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One of the many revelations here is the quasi-religious mysticism that infused parts of the Bauhaus in its earliest years. The first image you see when you step into the galleries is an Expressionist painting from 1919 by Johannes Itten, who ran the schoolís introductory course. Its colorful abstract forms, which break down into a dense pattern of overlapping triangles, circles and rectangles, evoke the refracted glass of a stained-glass cathedral window.
Just below it is a design for a coffin lid drawn in 1920 by Lothar Schreyer, a director of the Bauhaus theater, for his wife (which, in a nice Freudian twist, was used for his motherís burial instead). A womanís figure, composed of interlocking circles and laid over a vibrant background of gray and blue, is framed by the lidís trapezoidal outline. Farther along you come up against Marcel Breuerís 1921 ďAfricanĒ chair, whose crudely chiseled wood frame looks so out of place with conventional images of the Bauhaus that you may wonder if youíve walked into the wrong show.
These works reveal an ambivalence about the machine age and what was being left behind. Even as Walter Gropius, the schoolís founding director, was promoting a mass-production aesthetic, Itten and others were advocating a more atavistic approach, one that was rooted in the skills of the medieval craftsman. (Itten even began his classes on abstract art with a series of yoga exercises that were meant to reawaken the physical senses and bring the students in closer contact with their work.)