For a long time I thought Bauhaus was just a rock band. The Goth rockers of that name were headed by a suitably willowy guy named Pete Murphy, who resembled a Universal exclamation mark. He even starred in an ad for Maxell cassettes in the 1980s.
Being a surly teenager at that time and – like most of the breed – completely ignorant, it took me a while to ask myself where the band’s name came from.
No Wikipedia in those days, so I looked it up in the family encyclopaedia. And then, suddenly, a whole new world opened up to me. A German art school, founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius, based on the idea of bringing art to the masses and shut down by the Nazis just 14 years later. His manifesto was contemptuous of elitist “salon art” and venerated craft. What could be more attractive to an adolescent?
Even the students sounded cool. Tut Schlemmer, widow of the artist Oscar Schlemmer, wrote that “boys had long hair, girls short skirts…No collars or stockings were worn, which was shocking and extravagant then.” They also played in “clamorous, experimental bands”, which explains their allure for the rock community. (Source: Artnet.com).
In the years since, I’ve developed a more ambiguous view of the Bauhaus aesthetic. Although “form meets function” is a great idea as far as it goes, a general rejection of ornamentation that followed the Bauhaus movement also led indirectly to the brutal concrete housing blocks that began to blight the urban landscape and are still causing social problems today.
Nevertheless, much of the art and design that came out of Bauhaus remains strikingly beautiful. And you’re going to see a lot of it over the coming months, because, the city of Berlin and the Bauhaus Association have already begun celebrating the school’s centenary, which will hit fever pitch next year.
You’re probably aware of much of its output: the furniture by Marcel Breuer, the art by Klee and Moholy-Nagy, architecture by Mies van der Rohe and Gropius himself – who went on to design the Pan Am building in New York – and, of course, typefaces.
Which brings me to the project from Adobe that inspired this article, an Epica Awards entry and catnip for font fans everywhere. Following the first “Hidden Treasures” project that digitally recreated the brushes of Edvard Munch, Adobe has now unearthed lost Bauhaus typefaces from “sketches and fragments that were hand-drawn at the school in the 1920s and 1930s” and added them to Adobe Typekit.
The introductory film lays out the black-and-white of the project, but the short “making of” is also well worth a look.
This is fascinating, as until now the first typeface that came to mind when I thought of Bauhaus was Herbert Bayer’s Universal, mentioned earlier. This was a typeface so rigorously minimalist that it did not include capital letters. Bauhaus: still avant garde after all these years.