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We All Live in a Bauhaus

The German art school that closed 76 years ago is still determining what your coffee cup looks like.

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The ultralight drinking glasses from CB2; a wandlike toilet-bowl brush from Muji; the pedestal Docksta table from Ikea set with woven vinyl Chilewich mats and surrounded by Jasper Morrison Air chairs: What do these elements of the fastidiously up-to-date kitchen have in common? They are the distant (and not so distant) offspring of the Bauhaus, the German school of art, architecture, and design that was open for a mere fourteen years, closed 76 years ago, introduced the word sleek to our design vocabulary, and changed the way we think about daily-use items from cantilevered chairs (good) to piles of old magazines (bad). The Bauhaus was famously clutter-averse, teaching acolytes to discard the unnecessary, champion the streamlined and the utilitarian, and design always with mass production in mind. Two exhibits opening next week make the school’s continuing impact clear. At the Museum of Modern Art, “Bauhaus 1919–1933: Workshops for Modernity” (opening November 8) is filled with objects and furniture (as well as painting and architecture) as clean, functional, and striking as anything on the market today, by names that still resonate: Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Josef Albers. Uptown at the Museum of the City of New York, “Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future” (opening November 10) surveys the career of the Finnish-American architect, who didn’t actually attend the Bauhaus but channeled its principles for a postwar American public. (We have him at least partly to thank for the modular cubicle and the ergonomic office chair.) “The democratization and Everyman aspiration of design shops, from Ikea to Muji, shows the influence of the Bauhaus,” says Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA and co-curator of “Bauhaus.” “They believed that if you combined modern design and practicality and utility, the public would be converted.” As with, say, the iPhone—very Bauhaus.


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