by Alan Powers. Thames & Hudson, April 2019. 304 p. ill. ISBN 9780500519929 (h/c), $40.00.
Reviewed July 2019
Susan Bissonnette, Information Services Librarian, Vanier College, Montreal, Quebec, firstname.lastname@example.org
With the one hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Bauhaus School in April, many books have been reissued or updated for this historic event. There are also a few new books published such as Gropius: the Man who Built the Bauhaus; Bauhaus Journal 1926-1931 (facsimile edition); Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective; and this one, Bauhaus Goes West: Modern Art and Design in Britain and America, by Alan Powers.
Bauhaus Goes West is saturated with information about Bauhaus architects and artists that escaped from Nazi Germany, their short time in Britain, and their subsequent journey to North America. Every page contains names, places, stories, and opinions from the time that Walter Gropius arrived in London in 1934 to a moment when IKEA opened in Britain in 1987. There are seventeen pages of notes and a list of books for further reading. The book’s cover is attractive, a small work of art on its own. The photographs and illustrations, as well as the layout, are perfect.
The most intriguing aspect of the book is the information about the two to three years Gropius, Marcel Breuer, László Moholy-Nagy and other former Bauhaus teachers and students spent in Britain. Powers attempts to demonstrate that a short stay in London had an artistic and intellectual influence on the Bauhaus group, and that British designers, filmmakers, and architects had the opportunity to collaborate with them.
Powers also includes women in his book. Dorothea Ventris commissioned Breuer to furnish her apartment; Lucia Moholy photographed the Countess of Oxford and Asquith; Ise Gropius accompanied her husband to London; and although “feminist studies of Bauhaus history have emphasized the originality and quality of the work by women, as well as its commercial success,” Powers seems to believe that Bauhaus women were slighted. Then again, maybe he does not: “On the other hand, the freedoms of dress and the apparently equal terms on which women students interacted with their male counterparts does seem genuinely in the spirit of much more recent norms of behavior.”
Herein lies the difficulty with this publication; it is all over the place. The first two pages of chapter eight describe events in 1953, 1954, 1960, 1967, and 1968. Eight different names are mentioned. This unfortunately occurs throughout the book. There is no doubt that the Bauhaus is a well-established and essential part of the history of the modern world and to question its legacy at this point is disappointing, especially when everyone is celebrating its centennial. This book would be acceptable in a graduate school of art history. It would be difficult for community college or undergraduate students to understand.