Review: Texas Bauhaus at PDNB

[Originally published in The Dallas Morning News]

PDNB’s current show, “Texas – Bauhaus,” is mind-bending. Not only is it a reminder that much of the design we enjoy today, from sleek flatware and slim watches to perhaps even iPads, bears the imprint of the German Bauhaus, but it also informs us that Texas became an outpost for the movement in the 1940s.

Denton, Texas, to be precise.

Bauhaus art flourished in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin until, under pressure from the Nazis, it disbanded in 1933. Having begun in 1919, it influenced the look of a huge range of things, including graphic design, interior design, typography, architecture and, of course, art. After the exodus from Germany, two titans of Bauhaus came to teach in North Texas. László Moholy-Nagy and his assistant, György Kepes, took up residence in Denton and taught photography.

Just as they had in Europe, they emphasized the importance of manipulating light. This led to the production of photograms, solarization, negative prints and unconventional camera angles.
One example of the latter is Kepes’ Eyes, Chicago, 1941. It operates as a sleek bit of sleight of hand. An image of an eye is manipulated and refracted until we’re lost in an array of reverberating angles. The artwork demands that we leave literal sensibilities far behind — and, if we do, we’re better for the experience.

Among Moholy-Nagy’s students in the U.S. was Carlotta Corpron; not only was she an apt student, but she went on to teach others in the same Bauhaus style she had learned from her mentors.Corpron’s image Eggs Reflected (Variant) illustrates the gorgeous inflection of light that’s emblematic of Bauhaus.

We’re not being shown a thing as much as the gorgeousness of curvature. It’s a new version of Genesis. Light is deemed “good” and we come to know all things via its capacity to illuminate or even create. Corpron taught at Texas Woman’s University, then called Texas State College for Women, and her students included Ida Lansky, Barbara Maples and others. Their work is also on display at PDNB.

 

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