The Neuhaus: Unpacking Rotterdam’s Ambitious Would-Be-Successor to the Bauhaus

2019 has been a big year for the Bauhaus. A motley array of the world’s finest art and cultural institutions celebrated the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the seminal school, and printing houses churned out publications dedicated to the various workshops, artists, and movements that emerged over the course of the slightly-more-than-a-decade for which the Bauhaus was active. In other words, this year has shaped up to be an important year of retrospective inquisition into the nature of the school and the impact that it has had.  Important questions have been asked about the nature of its legacy and the way that it was shaped by the demanding and often revisionist hand of Walter Gropius, the founder. The weaving workshop has emerged as a previously-unsung high point for the Bauhaus, it being the workshop into which the vast majority of the female bauhauslers were funneled and where some of the greatest artists that have ever been associated with the school—Ani Albers, Gunta Stölzl, and Otti Berger, to name a few—produced some of its most captivating artwork.

All of this is to say that a lot of time and resources are being poured into reaching into the past and examining the cultural impact that the Bauhaus had on the contemporary world of the 1920s, and that that it has had up until today. It was a wonderful surprise when I visited the Nieuwe Instituut of Rotterdam—which is located right on the city’s Museumpark, a stretch of Museums situated around a Park (it’s in the name) that has had its fair share of Bauhaus exhibitions—and found that they had poured a lot of time and resources into setting up a Neuhaus. It’s still going, right now, as a sort of pop-up four-month-long mini-institution. The Neuhaus is intent on looking at the circumstances of the founding of the Bauhaus in 1919—the cultural and sociopolitical landscape, the economic condition of post-war Germany, etcetera etcetera—and retooling its founding goals and the contemporary observations that fed into those founding goals to examine the World in 2019. 

According to them, the art/architecture/sculpture hybrids that I encountered inside the vast exhibition hall devoted to the Neuhaus have been created in the search for “other knowledge.”

What the hell does that mean? I’m not super sure, because most of what I saw at the Nieuwe Institute went somersaulting over my head. According to them, the art/architecture/sculpture hybrids that I encountered inside the vast exhibition hall devoted to the Neuhaus have been created in the search for “other knowledge.” Other knowledge? Let’s investigate further: the Neuhaus identifies the current set of crises faced by our world—presumably the rising of populism and xenophobia as well as the looming threat of climate change—as having been caused by an “economic system that focuses purely on productivity.” Sounds about right. Onwards—this productivity-focused system is built on “constraining logic;” Neuhaus seeks to generate knowledge that occupies a space outside this constraining logic. Cool! 

Neuhaus starts in an identical place as Bauhaus—disillusionment with to the status quo—but works in the opposite direction. Bauhaus, with its aircraft aluminum chairs and tea-cup sets that were meticulously handcrafted to look like they were made in a mechanized factory, sought to create works that reflected that then-new economy of productivity. Now that the world has been damaged, perhaps irreparable, by that mindset, Neuhaus wants to clamber into new territory. The art that I saw focused on my raw sensory experience and in turn attempted to show me the sensory experience of the natural world. Some of it demanded the use of my entire body, like the life-sized hamster wheel lined with a circular mirror and climbing-gym hand holds; I could lock eyes with my reflection as I tried and failed to climb my way up the wheel and as the wheel tried and succeeded to flop me to the ground. Other pieces ignored me but gave nature the floor, as with a robotic arm that drew a pen-and-ink chart of a plant’s biometric well-being when connected to the leaves with jumper cable wires. I know this all sounds strange, and it absolutely was. Nothing I saw made much sense, which is the point. 

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