Sunday, April 7, 2013

“They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910–1950” and The New Bauhaus

This is the cover of The New Bauhaus course catalog, 1937-38 that is on display in the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition “They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910–1950.” photo by versluis 2013

The following is from the didactic label that accompanies this iconic piece in the exhibition:

The New Bauhaus: Design in Chicago 
As Chicago’s social realists were striving for social change, a new set of immigrants appeared on the scene. In 1937, a group of Chicago industrialists invited the Hungarian-born artist Lázló Moholy-Nagy to found the New Bauhaus (now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology). It would be based on the Bauhaus, an innovative German school that operated between 1919 and 1933. A renowned avant-garde painter, photographer, and graphic and industrial designer, Moholy-Nagy had taught at the Bauhaus in 1923-1928. With the threat of World War II looming, he accepted the invitation, asking the photographer György Kepes to join him in Chicago. 
Like its predecessor, the New Bauhaus featured an integrated curriculum of art and design that prioritized open-ended learning and creative processes. Abstraction and pure visual qualities were emphasized, as students were encouraged to inventively experiment with forms as a means of finding solutions to artistic and social questions. This attitude was certainly revolutionary in Chicago although modernism could be seen in limited quantities, the representational preferences of Chicago’s left-wing social realists still dominated. Moholy-Nagy was equally committed to progressive social issues, however, which he demonstrated through his mission to develop good design and indicate a social consciousness in his students. 
This fostered a rich and lively connection between these two groups in Chicago, as they met, argued, and exchanged ideas. Moreover, it offers another window onto the vibrancy of the Chicago artistic community during this period. In the face of wartime oppression, Chicago’s diverse and brash new society had an enticing vitality for Moholy-Nagy: “There’s something incomplete about this city and its people that fascinates me; it seems to urge one on to completion. Everything seems still possible. The paralyzing finality of the European disaster is far away. I love the air of newness, of expectation around me. Yes, I want to stay.” (1)
  1. Oehler, Sarah Kelly, exhibition curator. Exhibition: They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910–1950. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. 2013.

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