Oskar Schlemmer: The Bauhaus Master of Multimedia Design

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Even if you might not know Oskar Schlemmer, if you’ve seen Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance or New Order’s True Faithwith their eccentric costumes and mechanical movements—then you’ve had a taste of this Bauhaus Master’s multimedia design aesthetic, as both music videos are contemporary takes on his famous Triadic Ballet. That’s “famous” as in: the most well-known and honored stage performance created at the most influential design school of the early 20th Century. And speaking of Schlemmer and music: yes, that is his original 1922 Bauhaus identity mark you’ve seen on merchandise for the late-1970s Brit goth punk band of the same name.

Schlemmer_00Bauhaus_CD2The Bauhaus school demanded versatility from their Masters. Founder Walter Gropius: architect, industrial designer, etc. László Moholy-Nagy: photographer, filmmaker, etc. Herbert Bayer: graphic designer, typographer, etc. But few of them also incorporated music, theater, and dance, and none as astutely and dynamically as Schlemmer. He was already a painter, sculptor, and muralist when Gropius hired him. Once at the Weimar Bauhaus, and then on through Dessau, he expanded his media repertoire far beyond the two- and three-dimensional. He taught multidisciplinary classes that integrated kinetic motion studies, figure drawing, and philosophy. And Der Mensch, the human being, was always at the core of his instruction.

In 1922 Schlemmer achieved international fame with his three-act Triadisches Ballett. It was revolutionary as well as a reflection of Europe’s postwar preoccupation with technology: much more a geometric exploration of time and space than any traditional dance form. And he controlled all facets of production: costumes, stage sets, lighting, music, choreography, promo posters, etc. The result was a complete, cohesively designed package: an avant-garde tour de force that continues to inspire theater and fashion as well as videos and other arts.

Schlemmer_02To celebrate the occasion, Bauhaus, the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation’s magazine, has devoted its entire sixth issue to Schlemmer. Published in Europe earlier this year, it’s now available in America. And as typical with this publication, it’s filled with new, informative essays from a variety of smart perspectives. It’s also a visual delight: the most attractive issue yet, thanks to its guest designers, Berlin’s cyan. Its 150-plus pages are enhanced with understated, New Wave April Greiman-era forms cleverly and playfully frolicking atop a classic Modernist text grid and strikingly bold photos and illustrations.

Here are some sample spreads and excerpts from Bauhaus‘s “Schlemmer!” issue.

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“One should act as if the world had just been created; one should not analyze a thing to death, but rather let it unfold gradually and without interference.”
– Oskar Schlemmer

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“Although Schlemmer was one of the important stage artists of the 1920s, he was not a true man of the theatre. The staged works he produced on the Bauhaus stage together with his students, of which there were a large number, were not conceived as works of theatre in the strict sense but as spatializations of compositional strategies.”
– Franz Anton Cramer

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“The transmission history of Das Triadische Ballett is complicated. It was performed only a few times under Schlemmer’s direction, and always in different versions. The sequence of the individual numbers, the length of the performance, the musical accompaniment, the number of dancers: all of this changed each time, so that it is difficult to speak of an original choreography of Das Triadische Ballett. In any case, Schlemmer wanted the dramatization of his visual ideas to be understood more as a space of possibilities.”
– Franz Anton Cramer

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“Berlin, 1977. A record of a daring attempt. Dancer and choreographer Gerhard Bohner takes on the challenge of reconstructing the Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer. He has made detailed preparations, studied the source material intensively, and researched the work’s history… Bohner’s efforts result in a world-wide success. Over thirty years after that, his version of the Triadic Ballet can be seen again… As a historical preview, we are reprinting Gert Weigelt’s photographs of the legendary reconstruction with which Gerhard Bohner gave a fresh look to Schlemmer’s work.”
– editors

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“In April 1917, the artist was transferred [by the army corps] to a surveying unit and subsequently put to analyzing aerial reconnaissance photographs… He was especially fascinated by these aerial images, which revealed the structures of the earth more clearly than could ever be perceived from the conventional perspective. The work as a cartographer was beneficial to his artistic quest for formal clarity… I have always admired the fantastic aspect of a drawn map. Purity in respect of art is thus nicely preserved for me” [Oskar Schlemmer].
– Ina Conzen

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“Unlike his avant-garde colleagues, Schlemmer did not succumb to euphoria about progress, but rather looked for the new human being in the new era: less as an utopian promise than as a search for meaning in the fragmented, disjointed world that resulted from the First World War. The centrifugal forces of technology and science made it necessary to conceive the human being anew.”
– Philipp Oswalt, editor

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“Adolf Rading designed a three-story cube encompassing a central hall, which Schlemmer decorated with frescoes and wire sculptures…. In the Rabe House, architecture, painting, and sculpture entered into a relationship with the utopian idea of liberating the human being from the chaos of life by means of the vital reality of abstraction. Here the unity of art and life of a new age (that then did not dawn after all) is harmoniously celebrated” [Romana Schneider].
– Walter Prigge

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“Almost as soon as a Schlemmer turns up – no matter whether it is a drawing, a painting, a sculpture – art dealers, auctioneers, and museum directors get nervous: Will I be allowed to sell, exhibit, or auction it without having to reckon with a legal process?… There is no other artist from the previous century whom the art world approaches with such great anxieties as Oskar Schlemmer.”
– Peter Raue

“The year to come is a year that belongs to Oskar Schlemmer….70 years after the death    of the former Bauhaus master, the exclusive rights of use expire. An end to the times when the heirs – for whatever reason – could prevent exhibitions, refuse loans, or block catalog publications.”
– Philipp Oswalt, editor

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“With the logo and his masterpiece Bauhaus Staircase he created perhaps the most famous visual symbols of emergent modernism.”
– Philipp Oswalt, editor

“Above all… he was one of the few artists at the Bauhaus whose painting and sculpture was not nonrepresentational but rather placed the human being at the center of their work.”
– Karin von Maur

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For more about the Bauhaus and 1920s musical entertainment, look here…


 

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