- The Bauhaus and America: First Contacts 1919-1936
This book reaffirms how any intellectual movement—whether aesthetic, pedagogical or political—hinges on individuals and their relationships. Through historical accounts and reprinted letters, the reader becomes aware of how two primaries of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, were courted by universities and brought to the United States via the personal interventions and influence of well-placed Americans such as Philip Johnson, Alfred H. Barr and Joseph Hudnut. In many cases this was because these Americans authored books or curated exhibitions that familiarized their countrymen with progressive architecture, design and artwork coming from Germany. Figures such as Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Marcel Bruer and Josef and Anni Albers are discussed by Kentens-Craig, but not with the thoroughness with which she approaches Gropius and Mies.
The Bauhaus was a combination of aesthetic predilictions, pedagogical program and occasional vaguely socialistic political sentiments. All three met with opposition from the Nazi regime, as it defined itself by designating and distancing itself from what it perceived as non-German. Yet precisely for the reason of Nazi opposition were Bauhaus style and its practitioners welcomed in the United States, as evidence of a sophisticated internationalism for which the United States then hoped to be recognized around the world. An amusing sidetrack in Kentgens-Craig's book discusses the wartime and McCarthy-era FBI reports of citizen sightings of mysterious Germans with charts at obscure Wisconsin resorts, which turned out to be Mies and friends on vacation, discussing at the lunch table his Illinois Institute of Technology commissions.
In focusing on American publications about the Bauhaus and personal connections in the 1920s and especially the 1930s, the book speeds over the Bauhaus impact in the 1940s and later decades, when its influence was demonstrably greatest. I was left wishing for a second volume to pick up the story and further trace the spread of Bauhaus ideas and methods through American universities. It might begin with the teachings and writings on color by Josef Albers and Johannes Itten, yet could include the many lesser-recognized Bauhaus graduates, such as Hannes Beckmann (diploma #64), a postwar emigré who taught for many years at the Cooper Union and Dartmouth College. [End Page 163]