Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück

A comparison between Mysticism and Rationalism of the Bauhaus

The Bauhaus School has an esoteric side, that, up until now, 100 years after its foundation, is still the subject of hermetic interpretation. This mystical vision, also subtly connected with theosophical theories, developed almost in divergence to the more positivist one of the School based on the precept of art, science and technology in service of humanity. The group show Crossing Lines, curated by Dr. Christian Oxenius and Jan Tichy, at the Kunsthalle in Osnabruck, from August 24th to November 3rd 2019, provides a critical way of interpreting Bauhaus starting from this enigmatic point of view. 

Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill

At the origin of the project, there is a document from the László Moholy-Nagy Foundation: a dark green print of the artist’s right hand on a light coloured paper. The pressure of Moholy-Nagy’́s hand with his fingers, the palm, the lines and the folds of his skin, which are said to enclose the secret meaning of a man’s life, give a spiritual and at the same time inhibiting allure to the gesture of bringing to life the presence of the artist. This testimony emerged from the research of Jan Tichy, in collaboration with Robin Schuldenfrei of the Courtald Institute of Arts in London, together with thirteen other prints of the same kind; they were probably the result of a workshop whose participants were members of the School, including Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Breuer, Marianne Brandt, and László Moholy-Nagy himself –  all of them were in some way related to each other.

Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill

There are no other documents that could explain the reasons for this series of prints; nor is it clear why Moholy-Nagy decided to keep them and even take them with him when he moved to Chicago, to teach at the New Bauhaus.

Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill
Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill

“Crossing lines, the title of the exhibition” explains Dr. Oxenius, “is an invitation to overcome a classic iconography that represents the history of Bauhaus as an exclusive domain of rationalism. The exhibition invites the viewer to relate to this crucial moment of history among other things from a different point of view that looks at the relational dynamics that belonged to the School and that were precisely at the root of the New Bauhaus”. This tension between the rational and the mystical is described in the exhibition by a site-specific path created by Jan Tichy that outlines one of Moholy-Nagy’s horoscopes. This trajectory unfolds the dialogue between the artworks. “The positions we see represented at the Kunsthalle Osnabrück (…) are rather gestures that find resonance in their multiple histories and their relationship with contemporary narratives and sensitivities. The exhibition is conceived as a form of open dialogue in which each work, each individual and artistic production, develops its own narratives independently, yet finds synergies and common underlying aesthetic and conceptual elements to create a sense of unity.” as Oxenius explains in the curatorial text.

Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill
Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill

The artists, Heba Y. Amin (*1980, Cairo), Jakob Gautel (*1965, Karlsruhe), Olaf Holzapfel (*1967, Dresden), Reuven Israel (*1978, Jerusalem), Kostis Velonis (*1968, Athens) and Jan Tichy (*1974, Prague), describe this dynamic with different practices that share the horizon of the formal influence of Bauhaus and its spirit of experimentation. The creative dynamism was indeed an essential quality of László Moholy-Nagy, born in Hungary on the 20th of July, 1895 to a Jewish family and died in Chicago on November 24, 1946. Cinema, theatre, sculpture, photography, typography and advertising design were a commitment aimed at the realization of a Gesamtwerk, or total work, in the postwar era of mass production. But all these activities did not weaken the artist’s pictorial practice and his decisive role in art history that consisted in a new concept of painting and an instrumental use of light.

Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill
Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill

In the preface to the text by Moholy-Nagy, The New Vision and Abstract of an Artist, 1928, Walter Gropius writes that, after the Great War, at a time when the world was facing new problems such as, for example, the fourth dimension, the simultaneity of events and other ideas extraneous to previous time periods, Moholy-Nagy’s revolution was to have introduced time into space, merging abstraction and reality.

Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill
Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill
Installation view Crossing Lines at Kunsthalle Osnabrück, Photo: Angela Von Brill

Perhaps it is precisely in this spirit of perpetual research and overcoming limits that the esoteric and mystical aspect of László Moholy-Nagy’s practices, and those of the other Bauhaus artists, can be included in a traditional perspective, yet one which leaves room for a critical point of view.

Elda Oreto