Photos showcase Bauhaus architecture

Buildings in Prague, Brno and Dessau are explored in Galerie Jaroslava Fragnera

Prague and Brno are most widely known for medieval architecture, but there are also some often overlooked modern examples. The exhibition Filip Šlapal: Bauhaus, at Galerie Jaroslava Fragnera until April 14, has some modern 75 photos by Filip Šlapal of Bauhaus-style buildings in Dessau, Germany, plus Prague and Brno. The buildings themselves were built in the first part of the 20th century.

The Prague building highlighted in the show is Vila Palička, built in 1928 by architect Mart Stam, in the Podbaba housing development in Prague 8. The entry from Brno is the Tugendhat Villa, built in 1920–30 by architect Mies van der Rohe.

The rest of the buildings shown are in and around Dessau, a city closely associated with the birth of Bauhaus. Architects include Walter Gropius, Hannes Meyer, González Hinz Zabala, Bruno Fioretti Marquez, Georg Muche, Carl Fieger and others.

The exhibition also has video screens and a film projected on the wall. These include re-creations of Bauhaus performances from the 1920s, a documentary from the 1920s about the ease of using Bauhaus kitchen, and modern documentaries on the restoration and history of the Tugendhat Villa.

The performances feature dancers dressed in geometric shapes, and at times resemble a live-action Tetris game, set to modern music.

Bauhaus, founded a century ago, sought to integrate a higher learning academy and a school of fine arts. It fell into decline before World War II, when the German government started to oppose modern art movements. Walter Gropius, director of the Bauhaus school, tried to keep the movement away from politics as long as possible.

The school relocated to Dessau in 1925. “Of all the possible candidates offering to allow the Bauhaus to continue to operate, Dessau offered not just the most amenable political environment, but also an industrial character and the promise of local collaboration with school workshops – and this is precisely what occurred. Gropius’ successor Hannes Meyer made no secret of his Marxist political leanings, and encouraged the same line of thought in his students. Naturally, this added fuel to the fire within the turbulent environment of the Weimar Republic,” the gallery states in the accompanying text, adding that the shift to standardization and accessible housing also drew criticism.

Bauhaus eventually became a larger concept than just architecture, as the videos of Bauhaus dance performances demonstrate. “Bauhaus style is commonly understood to represent a common set of characteristics – even encompassing fonts, furniture, textiles, shapes, materials, and colors, as well as the designs of buildings themselves,” the exhibition notes state.

There is also quite a bit of variety, depending on the individual architects, and the works overlap with other movements such as expressionism, neoplasticism, New Objectivity and functionalism.

The exhibition, aside from the videos, uses only recent photos by Filip Šlapal, many of which are close-ups of details that come off as almost abstract artworks. They are not meant to give comprehensive views of the buildings, which is a bit frustrating. A curved stairway and isolated door handle don’t really give a full impression. Some of the photos are quite striking, though.

The photos mounted on the walls also are not labeled. Visitors have to refer to the exhibition pamphlet to figure which ones are from which buildings.

Also absent are any blueprints and models. The show is about one photographer’s interpretation of the movement and not an overview of the movement itself.

It might be enough to get people to look at the modern architecture around them that they pass every day, and consider its artistic roots.

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