Searching for traces: the Bauhaus in Oldenburg?

Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg

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However, – prompted, encouraged and facilitated by Müller-Wulckow, the “Vereinigung für junge Kunst” (“Association of Young Art”) and the State Museum – young artists from the Oldenburg region and East Frisia set out to continue their studies at the avant-garde university in Weimar and Dessau. They returned to their region infected with the virus of modernism and brought back impulses from the pioneering art and design school.

In Oldenburg the enthusiasm for the Bauhaus’ work was significantly supported by the Association of Young Art headed by the lawyer Ernst Beyersdorff. Some of the highlights of the collaboration with the Bauhaus Dessau are the exhibitions “Paul Klee”, “new architecture” and “textiles and ceramics”, the “stage design exhibition” – under the participation of Oskar Schlemmer and László Moholy-Nagy – and “the cheap flat” that was on exhibit between 1926 and 1931 in the Castle or in the Augusteum. The exhibition “The face of graphic art” in 1932 not only showed works by the Bauhaus masters Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer, but also works by the Oldenburg Bauhausler Karl Schwoon. A solo exhibition was planned for 1933 with the newest works of Josef Albers, who had been appointed Bauhaus master in 1925. The exhibition fell through due to the forced closure of the Bauhaus by the National Socialists and the dissolution of the Association of Young Art.

Oldenburger Bauhauslers

Within the scope of the research project funded by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony, the work of the Bauhauslers from North-West Germany was explored for the first time, breaking new ground in the scholarly field. Based on the journeys of the lives of Hans Martin Fricke, Karl Schwoon, Hermann Gautel and Hin Bredendieck, the history of utopia, adjustment, emigration and the ongoing effect of the Bauhaus idea in our time is exemplarily portrayed.

In this context the architect Hans Martin Fricke (1906–1994) can be seen as being somewhat Janus-faced, as what the architectural historian Werner Durth describes as “biographical interconnections” in “German Architects” (1986) can be applied to Fricke’s life. While studying at the Bauhaus during the Weimar Republic, he worked as national leader of the Reich Chamber of Culture and as architect during the “Third Reich”, while he became an important force for reconstruction in Oldenburg after the War. His buildings from the 1920s – representing the reform spirit of the Weimar Republic – only survived in the form of draft sketches and photos, his post-war buildings are an example of the return to modernism in the young German Federal Republic.

Dem Architekten Hans Martin Fricke (1906–1994) kommt dabei die Rolle des Januskopfs zu: Auf sein Leben und Werk trifft zu, was der Architekturhistoriker Werner Durth in seiner Studie „Deutsche Architekten“ (1986) als „biographische Ver­flechtungen“ beschrieben hat: Fricke, der in der Weimarer Republik am Bauhaus studiert hatte und während der Zeit des „Dritten Reichs“ als NS-Kultur­politiker und Architekt tätig war, wurde in der Nachkriegszeit zu einer bedeutenden Kraft des Wiederaufbaus in Oldenburg. Während seine Bauten aus den 1920er Jahren, die den Reformgeist der Weimarer Republik repräsentierten, heute nur in Entwurfsskizzen und Fotografien überliefert sind, zeugen seine Nachkriegsbauten von dem Wiederanknüpfen an die Moderne in der jungen Bundesrepublik.

Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg
Cover Ausstellungskatalog "Zwischen Utopie und Anpassung - Das Bauhaus in Oldenburg"
Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg, inheritance Hans Martin Fricke
Hans Martin Fricke, Oldenburger Konsumverein, 1927/28, photograph
Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg
Hans Martin Fricke, office building for construction company Ludwig Freytag, Oldenburg, 1954/55, photograph

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The native-born Oldenburger Karl Schwoon and Hermann Gautel largely owe their admission to the Bauhaus Dessau to the support of Walter Müller-Wulckow. Hermann Gautel (1905–1945) had already received first stimuli at the Oldenburger Werkhaus – the Oldenburg school of arts, where he also met Karl Schwoon. Following his studies at the Bauhaus Dessau, where he worked together with Marianne Brandt and Hin Bredendieck at the metal workshop, he opened an innovative furniture and interior design store in downtown Oldenburg (Burgstraße 4) and passed the Bauhaus idea on to the region – at times in the sense of a “new cosiness” e.g. combining steel tubing with padding.

family archive
Student card from Hermann Gautel, Bauhaus Dessau, 1927
Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg
Hermann Gautel, furniture shop „für die wohnung ...“ in the Oldenburger Burgstraße 4, about 1935, photograph

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Karl Schwoon (1908–1976), who initially worked as scene painter at the paint shop of the Oldenburger Landestheater (State Theatre), received essential inspirations from Klee and Kandinsky at the Bauhaus. After the War he returned to Oldenburg and programmatically devoted himself to the cultural reconstruction of post-war Germany, first as managing director of the Oldenburg Kunstverein (“Oldenburg art society”) and later with his own “galerie schwoon”. “We witnessed that serious art can be labelled as banal if its outer frame is willingly destroyed and propagandistic methods are applied through declaring the works of art as such”, evoking the Nazi iconoclasm at the opening of his gallery, encouraging open-mindedness vis-à-vis contemporary art.

Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg, inheritance Karl Schwoon
outdoor shot gallery schwoon in the Brüderstraße 1948
Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Oldenburg
Karl Schwoon, In Memoriam Bauhaus Dessau I, about 1972, Gouache and Acryl

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Faced by economic constraints – also part of economic and social history of the early post-war period – his gallery had to close just after a few years, whereupon Schwoon became photo editor of the Western-German radio and television magazine “Hör Zu!” (“Listen!”).

The life of Hin Bredendieck (1904–1995), who was born in Aurich, represents the tragic history of the expulsion of the Bauhaus from Germany, which, however, was essential for the export and the spreading of the Bauhaus idea around the world. Following his exceptionally successful collaboration in the Bauhaus’ metal workshop and his stay in Switzerland, where he worked together with Sigfried Giedion and Max Bill, he came to Oldenburg in 1934, from where he emigrated to America in 1937. As a teacher for the “new bauhaus chicago” – founded by Walter Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy – he conveyed the Bauhaus ideas to the “new world”, before he finally became a founder of the industrial design course at the Department of Industrial Design of Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Along with the Bauhaus Masters Josef Albers, Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, Lyonel Feininger, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and László Moholy-Nagy, who had also emigrated to the US, he became one of the most influential representatives of the Bauhaus ideas in America. The unexpected discovery of Bredendieck’s large artistic estate in January 2018 was an extraordinary stroke of luck for the Oldenburg project and is still leading to new findings, as research has not yet been concluded.

Sammlung Freese
Unbekannter Fotograf, Portrait Hin Bredendieck, Dessau 1928

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