AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Auburn University will be the first stop in the United States for the exhibition, “Bauhaus twenty-21: An Ongoing Legacy – Photographs by Gordon Watkinson.” The exhibition, which has toured internationally since 2009, will be on display Jan. 25 through May 4 at the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University. Watkinson will open the exhibition Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. with a lecture and reception.
“Bauhaus twenty-21” features photographs by Gordon Watkinson depicting examples of Bauhaus architecture along with building projects by up-and-coming as well as internationally renowned contemporary architects. Watkinson is a New York-based fine arts and commercial photographer who has worked for a broad range of clients from the fields of advertising, architecture, design and fashion.
Watkinson said that the architecture and design tradition at Auburn University made Auburn a special place to start the North American portion of the tour.
“The great thing about Auburn is that you have one of the most important architecture, design and build studios in the country,” he said. “It’s a place for thinking and doing, much as the Bauhaus School was in its day.”
Marilyn Laufer, director of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, said that such a show only helps the university build on these strengths.
“Both the content and presentation of this exhibition is a little out of the ordinary,” she said. “For our 10th anniversary year, we sought out exhibitions that would not only be of special interest to our campus but also provide something a little special.”
In addition to the photographs, the exhibition will feature re-editions of Bauhaus furniture designed before 1933 and still manufactured today.
Creating a visual as well as theoretical dialogue between the timeless modernism of Bauhaus architecture and the visions of contemporary practitioners, the exhibition offers a unique perspective on Bauhaus design philosophy as it relates to architecture and its relevance in today’s society.
Translated from the German, Bauhaus means ‘house for building’ and is also the name of the school founded in Weimar, Germany, in 1919 by Walter Gropius. Gropius and his successors, Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, are credited with introducing the guiding principles of modern architecture. While the school was closed by the Nazis in 1933, its classic, minimalist designs remain an inspiration to architects.
“You will see pieces of furniture that are very familiar to you without realizing that they were actually designed in 1923, 1925 or 1927,” said Watkinson. “You also get to delve into the story behind the pieces and understand how good design can be used as a problem solver.”
Bauhaus architects considered the modern-day problem of sustainability even in the early 20th century, long before green was a buzzword.
“They dealt with ideas in passive solar in 1923 before anybody ever thought about it,” said Watkinson. “They were thinking about the occupants of the building. I think we’ve lost a lot of time thinking about the vernacular of the building rather than who was going to live there and how they were going to use it. That’s an important piece of modernism that we’re just rediscovering.”
Over the years, Watkinson developed a strong sensitivity for both forms and materials, which has shaped his visual approach and strengthened his fascination for functional and minimalistdesign. An early passion for furniture and design in general and a trip to the Bauhaus School in Dessau, Germany in the late 1990s became the catalyst for an intense and ongoing interaction with modernism and its different iterations in and outside of Europe. While developing a unique photographic approach focusing on the formal quality, the elegance as well as the timelessness of the architecture, Watkinson has become an outspoken advocate of the power of design as a life-changing tool – then, now and for the future.
Watkinson is currently working on a series of exhibitions exploring our relationship to some of the major expressions of modernism and their protagonists – from French Modernism (“E.1027: A Modernist Mystery” and “French Modernism: A Different Path”), to Midcentury Modern (“Midcentury Modern: America’s Turn”), as well as less explored areas such as Modernism in Central Europe (“Central European Modernism: The Forgotten Dream”).
“Bauhaus twenty-21: An Ongoing Legacy – Photographs by Gordon Watkinson” is presented under the Patronage of UNESCO. It has been made possible through the support of the Foreign Office of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Goethe-Institut, as well as Alien Skin Software, Canson, Knoll, Picto and Tecnolumen.
The exhibition is organized by Foto+Synthesis. It has been conceived by Gordon Watkinson and developed with the curatorial assistance of Michael Siebenbrodt, director of the Bauhaus-Museum in Weimar, Germany and Prof. Falk Jaeger in Berlin, Germany. An illustrated, hardcover catalogue with essays by Watkinson, Siebenbrodt, Jaeger and the architects featured in the exhibition accompanies the show and will be sold in the Museum Shop. For more on the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, visit www.jcsm.auburn.edu.
(Contributed by Charlotte Hendrix.)