The Bauhaus was the most influential modernist art school of the 20th century, one whose approach to teaching, and understanding art’s relationship to society and technology, had a major impact both in Europe and the United States long after it closed. It was shaped by the 19th and early 20th centuries trends such as Arts and Crafts movement, which had sought to level the distinction between fine and applied arts, and to reunite creativity and manufacturing.
The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 in the city of Weimar by German architect Walter Gropius (1883–1969). Its core objective was a radical concept: to reimagine the material world to reflect the unity of all the arts. The preliminary course in this school was often taught by visual artists, including Paul Klee (1987.455.16), Vasily Kandinsky (1866–1944), and Josef Albers (59.160), among others.
What may be overlooked is the fact that the rigorous design school, founded by modernism’s grandsire Walter Gropius, also put on marvelous costume parties back in the 1930s. If you thought Bauhaus folk were good at designing coffee tables, just have a look at their costumes—as bewitching and sculptural as any other student project, but with an amazing flamboyance not oft ascribed to the movement. Sadly, there are not many surviving photographs of the costumed shindigs thrown at the school, which was founded by the revered German architect Walter Adolph Georg Gropius. It has been said that attendees of the costume parties took the preparation of their costumes as seriously as their studies at the school and the results were a spellbinding array of imagery created by the upper crust vanguard that made up Bauhaus’ academic population.
In“Life at the Bauhaus” by Farkas Molnár (1925) he says that ,” The greatest expenditures of energy, however, go into the costume parties. The essential difference between the fancy-dress balls organized by the artists of Paris, Berlin, Moscow and the ones here at the Bauhaus is that our costumes are truly original. Everyone prepares his or her own. Never a one that has been seen before. Inhuman, or humanoid, but always new. You may see monstrously tall shapes stumbling about, colorful mechanical figures that yield not the slightest clue as to where the head is. Sweet girls inside a red cube. Here comes a winch and they are hoisted high up into the air; lights flash and scents are sprayed.”
He also writes that “And now one or two intimate details about the bigwigs. Kandinsky prefers to appear decked out as an antenna, Itten as an amorphous monster, Feininger as two right triangles, Moholy-Nagy as a segment transpierced by a cross, Gropius as Le Corbusier, Muche as an apostle of Mazdaznan, Klee as the song of the blue tree. A rather grotesque menagerie…”
The ballet’s “18 costumes,” writes Curbed, “were designed by matching geometric forms with analogous parts of the human body: a cylinder for the neck, a circle for the heads…. These elaborate costumes … totally upped the ante at the Bauhaus school’s regular costume balls.” Schlemmer “made no secret of the fact that he considered the stylized, artificial movements of marionettes to be aesthetically superior to the naturalistic movements of real humans.” His ballet, Dangerous Minds remarks, may be “the least ‘human’ dance performance ever conceived.”
It may come as no surprise then that the Triadic Ballet influenced some of the hyper-stylized alien costuming of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour. Perhaps even more than the photographs of revelers from the costume parties, the Triadic Ballet, which has been periodically revived since its 1922 debut, preserves the fascinating innovations Bauhaus artists envisioned for the human form.