed. But they are only a means to an end, and the highest end is man himself.«

Curator: Boris Friedewald

Adolf Behne