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Bauhaus: Gropius’s school, Breuer, Schlemmer and…Bela Lugosi!

15.02.2019 | By PAOLO BOCCHI

“The Bauhaus turns 100; Bela Lugosi’s Dead, the Bauhaus’s single, celebrates its 40th birthday: a year of important anniversaries for the Bauhaus brand!
Here is an overview, in 4 points and 4 examples, of what the Bauhaus has been and who was behind it. Art rules the world!”

Walter Gropius, Total Theatre, 1927

The Total Theater was a project designed by Walter Gropius for the director Erwin Piscator; an idea that, unfortunately, never got any further than the drawing board. The project materialized – first in theory, then in the working drawings – most of the principles underlying the Bauhaus school education at its finest. Gropius’s theater broke every pattern, revolutionizing the actors’ habits on stage and those of the paying audience, too. Theater became an instrument, a machine, a place where the traditionally frontal relationship between actor and viewer was overcome thanks to an engineering innovation: a rotating stage, unthinkable and unimaginable before Gropius. Gropius’s total theatre comprised an elliptic layout with a circular rotating section inside, in a way that, at the end of a half-rotation, the stage (on the edge of the round platform) would have ended up at the very center of the theater. The act of physically removing the distance between the audience and the stage would have turned the viewers into an integral part of the play. In the theater pictured by Gropius, the actors become spectators and viceversa. This, essentially, is the language of the Bauhaus.

Marcel Breuer, Wassily Chair, 1925

Until 1925, the term “chair” was referred to something conceived and realized for accommodating a human being, handcrafted in infinite versions mostly from wood. Then, suddenly, a student named Marcel Breuer, who was only 23, devised what would make a major breakthrough in sitting. Its name was B3 or Wassily, and its story starts from a simple bicycle frame, combined with a deep, clever out-of-the-box thinking. At that time, Marcel Breuer was using an Adler bike for his commuting. While observing its components in his journeys, the student fell in love with the curved lines of his velocipede and thought about extending the use of its material and sinuous design to items other than two-wheeled vehicles. Hence the unparalleled lines of his Wassily, produced by the renowned Knoll, which remains one of the brand’s best-sellers to date. And this design icon born out of a “riding” insight still looks impervious to any useless upgrade. The intersections and hollow spaces of its structure in chrome-plated steel, along with its leather seat, backrest and armrests, look like a tridimensional version of some Wassily Kandinsky paintings, hence the name of Marcel Breuer’s piece.

Oskar Schlemmer, Bauhaus Logo, 1922

In Oskar Schlemmer’s theater costumes and ideas there are countless worlds of references. You can find the supple stiffness of Bergamo’s Harlequin marionette interpreted by the great Ferruccio Soleri over decades. The geometric and lunar David Bowie in the guise of a Pierrot for the video of Ashes to Ashes. The time-space shifts of the “theater-circus-music-dance-video-multimedia-physicality” of the Catalan group Fura dels Baus. And some timeless covers of the most important fashion magazines in history. This and much more was Oskar Schlemmer, German painter, sculptor and choreographer, author of that “Triadisches Ballet” that combined mechanical surrealism and colorful geometric costumes, completely revolutionizing the art of theater set construction in and out of his country. Not on theater alone did Schlemmer live, though. He is the author, for instance, of the masterful design of what later became the Bauhaus logo. Born from the hands of Oskar Schlemmer in 1922, the drawing lived untouched through almost 60 years of graphic and costume design history until, in 1978, it was adopted as the official logo of a band that left an indelible mark in the history of rock. The name of the band? Bauhaus.


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Bauhaus, Bela Lugosi’s Dead, 1978

Here is how it happened, more or less: Daniel had a riff in his mind, inspired by his Gary Glitter listening sessions, but slowed down as if it had been “ripped”; Pete had read an article on Bela Lugosi, one of the first actors to play Dracula in a non-comic, proper film, and had the lyrics ready, plus a voice “affected by the cold” that proved to be just as deep as the topic required; Kevin sat at his drum set and started to play a bossa nova beat; David went after him with a clean, basic bass line, which was tremendously effective in the creation of a peculiar atmosphere. The band, in that session, played non-stop for 9 minutes 35 seconds. The song was ready. Bela Lugosi’s Dead was written during the soon-to-be Bauhaus’s first rehearsal ever. And it was later recorded at a studio by Dereck Tompkins with no second take. Duration: 9 minutes a half circa. Done. Finished.
An immortal piece had just seen the light; one of those songs that shape up out of an “unrepeatable moment”; Bela Lugosi’s Dead by Bauhaus is the “Stairway to Heaven” of Post Punk/Goth Rock. Along with the 40th anniversary of the single’s release, an album titled “The Bela Sessions EP” has recently come out to let everyone relive the historical moment when this eternal gem of goth culture was born: Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Bauhaus!


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photo credits: courtesy of 100 Years of Bauhaus