New books celebrate the Bauhaus centenary and its legacy

I attended an art and design foundation course much like the famous Vorkurs run by Josef Albers and László Moholy-Nagy, a year-long requirement for all new Bauhaus students before they could progress to study in a specific workshop. In a similar way to how the Bauhauslers ran the famous art school a century ago, mine was a place that taught experimentation and encouraged abstraction, tasking us to find our own unique solutions. And it happened to be the finest year of my formal education. The specialist art school that proceeded, failed entirely to capture my imagination, lacking the free spirit, the magical weirdness of that original school. So, I left my paints, clay, tools and camera, and took up writing.

‘To have the gift of imagination is more important than all technology,’ wrote Gropius, reflecting the spiritual origin of the school he founded. And as the Bauhaus celebrates 100, a series of publications aim to explore the enduring legacy of this modest art school founded in 1919 in the quiet town of Weimar. Some are assessing the impact of the Bauhaus post 1933, as Bauhauslers emigrated to England and America and beyond. Others have re-published some of the original Bauhaus journals and documents. Together they tell a compelling story of the most famous school of design – a place of collective dialogues, progressive ideology, imagination and creative madness.

The Bauhaus was formed in response to the crisis and devastation following the first world war. It represented a collective voice desperate to forge a new world order. It was and remains so much more than an art school – it represents a significant cultural movement. The Bauhauslers championed the power of imagination and freedom of expression. They believed strongly in bringing the art of craft to industry, embracing architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity. They explored utopian ideas, celebrated the avant-garde and encouraged free love and creative madness – sometimes to the extreme. And long after they were forced to shut down, pressured by the Nazis who saw the progressive ways a threat after assuming power in 1933, as émigrés in London and Paris and New York, their dissident voices continued to be heard.

The first of the series of books takes us back in time for insight into the teachings, ideas and philosophies of the Bauhaus when it was alive with discussion in Weimar, Dessau and then Berlin. Lars Müller has collaborated with Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung for ‘Bauhaus Journals 1926-1931’ with edited voices of the key figures of the modern movement in art and design. Josef Albers, Walter Gropius, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Gerrit Rietveld – all feature in this stimulating publication.

They address developments in and around the Bauhaus, the methods and focal points of their own teaching, and current projects of students and masters. The exact replica of all individual issues is accompanied by a commentary booklet including an overview of the content, an English translation of all texts, and a scholarly essay to place the journal in its historical context.

Accompanying this are four beautifully-republished journals from the ‘Bauhausbücher’ series, all in their original design. ‘International Architecture’ was the first to start the series with the school founder Gropius offering an illustrative lesson on the theories of the modern architecture movement of the mid-1920s. In ‘Pedagogical Sketchbook’ artist Klee expresses key aspects of the Bauhaus’ guiding philosophies, writing of his desire to reunite artistic design and craft in a tone that moves between the seeming objectivity of the diagram, the rhetoric of science and mathematics, and an abstract intuition.

Third in the series by Lars Müller is ‘New Design’ by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. He begins with a philosophical foray describing art as a figurative expression of human existence, questioning the prevailing hierarchy between painting and architecture, observing the future of his movement, neoplasticism – abstract painting which used only horizontal and vertical lines and primary colours. Lastly, ‘Painting, Photography, Film’ by Moholy-Nagy argues for photography and filmmaking to be recognised as a means of artistic design on the same level as painting. With some fascinating illustrations, the Hungarian makes the case for a functional transformation within the visual arts and for the further development of photographic design options.

All this was before 1933. With the closure of the Bauhaus school, most of its prominent members left Germany in search for new homes, and new schools to teach. They took with them their ideologies, which in turn evolved and changed with their new destinations. Two books explore this post-Bauhaus journey.

‘Isokon and the Bauhaus in Britain’ by Batsford narrates the brilliant story of the giants of the international modern movement – Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Breuer – and their brief émigré life in Hampstead, London before they moved to America. The story centres around the Isokon, the building by architect Wells Coats, where they lived and where they collectively pioneered concepts of minimal and shared living. Isokon’s apartments, restaurant and bar became a creative hub for writers and artists and designers in the 1930s and 40s. Authors Leyla Daybelge and Magnus Englund paint a colourful portrait of the notorious dinners here, as the Bauhauslers party and discuss advancing the world alongside local creatives – Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Peter and Alison Smithson, even Agatha Christie was a guest here.

