Artist of the Day | Oskar Schlemmer


Oskar Schlemmer

Bauhaus Stairway

1932

Oil on canvas

63 7/8 x 45 in

Oskar Schlemmer (4 September 1888 – 13 April 1943), a pioneer of abstract art and dance associated with the Bauhaus, he was primarily concerned with the figure in space, which he explored through painting, sculpture, and choreography. Schlemmer was appointed to run the sculpture and mural-painting workshops at the Bauhaus in 1920, before he moved into the theater workshop.

Schlemmer's ideas on art were complex and challenging even for the progressive Bauhaus movement. His work, nevertheless, was widely exhibited in both Germany and outside the country. His work was a rejection of pure abstraction, instead retaining a sense of the human, though not in the emotional sense but in view of the physical structure of the human. He represented bodies as architectural forms, reducing the figure to a rhythmic play between convex, concave and flat surfaces. And not just of its form, he was fascinated by every movement the body could make; trying to capture it in his work. As well as leaving a large body of work behind, Schlemmer art theories have also been published.

In his most famous work, an internationally performed avant-garde dance, Triadisches Ballet (Triadic Ballet), which premiered in 1922, figures are transformed into geometric shapes. Schlemmer approached abstraction by treating the human figure in a flat and schematic fashion, and his experience with dance was expressed in paintings such as The Dancer (1923) and The Gesture, Dancer (1922), in which the stylized torso and legs of a female figure are huge curved forms. He studied under Adolf Holzer, and designed sets for Stravinsky’s operas.

Bauhaus Stairway depicts the Bauhaus, a school founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius, famous for its visionary integration of technology, art, and design. Although Schlemmer made this painting three years after he left his teaching position at the Bauhaus, the works gridded structure, streamlined modular bodies and predominant palette of primary colors capture the schools vibrant design spirit. The carefully choreographed arrangement of the figures and the man en pointe at the top of the stairs reflects Schlemmers role as the creator of many important dance and theatrical productions at the Bauhaus. Schlemmer painted this work as Hitler assumed power, shortly before the Nazis closed the Bauhaus for good. He was among many artists persecuted by the Nazis, whose work they deemed "degenerate" and often destroyed.

Oskar died in 1948. About 50 years later, his painting Idealistic Encounter from 1928 was sold for $1.487 million at Sotheby’s in New York.

Courtesy of moma.org, artsy.net, alchetron.com

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