Reviewed October 2019
Carling Spinney
Reference Assistant, Queen’s University Libraries
carling.spinney@queensu.ca

Bauhaus: Building the New Artist is an online exhibition that explores the radical pedagogy behind the 20th-century Bauhaus School of art and design. Devised alongside a physical gallery exhibition (Bauhaus Beginnings) at the Getty Research Institute, Bauhaus: Building the New Artist does not play a supporting role. It is a high-caliber, stand-alone digital resource that delivers quality content any student or instructor of the arts would find valuable.

Bauhaus 2

Upon entering the exhibition, users are met with a vivid, if not abrasive, yellow hue. This first impression is worth noting as it sets the tone for much of the platform’s design, which consistently reflects Bauhaus sensibilities throughout. For example, in one of three interactive activities built into the exhibition users learn that Kandinsky theorized yellow was in fact “a psychologically sharp color full of outward movement.” It follows, then, for this exhibition to embrace such a salient and striking tone. 

The exhibition is organized into four overarching themes: History, Form and Color, Matter and Materials, Body and Spirit. Each of these themes consists of various sub-sections (numbering anywhere from three to six). As users delve into the exhibition, an image or text block sweeps out to the side, making for an engaging and lively experience. A “Resources” button in the top right corner includes a page with links and descriptions as well as an “Object Checklist” that lists all sources in the exhibition (largely primary sources from the Getty Research Institute archives). A citation widget in the same location is especially useful for students who may consult this resource, and perhaps hints at the intended audience. Both instructors and novice-intermediate students in fine arts, art history, architecture, and related disciplines stand to benefit from this resource that is free and open to all. It is not particularly suited for scholars specializing in the subject matter since it remains at a somewhat introductory level.

At the heart of the exhibition, and indeed the true centerpiece, are the interactive activities. These activities ground obscure theory in hands-on experiences—they are what make this resource so useful to students and instructors alike. They also mirror a central component of the Bauhaus School: specialized, practical workshops that provide an opportunity to apply learned principles. The School’s pedagogical vision informs not only exhibition content, but the very design itself.

It is evident the exhibition was created with thoughtful execution, yet there are opportunities for improvement. Perhaps most notable is the lack of any female voice. Bauhaus 4Woven throughout the exhibition are provocative and inspiring quotations direct from the masters of Bauhaus, but none give voice to the many women involved with the School. Although women are indeed mentioned several times (ex. Anni Albers, Marianne Brandt, and Gunta Stölzl), the spotlight never shines directly on them as it does their male counterparts –Walter Gropius, Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, and others. This is disappointing, especially as the exhibition notes Gropius encouraged a diverse group of students in terms of age, gender, and nationality. Considering their significant role both as students and instructors, women’s contribution to the Bauhaus School deserves more than passing acknowledgment, regardless of any potential restrictions the exhibition creators may have been working within. 

Despite this shortcoming, the online exhibition remains a useful teaching tool. An array of media including images, text, quotations, videos, and activities unite in this interactive experience of Bauhaus concepts. In broad strokes, the Bauhaus objective was one that aimed to combine fine arts and applied arts in singular unity. This total work of art, or Gesamtkunstwerk, is similarly reflected in the synthesis of distinct and varied sources coming together under the architecture of the exhibition itself.