Thames & Hudson’s ‘Bauhaus Goes West’ also explores the cultural exchange between these émigrés and their new adopted homelands. The general idea is that England wasn’t receptive to the avant-garde in 1933 – possibly a concept backed by the fact that there are few early projects of significance made here. Much like what we learn in the Isokon, author Alan Powers also challenges this notion, suggesting there was a provocative dialogue between the Bauhauslers and local young leaders of opinion here, namely Nicholas Pevsner and Herbert Read. The book follows their journey onto America, where the Bauhaus titans really flourish. Gropius prospers at the Harvard architecture school, Breuer gets to design great monumental buildings, Moholy-Nagy sets up a new Bauhaus school in Chicago, as husband and wife team Anni and Josef Albers shine at the brilliant liberal Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

We will never know if the Bauhaus would have such an ongoing impact on generations of creatives had the school not been forced to close in 1933. Yet what’s clear is that the discussions initiated in this small school of art and design in Weimar in 1919 evolved and enriched through a broader, international dialogue with artists and designers and philosophers and writers from London to Paris, New York, Tel Aviv and beyond. What is also clear is that the creative community could benefit from revisiting these journals, reading some of the ideas being weaved at a time that also was in the midst of crisis. As we navigate a new world, assessing how we can design for a more efficient and fairer world, we should tap into the spirit of this progressive movement – this school of thought.

Nargess Banks

All images are strictly © Lars Müller. From the  ‘Bauhaus Journals 1926 – 1931’, edited and published Lars Müller and Bauhaus-Archiv/Museum für Gestaltung; and the re-published journals from the ‘Bauhausbücher’ series (1926-1931)

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The Life Negroni, an ode to the sweet life

This month saw the publication of a book that I’ve been working on for over a year. The Life Negroni is a labour of love. We travelled through Europe and beyond to meet almost everyone featured in this book, and it has been such an exciting and rewarding project to be involved with.

The book straddles the world of cocktails, spirits and mixology, of art, architecture and design, film, politics and poetry. It delves into the Negroni’s past, discovering the stories behind its component ingredients, and reviews at its timeless influence on art, design, fashion, music, cinema, politics, poetry… the avant-garde.

We go behind the scenes to meet the king of bitters Campari at its stunning modernist headquarters on the edge of Milan. Here we witness the company’s involvement with the Italian Futurists, and see one of the richest collections from this period.

We learn about Vermouth di Torino at Cocchi, and at Martini & Rossi, in an idyllic spot in the beautiful hills surrounding Turin, we see how design and branding were utilised at a time when such concepts were in their infancy.

In London we visit Beefeater, Tanqueray, Sipsmith and Sacred – craft distillers large and small who are preserving the tradition of London Dry gin, and we squeeze our way into the smallest museum dedicated to all things gin at the Ginstitute.

We sample some of the purest and adventurous Negronis at the Bulgari Hotel in Milan, and Fusion Bar and St Regis in Florence, The Connaught, Artesian, Blue Bar, Salvatore’s at the Playboy Club, Shangri-La at The Shard and Frank’s Cafe in London, the Negroni Bar in Munich, and at the Waldorf Astoria, Lincoln Centre, Parker Palm Springs in America.

Above all we meet the custodians, the guardians of the Negroni. Mixologists, bartenders, fashion designers, car designers, yacht makers, filmmakers and artists past and present who champion this simple cocktail.

The Life Negroni is ultimately an ode to the sweet life – a celebration of the pleasures of living told through a humble classic cocktail.

Hope you enjoy!

Nargess Banks

… and the reviews are coming in. Read what The SpectatorTime Out, Urban Junkies and Form Trends had to say about the book, have a browse through the testimonials here, follow us on facebook, twitter and instagram @Thelifenegroni

Purchase a copy here.

#Thelifenegroni

…. and some kind words by some of our reviewers and readers:

Absolutely stunning! This book is destined for greatness,’ Sam Galsworthy, co-founder of Sipsmith

‘The Life Negroni is a gorgeous book offering voyeuristic insights into a way of life which may never have existed anywhere other than the imagination, but one that is no less intoxicating for that. … I was reminded of Luc Sante’s epic No Smoking of 2004, a masterpiece of book design. It is an album, a love letter, a guide, a memoir and a rich source of graphic delight. Only hedonists would enjoy such a thing,’ Stephen Bayley, aesthete, design critic and co-founder of London’s Design Museum

Be warned: this is a gripping read,’ Time Out, London

The book is FABULOUS!’ Gary Regan, author and mixologist

‘… Like the drink, the book drips European post-war cool. It even manages to juxtapose Florence’s Ponte Vecchio with the Playboy Club…It’s a book in thrall to the Italian idea of sprezzatura, a kind of off-the-cuff stylishness that you can trace back to Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courier. And it’s just possible it might make you a little thirsty,’ Teddy Jamieson.

