July 16, 2007

Dessau, Wolfsburg, Kassel (Germany)



We spent a few days in Dessau while attending the MELT! Festival. Dessau holds several significant buildings of the Bauhaus, Germany's renowned school of art and architecture in the 20th century. Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Hannes Meyer, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and many other architects and avant-garde artists taught at this school before it was shut down by the Nazi regime in 1933. It was good to revisit the Bauhaus aspirations of "uniting arts, crafts and architecture training within a single institution and reforming living and housing conditions," though paradoxically the most profitable product of the Bauhaus was its wallpaper. Regardless, the Bauhaus has had a major impact on design, architecture, and fine arts around the globe.

Walter Gropius designed the Bauhaus Dessau School in 1925-26 . Separate buildings were designed according to function and use. Three main buildings (workshop, vocational school, studio building) were connected by two asymmetric wings (administration department, "festive" area)
(model here) . Characteristic to the building was the use of glass curtain wall with exposed structure behind, overlapping glass edges at corners to emphasize lightness, and the use of light tones, which contrasts with the window frames. We walked through the school and were impressed with the color schemes, custom hardware and custom lighting fixtures throughout.

Gropius also designed a series of Master's Houses in Dessau (1925-26) in a pine tree wooded area, three semi-detached homes and a Director's home all rendered in white with dark frames. These cubic houses aimed to embrace the efficiencies of standardization utilizing prefabricated construction elements and the floor plans for the (3) semi-detached homes are nearly identical, just mirrored and rotated 90 degrees. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed a fifth building in 1932 "Trinkhalle" (refreshment kiosk) that was sadly demolished in 1970, all that remains today is a pavement inlay showing the building outline.

We took a day trip to Wolfsburg, a small town planned by the Nazis in 1938 for the workers of Volkswagen factories. As we approached the train station almost every car on the streets was a Volkswagen, we felt very much in the minority with our Peugeot. Adjacent to the train station was another exciting form by Zaha Hadid, phaeno, an experimental science center. The sensual and dynamic form of the building is reminiscent of a spacecraft, a realized vision of the future. The main concrete shell form is lifted off the ground by sleek cone-shaped columns, allowing pedestrian traffic circulate below. The concept for the exhibits of phaeno (phenomenon) was to reawaken the desire for genuine discovery with interactive exhibits (gyroscopes, fire tornadoes, visible sounds, etc.) instead of presenting second-hand knowledge that has become the norm in our media-dominated world.

Also in Wolfsburg was a somewhat run-down 50's cultural center by Alvar Aalto, attractive in form but falling apart. On the back side there were actually thin stone panels that were cupping off the facade. We didn't see the interior as it was closed.

Off a tip from a friend (thank you Jefferson!) we drove to the city of Kassel to see some of documenta 12, an exhibition of modern and contemporary art that takes place every 5 years. It was a sprawling exhibition of countless art works set side by side in a number of different venues. It asked more questions than it answered, i.e., Is modernity our antiquity? What is bare life? What is to be done? There were some impressive large-scale installations. One was a lyrical assemblage of curved plastic panels affixed to swooping stainless steel tubes by Brazilian sculptor Iole de Freitas that filled an entire room and actually crept outside a window onto the facade. Also some strong photography, Nigerian George Osodi’s series Oil Rich Niger Delta captured a view of the harmful effects of the Nigerian oil boom, which has devastated the environment and ravaged the lives of local residents. Some interesting performance art as well, a supported grid of rope and clothing with women hanging from it, changing positions every few minutes. Overall it was a mixed experience... at times we felt weary from allll that art crammed in the same space. We were thinking back to the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria, with an entire floor dedicated to a single Matthew Barney piece... so much more powerful.


Many works were self-indulgent and vapid. In the first room we entered there was a cage filled with floor pillows, video cameras, and (4) monitors. "Would you like to participate in an artistic experience?" Thank you, no.

2 comments:

  1. "Overall it was a mixed experience... at times we felt weary from allll that art crammed in the same space. We were thinking back to the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria, with an entire floor dedicated to a single Matthew Barney piece... so much more powerful. Many works were self-indulgent and vapid."

    I was concerned that might be the case, but as an opportunity to witness 'the major european concentration of exhibitions of our time', I thought the Documenta would possibly live up to their aspiration in defining the past 5 years in modern visual works. Sadly, like too much 21st Century work - "Many works were self-indulgent and vapid." - this is very much a reality. So yeah, its sounds as though you got a 'picture of our times'.

    Good thing for the rest of your travels having taken in so many incomparable and exceptional shows along the way! Sounds like it all made for a good contrasting image to Documenta.

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  2. I hope, you will find the correct decision.

    ReplyDelete

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