The Exhibition

Introduction

The Bauhaus looms large as one of the most influential legacies in twentieth-century graphic design.

Known for its bold sans serif typefaces, crisp asymmetrical grids, and clean use of negative space, the school seized upon advances in printing and mass production to create a radical new art. Today, just over one hundred years after its opening, the Bauhaus’s visual hallmarks have, for many, come to define modernity as it appears on the printed page.

Founded by German architect Walter Gropius in 1919, the Bauhaus first sought to unite craft and fine art into a historical ideal of art as a harmonious whole. Its early print materials—influenced by first instructors Johannes Itten, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky—veer toward the expressionistic, even the mystic, in their organic approaches to line and letter. While design and typography were not initially taught at the school, they were soon put into practice as new masters László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer, and Joost Schmidt channeled constructivism’s geometric forms and optimism for industry into publications that helped share Bauhaus teachings. Here is where Bauhaus graphic design shifted from its calligraphic and painterly origins to its more famous machine-made form, exemplified by its rejection of serifs and capitals, embrace of experimental alphabets, innovative use of imagery, and insistence on minimalism and utility.

Drawn from the collection of Letterform Archive, this exhibition explores the school’s print legacy through artifacts of its own making—its books, magazines, course materials, product catalogs, stationery, promotional fliers, and other ephemera—as well as through objects created by its many characters before and after their time at the school. Finally, it seeks to understand what this inheritance might signal a century later—to draw a throughline from the Bauhaus’s iconic dots and rules, as well as the gestural marks of its lesser-known beginnings, to the shape of typography today.

Bauhaus Dessau students
Courtesy of Bauhaus Dessau Foundation (I 18980 F)

László Moholy-Nagy
Photo by Lucia Moholy / Image Courtesy of Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / © 2021 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Bauhaus Dessau masters
Image courtesy of Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin / Musée National d’Art Moderne / Centre de Création Industrielle, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris / Legacy of Nina Kandinsky 

Herbert Bayer
Photo by Irene Bayer / Image courtesy of Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin 

Students Marcel Breuer, Marta Erps-Breuer, Katt Both, and Ruth Hollos-Consemüller
Image courtesy of Bauhaus Dessau Foundation (I 46052/1-2) / © Dr. Stephan Consemüller