Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics
- Winner of Peter C Rollins Book Prize, 2019
296 pp., 7 x 9 in, 55 color photos, 26 b&w illus.
- Published: September 24, 2019
An investigation of the irrational and the unconventional currents swirling behind the Bauhaus's signature sleek surfaces and austere structures.
The Bauhaus (1919–1933) is widely regarded as the twentieth century's most influential art, architecture, and design school, celebrated as the archetypal movement of rational modernism and famous for bringing functional and elegant design to the masses. In Haunted Bauhaus, art historian Elizabeth Otto liberates Bauhaus history, uncovering a movement that is vastly more diverse and paradoxical than previously assumed. Otto traces the surprising trajectories of the school's engagement with occult spirituality, gender fluidity, queer identities, and radical politics. The Bauhaus, she shows us, is haunted by these untold stories.
The Bauhaus is most often associated with a handful of famous artists, architects, and designers—notably Paul Klee, Walter Gropius, László Moholy-Nagy, and Marcel Breuer. Otto enlarges this narrow focus by reclaiming the historically marginalized lives and accomplishments of many of the more than 1,200 Bauhaus teachers and students (the so-called Bauhäusler), arguing that they are central to our understanding of this movement. Otto reveals Bauhaus members' spiritual experimentation, expressed in double-exposed “spirit photographs” and enacted in breathing exercises and nude gymnastics; their explorations of the dark sides of masculinity and emerging female identities; the “queer hauntology” of certain Bauhaus works; and the role of radical politics on both the left and the right—during the school's Communist period, when some of the Bauhäusler put their skills to work for the revolution, and, later, into the service of the Nazis.
With Haunted Bauhaus, Otto not only expands our knowledge of a foundational movement of modern art, architecture, and design, she also provides the first sustained investigation of the irrational and the unconventional currents swirling behind the Bauhaus's signature sleek surfaces and austere structures. This is a fresh, wild ride through the Bauhaus you thought you knew.
Elizabeth Otto's spirited study reclaims another overlooked Bauhaus beyond the tech myths of rationalization and radical innovation. The Bauhaus's engagements with spirituality and the occult, with sexed and gendered bodies, and with radical left- and right-wing politics are meticulously documented. Here, at age 100, the Bauhaus appears in a distinctively different light as a kaleidoscope of the very contradictory tendencies of its time.
Andreas Huyssen, Villard Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature, Columbia University; author of Miniature Metropolis: Literature in an Age of Photography and Film
Elizabeth Otto offers a unique reexamination of the Bauhaus's legacy. With new areas of inquiry—ranging from the school's engagement with spirituality to its queering aesthetics and to the bracingly innovative role played by women artists—Haunted Bauhaus is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in an expanded view of modernism.
Roxana Marcoci, Senior Curator of Photography, Museum of Modern Art; author of From Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola
This extraordinary book takes us to the hidden side of what is probably the most famous modern art school. Elizabeth Otto opens a new world even to all Bauhaus connoisseurs; she shows that Spiritism and occultism but also sexual and gender diversity were just as much a part of the Bauhaus as rationality and functionality.
Burcu Dogramaci, Professor, Institute of Art History, Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, editor of Textile Modernism
Haunted Bauhaus is as eye-opening as it is door-opening… Haunted by utopian aspirations and its own history, the Bauhaus helped remake (and unmake) the world in ways its founders could never have anticipated.
Otto shows us that the dominant Bauhaus narrative erased valuable stories. One realizes that there cannot be one complete account of the non-compliant lives that passed through its doors. Yet, by tying these hidden and diverse stories together, the book provides a necessary starting point for future investigations into our marginalized pasts.
Paprika! The Yale Architecture Newspaper
Example after example, [Elizabeth] Otto expands our view of a legendary institution, finally freeing it from the limiting confines of a tired old narrative. It's about time, she convinces us, to widen and refocus the scope of scholarly inquiry into the Bauhaus in order to truly understand its contemporary significance.
The Brooklyn Rail
Certainly it is not incorrect to discuss the Bauhaus as a model of rational modernism. Real-estate agents and antique dealers have long adopted the name of the school thus, as a pleasant catchphrase. But Otto pointedly reveals that which almost inevitably must be omitted from such a perspective: the approach of the Weimar- and then Dessau-based design school was more occult, spiritual, queer, and politically radical than can be expressed by the general formula, “Bauhaus style.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
In Haunted Bauhaus, we come to understand Bauhaus design as more than the machine aesthetic of its celebrated products... Otto's beautifully designed, lucidly written, and well-illustrated book restores the messiness of people, bodies, lives, and passions to the Bauhaus narrative, casting its serene geometries in a new light.
Journal of Design History
To write about the [Bauhaus] center effectively, Otto proposes, 'we must acknowledge not only the operations that have been at work to give us a faulty understanding of the past, we must also recognize that, in repeating those old histories, we participate in a foreclosing of potentially more fruitful futures' (p.130). Impeccably researched and compellingly written, Haunted Bauhaus forges a path towards one such promising art historical future.
With Haunted Bauhaus, Otto brilliantly demonstrates that the history of modern art can be revised to make room for ideas, aesthetics, and agents previously forced to haunt its margins.