In 1928, Walter Gropius and his wife Ise took a six-week trip to the United States to study the cutting-edge technology of steel framing in architecture. This exhibition presents the photographs taken by Ise and Walter during this trip. It is an easy exhibit to walk through within a half an hour, especially for anyone interested in the Bauhaus School who might wish to see the permanent collection.
The exhibition is organized thematically by location: Passage to America, New York, Progress Photographs, Arizona, Detroit, and California. In their own photographs, the artists were interested in framing the composition at an angle, a technique called at the time “a new vision.” This is evident in the photos of the passenger steamship, taken by Ise Gropius, and also of the photographs of the skyscrapers in their various cities. Walter Gropius studied the foundations of the new skyscraper, and he bought Irving Underhill’s collection of progress photographs of the Bank of New York and Trust Company. From looking at these progress photographs, the viewer is reminded of the novelty of the then brand-new construction techniques, including steam-powered cranes necessary for assembling the steel framework. Gropius was inspired by the use of mass-production techniques in the skyscraper. In fact, he was already incorporating mass production into the workshop set-up at the Bauhaus.
Other photographs taken by the Gropius couple reflect the lure and exoticism of the American landscape for foreigners. Their snapshots include the Grand Canyon, Hopi pueblos, and grain elevators. In Chicago, Walter and Ise photographed houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, an attestation of Wright’s exceeding influence in design. In Detroit, the couple visited Ford Motor Company’s River Rouge Plant with its architect Albert Kahn. The factory landscape was impressive and important for the founder of the Bauhaus, and Gropius came away with a print of Charles Sheeler’s 1927 photograph “Criss-Cross Conveyors.”
The exhibition is complimented by the rare film Manhattan, made in 1920-21 by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, who were also interested in steel workers with cranes and the general growth of a building. For anyone interested in how the United States was both exoticized and revered during the early 20th century, check out this exhibit.
--Kate C. Lemay
(*Images, from top to bottom: Walter and Ise Gropius, Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1928, © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2008, courtesy Bauhaus Archiv. Irving Underhill, Presbyterian Hospital, New York, 1926, courtesy Bauhaus Archiv. Walter and Ise Gropius, Indianer beim traditionellen Tanz, Arizona, 1928, © VG Bild-Kunst Bonn 2008, courtesy Bauhaus Archiv.)