Edited by Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler. Bloomsbury Visual Arts, January 2019. 392 p. ill. ISBN 9781501344787 (pbk), $23.99.
Reviewd March 2020
Rose Orcutt, Architecture and Planning Librarian, University at Buffalo, firstname.lastname@example.org
A thoughtful and compelling monograph, Bauhaus Bodies: Gender, Sexuality, and Body Culture in Modernism’s Legendary Art School presents the term ‘Bauhaus’ in a new light by addressing how the female form and gender identity were expressed in art, architecture, design, and photography of the Bauhaus era. Taking a rarely explored outlook allows the book to stand out, despite being one of many 2019 publications marking the Bauhaus centennial, a number of which were authored or edited by its editors. In 2019, Elizabeth Otto, an expert in modern art, visual culture, and gender, also published Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics. Patrick Rössler, whose research focuses on visual communication from a historical viewpoint, published Bauhausmädels: A Tribute to Pioneering Women Artists. In addition, they coauthored Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective.
Bauhaus Bodies is well organized; its two parts highlighting the shift in the Bauhaus movement from a focus on utopian ideals to a focus on technology and production. A polished and engaging introduction investigates what Bauhaus means culturally and historically, particularly within the context of the gender and sexuality issues surrounding the Bauhaus school’s moment. The fourteen original essays from notable authors look at the institution’s politics and culture, and illuminate how bodies and gender played a significant, but often neglected role in the Bauhaus period.
The first part, “The Bauhaus in Weimar and Beyond: Gendered Bodies and the Search for Utopia,” focuses on the starting years of the Bauhaus. One essay investigates the utopian ideas of husband and wife and all-female communes that parallel Bauhaus ideals. Other essays delve into how a body moves through various poses, and the spiritual connection of the body with living spaces. The final essay examines the Bauhaus perception of the female artist’s identity and explores the implications of the absence of female figures in a 1923 Bauhaus art exhibition.
The second part, “A New Unity? Technologies and Techniques of Gender,” discusses Walter Gropius’s 1923 exhibition opening speech entitled “art and technology: a new unity.” With this description, the Bauhaus reinvented its image from expressionist aesthetics to the concept of sleek modernization and mass production of objects. Other essays explore the intersection of art and identity and how this change manifested itself in body-freeing restrictions and gender identity perspectives.
Color and black and white illustrations, photographs, and painting reproductions capture and support the authors’ theses and are well-documented in an image list. This book provides a deep historical account of the societal and cultural relationships between the men and women who participated in the Bauhaus movement. Not only is this book pertinent to research in the Bauhaus movement and in gender studies, but is also an interesting read for personal knowledge.