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Review: Nicholas Fox Weber's 'The Bauhaus Group' is jargon-free portrait of 6 innovators

In this informal group biography, art historian Nicholas Fox Weber, author of Le Corbusier, profiles six key artists and architects from the experimental teaching institution known as the Bauhaus, which flourished in Germany amid the cultural ferment of the Weimar era only to be shuttered by the Nazis.

Although the Bauhaus exerted a profound influence on the development of European and American modernism, it did not espouse any single style or aesthetic. Rather, it advocated a set of core values, including a respect for human scale and the principle that an object's form must suit its function. As Weber notes, the ultimate importance of the Bauhaus "was in the way it addressed the connection between our surroundings and our feelings. Morality, emotion, religion, humor: all could be echoed and nourished by what we look at and touch."

Filled with well-turned anecdotes and blissfully free of art-historical jargon, The Bauhaus Group follows the lives and careers of famed Bauhaus architects Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the painters Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Weber also offers a truly touching portrait of the husband-wife team of Josef and Anni Albers, who befriended him during the 1970s, when he was a graduate student and they were teaching art in the United States.

Visiting the elderly couple at their home in Connecticut, Weber expected to find a pair of dour Europeans, living in an atmosphere of modernist austerity and subsisting on "lean, geometrically organized food." But to his surprise, he discovered that they were disarmingly casual, liked to tell jokes, wore clothes from L.L. Bean and expressed a genuine delight with the efficiencies of contemporary American life. The Heinz ketchup bottle, for instance, earned their highest Bauhaus praise: Such a simple, pure form, and it fits perfectly in the palm of the hand.

This book provides an excellent introduction to the personalities responsible for some of the 20th century's most innovative art and design.

The Bauhaus Group: Six Masters of Modern-

By Nicholas Fox Weber

Knopf, 544 pages, $40

Review: Nicholas Fox Weber's 'The Bauhaus Group' is jargon-free portrait of 6 innovators 11/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 13, 2009 11:55am]
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