(A planned community is a pseudo-community, a nominally social space in which everyone is an obedient, well-oiled robot, a nominal human being programmed by instrumental reason. At least in public; in private the robot may come apart -- regress to a shabby humanity -- although the Bauhaus, like the feminists whose motto is "the private is the political," wanted to collapse the difference -- erase the boundary -- between the public and the private. This is partly why today the private eagerly becomes public, and why they are readily confused, as "reality television" and so-called social networking -- much of it seems anti-social -- show. They standardize the psychosocial just as the Bauhaus standardized art, each reducing content, be it human or esthetic, to a pro forma ritual.)

Ludwig von Bertalanffy, the developer of General System Theory, argued that the modern "crisis" was caused by the conflict between an open system organic model of human behavior and a closed system robot model of human behavior -- and by implication the lifeworld -- and in the Bauhaus the robot system has won the battle, at least on the battlefield of art. But technology was well on its way to conquering the lifeworld before it conquered art, suggesting that the Bauhaus was fitting art into technology rather than using technology to make art. The Bauhaus described itself as a "unity" of "art and technology," but I would say it confirmed technology’s triumph over art rather than art’s triumphant appropriation of technology. The Bauhaus endorsed and adapted to technology, not vice versa.

And a not very sophisticated -- indeed, a rather skin-deep -- technology at that: the Bauhaus copied -- mimicked -- the streamlined, simplifying look associated with technological efficiency, stripping art down to its objective, "pure" essentials -- geometry and material taking pride of place among them -- thus desubjectifying it. They wanted the modernizing look of technology, not its substance, which is more complicated than they could imagine. Their esthetic fundamentalism can hardly be called technologically ingenious, unless one is ignorant enough to misconstrue their "de-regularizing" arrangements of the modules of the grid as brilliant engineering. It adds an air of quasi-flexibility and pseudo-intricacy to the otherwise rigid grid, deceiving us into believing that freedom, change and unlimited movement are possible within its unchanging structure, emblematic of inflexible authoritarian society ("friendly fascism?"). The grid’s modules are like cells in a prison, and while the prisoners are allowed to exercise -- flex their muscles and move about restlessly, as though expressing themselves spontaneously -- in the prison’s yard, they remain confined within its claustrophobic boundaries and depressing sameness. The module is a cog in the grid machine, and the cog can’t escape its "system."

This desubjectification of art -- correlate with its over-objectification -- is exactly where the Bauhaus and the Nazis make common cause. Both regarded Expressionism and Surrealism as "degenerate." Both sought to exterminate "low," "fuzzy," "surreal" subjective expression and replace it with "high-minded," "crisp," "real" objective art (pure, self-sufficient form not obscured by evocative decorative ornament for the Bauhaus) -- self-righteously "perfect" art bespeaking an industrial idealism. Both wanted to create ideal societies. Both were ruthlessly utopian and inbred -- the Bauhaus wanted an inbred art, the Nazis wanted an inbred society -- forms and Aryans incestuously breeding in eugenic pursuit of an imagined pure, perfectly formed breed of art and human being. Both expected technology to do the eugenic work, as though technology would guarantee the ideal and absolutely pure and was ideal and pure in itself. The Bauhaus ideal of pure, well-managed art and the Nazi ideal of pure, well-managed Aryan society were curiously correlate however ostensibly at odds. After all, the Nazis were great advocates of industrialism, and also had a totalitarian ideology. Just as the Bauhaus wanted a one-dimensional art -- totalized and stereotyped art as exclusively geometrical, with whatever pseudo-expressive variations bringing the geometry to quasi-life, like a robot going through the motions of dancing -- so the Nazis wanted a one-dimensional society, that is, a society in which there was only one kind of "authentic" human being.

- bill 12-04-2009 2:14 pm

The point in all this—a point extremely well finessed by the curators—is that design is a comprehensive term for the organizing forces informing art of all sorts. Nothing dramatizes this argument better than the conspicuous sight of furnishings now considered classic modernist and familiar to us through mass production. Marcel Breuer’s 1927-1928 cantilevered club chair in chrome-plated tubular steel and canvas sits right by the display of vintage promotional literature for the chair manufactured by Standard Möbel, Breuer’s own company. With profits going to his business and not to the Bauhaus, Breuer was effectively competing with Gropius and the institution, which included a conflict over intellectual property rights. The social forces configuring the Bauhaus’ successes may be only an undercurrent in this exhibition, but they are there for all to read: The laboratory of design ideas intended to change the world was before long a threat.

From without, the school’s innovative synthesis of art and technology drew fire from more and more hostilely conservative German governments. Readily affordable, well-designed furnishings from this period of the Bauhaus are on view to suggest that, had it been allowed to survive, this alembic for design might well have also demonstrated an ethics informed through social responsibility: All classes should be able to live in environments that work well and are beautiful because they are humanly fit for use.

- bill 12-04-2009 5:06 pm [add a comment]

Kuspit's been on this "art must be life affirming" kick for a couple of decades now. It used to be he just objected to Jeff Koons, but now he's going further and further back in time to find Bauhaus = Nazi parallels. It's deranged. Some art is pleasurable because it is spontaneous and lifelike, some is pleasurable because it is highly organized. Deal with it, Donald.
- tom moody 12-05-2009 3:57 pm [add a comment]

I remember being infuriated by him 30 years ago, I think it was in Art News, he had side-by-side critiques of Robert Ryman and Leon Golub which (surprise) conclusively proved that: Ryman=Bad; Golub=Good. Idiot.
- alex 12-05-2009 6:32 pm [add a comment]

  • Ryman is GREAT (to me)
    - Skinny 12-08-2009 2:04 pm [add a comment]

might as well throw another log on the fire...

Kandinsky compared the slow but steady devolution, dissolution and near disappearance of the object in Impressionism to the modern discovery that the atom was not a solid, one-dimensional object but a complex structure of vibrating particles. And he was right: Art and science were on the same exciting wavelength. Representation could no longer be taken for granted, for objects could no longer be taken for granted: They were soft not hard, implying that representation could never again be as solid it was in traditional art. It was always "compromised" by unruly sensations. It could never be more than ironically valid because it was never more than conditionally cohesive and coherent, that is, never more than a slippery configuration of provocative sensations. Every representation was flawed by the sensations that undermined its integrity and perfection even as they gave it an uncanny vitality. They seemed to have an inner necessity of their own, to use Kandinsky’s term. The matrix of sensations was other-worldly and immediate at once.

The modernist esthetic point is that there is no such thing as passive vision, as seemed to be the case in traditional art. There is only active envisioning, that is, the creative construction of a vision from a certain perceptual perspective. It is invariably informed by a certain Weltanschauung, however unconscious. It is this active envisioning or configuring -- a tentative imposition of "conformity" upon "iconoclastic" sensations -- that makes a work of art seem "original" and inspiring rather than matter-of-fact and inert. The ironical unification of the matrix of sensations in a work of art gives it a kind of depth, which is why we often experience it as a living subject rather than a dead object.

- bill 12-05-2009 7:00 pm [add a comment]

  • love this painting on your link

    Giacomo Balla
    The Street Light-Study of Light

    - Skinny 12-08-2009 2:07 pm [add a comment]

  • thats at moma skin.
    - bill 12-08-2009 2:42 pm [add a comment]

  • another reason to go:>)
    for sure will get to the Gug for Kandinsky before it closes, saw the O'keffe last week
    - Skinny 12-08-2009 2:51 pm [add a comment]

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