Undead: Pop Culture in Britain Beyond the Bauhaus

Kurt Schwerdtfeger, <i>Reflektorische Farblichtspiele</i>, 1922. Light performance, apparatus reconstructed, 2016. Courtesy of Microscope Gallery and Kurt Schwerdtfeger Estate, 2016.
  • Kurt Schwerdtfeger, Reflektorische Farblichtspiele, 1922. Light performance, apparatus reconstructed, 2016. Courtesy of Microscope Gallery and Kurt Schwerdtfeger Estate, 2016.

Undead explores the Bauhaus in relation to art and subculture in Britain. Coinciding with the centenary of the Bauhaus’s founding in Weimar, the exhibition traces how this model of experimentation lived on, refracting into the spheres of fashion, electronic music, film and design. Spanning the 1920s to the 1980s, and including works by some 30 artists. At a moment of dramatic change for art education in the West, Undead tracks the changing shape of the art school, examining how the 20th century’s best-known model was transmitted and reimagined.

Undead is installed across all of Nottingham Contemporary’s galleries. Many of the Bauhaus-era works are little-known, with an emphasis on the ephemeral, performative and the kinetic. The exhibition opens in the 1920s, departing from the light installations by students in Oskar Schlemmer’s Stage Workshop – used as backdrops not only for ballets, but in informal and improvised settings, such as parties.

The exhibition shifts to London in the mid-30s, following the works of several emigré Bauhaus masters and students, who found employment in disparate and sometimes unlikely fields. This stretches from the photographs of Edith Tudor-Hart to László Moholy-Nagy’s film and design work.

We move on to examine how Bauhaus pedagogy shaped art schools in the UK during the 50s, via Basic Design courses. Influential programmes included Newcastle, whose course was led by Richard Hamilton; Reading, led by Hamilton's student Rita Donagh; and Ealing and Ipswich, led by Roy Ascott. As Ascott’s student, Brian Eno, has remarked, the questions that these tutors were asking were, what is an art school? And what is an artist?

Various figures in 1960s British design – including Mary Quant, Terence Conran and Vidal Sassoon – were significantly influenced by the Bauhaus. Graphics and clothing are integrated with a presentation focusing on the Royal Academy's pivotal Bauhaus survey of 1968. Undead concludes with an immersion into club culture and electronic music of the 1970s and 80s, shaped by a fascination with the figure of the man-machine and with Weimar-era aesthetics.