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Design of the times Switzerland and the Bauhaus – 100 years of functional elegance

The Runner by Paul Klee

"The Runner" by Paul Klee. Watercolour 1920/25


Bauhaus, the influential German design school, was founded on April 12, 1919. Museums and galleries across Switzerland are devoting exhibitions to central Swiss figures, such as Paul Klee, through the year. Here’s a look at some of the big names and major events. 

Functionality, simplicity and innovation. The Bauhaus (literally “building house”) school lasted for only 14 years, but its principles live on and can be seen all around us, from fitted kitchens, white walls, tubular steel chairs and flat-roofed buildings to the iconic Swiss railways clockexternal link

After the destruction of the First World War, a sense of freedom and radical experimentation swept across the art scene in Germany. Architect Walter Gropius founded the theoretically apolitical school in the city of Weimar with the aim of creating consumer goods which were functional, cheap and able to be mass-produced yet which left room for artistic individuality. 

The Bauhaus moved to Dessau and then Berlin before closing in 1933 under pressure from the Nazis. But its teachers and students spread all over the world – many moved to the United States. This ensured that its ideas would have a lasting influence on many fields including painting, architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design and typography. 

Swiss exhibitions 

Bauhaus-related exhibitions being held across Switzerland this year include: 

Max Bill and Zurich Concrete Artexternal link” at the Kunstmuseum Winterthur (April 13-January 2, 2020) showcases the Winterthur-born polymath’s fascination with concrete art and its emphasis on geometrical abstraction. 

Max Bill

Max Bill (1908-1994) was a Swiss architect, artist, painter, typeface designer, industrial designer and graphic designer


Sticking with Bill, “max bill. bauhaus constellationsexternal link” at the Hauser & Wirth gallery in Zurich (June 9 -September 14) explores “dynamic dialogues” with the artists Bill met at the Bauhaus, including Josef Albers, Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Kurt Schwitters, Oskar Schlemmer and Sophie Taeuber-Arp. 

Johannes Itten: Art as Lifeexternal link” at the Kunstmuseum Bern (August 30-February 2, 2020) will focus on the Swiss artist and theorist who taught the Bauhaus’s “preliminary course”, a year’s basic training undertaken by all students. Itten’s diaries, sketch books and key works will provide a new way of looking at his creative process. 

Also in Bern, the Zentrum Paul Klee will show “bauhaus imaginistaexternal link”, with a focus on Klee’s teaching and his pupils (September 20-January 12, 2020). 

Back in Zurich, Museum Haus Konstruktiv is devoting a solo exhibition (October 31-January 12, 2020) to former Bauhaus student Roman Clemensexternal link, whose multifaceted oeuvre comprises stage sets, architecture, design and painting.

Other key Swiss artists connected with Bauhaus – whom will feature in later articles – include Le Corbusier, Alexander Schawinsky and the school’s second director, Hannes Meyer.

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