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How the Bauhaus Changed Chicago

‘3 Dimensions Brochure (Detail)’
Elsa Kula, 3 Dimensions Brochure (Detail) Photo: Courtesy of the Art Institute

The Bauhaus, a school of progressive design founded 100 years ago in Germany, produced a distinctly modernist style that influenced art and architecture around the world. Bauhaus Chicago: Design in the City, opening November 23 at the Art Institute of Chicago, showcases the impact here. Alison Fisher, associate curator of architecture and design, explains.

How is the Bauhaus important to Chicago?

When the Nazis closed the school in 1933, that precipitated an exodus of largely left-leaning designers. Two of them, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, arrived in Chicago, which set off a tidal wave of change in thinking about design in the city. Moholy-Nagy started the Institute of Design, and the way we think about modern building, all the glass and steel skyscrapers we have in the United States, can be traced to the principles Mies was working on in the ’50s.

Why is Bauhaus generally associated with architecture, even though it incorporates lots of disciplines?

Between Mies and Moholy-Nagy, Mies has a much larger physical presence in Chicago. Moholy-Nagy’s agenda was for artists to not be slaves to medium or technique and instead be able to look at the world in a modern way. His influence isn’t easy to market or recognize, but I hope this show changes that, because Bauhaus is really much more design than architecture.

Who’s a local Bauhaus artist people might not know but should?

Elsa Kula. She worked across a huge range of design, but in the ’50s it wasn’t common for women to achieve the same prominence men were getting. We’re showing a charming line of plywood mannequins she designed for storefronts.

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