I am obsessed with it, pouring over each beautiful page, and carrying it all over my home. I may even change my Facebook status to “In a Relationship” with…’ Mariena Mercer, chief mixologist The Cosmopolitan of Los Vegas

It is struck me as a reminder of how sweet and beautiful life in Italy has been and, in spite of our chronic financial and political dire strait, still is… It brings out elements of the charm and elegance of our country and of our lifestyle that we Italians sometimes have the tendency to overlook or to forget,’ Maurizio Stocchetto, owner Bar Basso, Milan

‘I love the look and feel. The drink itself had me convinced a long time ago!’ Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Group director of design

Absolutely stunning book… already can see that I am going to love every single page and image,’ Paula Champa, author

The book arrived but I could only see it very briefly because Luca Bassani liked it so much that he took it home!’ Monica Paolazzi, on the owner of Wally Yachts

I see you found a page even for me… I am honoured,’ Chris Bangle, car designer

The Life Negroni is no ordinary cocktail book – it documents the historical, avant-garde, and artistic element to the drink, even down to its botanical origin. It’s like going on the Negroni grand tour. La dolce vita!’ Urban Junkies, London

Mille Grazie for taking me on the journey,’ Michele Fiordoliva, co-owner Negroni Bar, Munich

It is an honour to be in such a great book with the best bars and colleagues from all around Europe,’ Marco Vezzozi, bar manager Fusion, Florence

Liquid history. The Life Negroni, finally out. Honoured to be part of the journey,’ Valentina Dalla Costa, The Unseen, Milan

It is even more gorgeous than I thought it would be! I love the size, the canvas feel to the cover… the illustrations inside are just amazing, one after another. It is hard to put it down!!!’ Azadeh Maroufi, New York

It is such a beautifully produced book (but I knew it would be),’ Hilary Whitney, Sacred

A celebration of the sweet life,‘ Yashu e Prem, Italy

‘The glamour oozes off every page. I was transported to another place and time – one which I wished I could inhabit. I could hear the chink of hand-cut ice cubes, see the perfectly cut suits and smell the waft of expensive perfume. And God did I want a drink!!’ Graham Biggs, BMW Group

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Mad Men: Mid-Century Ads

Our fascination with the slick, sexy and at times seedy world of advertising in the 50s and 60s has been noticeably heightened with the compulsive US television series Mad Men. Watching the handsome Don Draper oozing slickness on a film set – that has most of us mid-century design lovers oozing envy – is addictive viewing.

A new book has set out to celebrate the creative work of real life Don Drapers – ad men of the age of the ‘big idea’ who set out in selling us the American Dream. They succeeded in not only repackaging this seemingly perfect world for the optimistic post-war generation, but fundamentally alter how advertising communicates with the consumer.

Magazines of the period were flooded with clever campaigns selling everything from girdles to guns – images that paint a fascinating picture of not just patterns of consumption but society as a whole, giving insight into the zeitgeist of the period. They capture the spirit of the 50s and 60s, as concerns about the Cold War gave way to the carefree booze-and-cigarettes Mad Men era.

‘Mid-Century Ads: Advertising from the Mad Men Era’ by TASCHEN is as slick and handsome as the content it carries. With thousands of images, including a wide range of significant advertising campaigns from both eras, the two-volume book is visually a treat.

One of the ads featured is a seemingly innocent one that paved the way for modern advertising.  This was ‘Think Small’, an ad campaign by agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) in the US for the Volkswagen Beetle. The German carmaker was finding the Beetle a tough sell across the Atlantic for the US consumers’ passion for larger, perhaps brasher cars.

Instead of bombarding their target audience with endless literature about the car, DDB built a campaign that focused entirely on the Beetle’s form – a tiny image of the Beetle appeared on an empty white space to emphasise the cars size, simplicity and minimalism and it was a huge success.

For Mid-Century Ads, the original images have been digitally enhanced to bring back the vivid colours and crisp fonts used at the time. Editor Jim Heimann, himself a cultural anthropologist and graphic design historian, has added words to enhance this rich journey back in time when slick suited ad men sold us a wallet full of coloured dreams.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

‘Mid-Century Ads: Advertising from the Mad Men Era’ is edited by Jim Heimann and published by TASCHEN. Order a copy here.

Also read about Car ads: What they say about brands in MSN.

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