CAMBRIDGE — “Less is more, ” Mies van der Rohe, he of the towering, steel-ribbed black-glass boxes, once famously proclaimed, though no one seems to have told Harvard Art Museums. Mies, a seminal figure in the evolution of the Bauhaus school — and thereby Modernism, whether in art, architecture, design, urban planning, or any other aesthetic pursuit — isn’t part of the museums’ expansive “The Bauhaus and Harvard” exhibition, maybe for having fled Germany for Chicago, not Cambridge, as his Bauhaus confrere Walter Gropius would, under a rising Nazi threat. But in the show’s 200-plus works by 74 named artists, almost everyone else is. More is more, more like it, right down to clusters of maquettes by long-ago students at an all-girls prep school. It closes July 28.
The Bauhaus, arguably the most pervasive, virally-influential aesthetic movement of all time, turns 100 this year, and commemorative exhibitions and events — some 600 in Germany alone — are popping up all over (nearby, the MFA just opened a show of Bauhaus prints). Harvard’s has a particularly completist’s air. Like Mies, Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius found refuge stateside, where he became director of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design; with him came volumes upon volumes, now in the careful hands of the university’s Busch-Reisenger Museum. It’s the biggest trove of Bauhaus material outside Germany itself.
That surely made for tough sledding for Laura Muir, the museum’s research curator for academic and public programs, and the result is an exhibition that feels reverent, though detached — methodical, procedural, by-the-book (the founder, with his love of astringent simplicity, would surely approve).
Its arc is a simple timeline, step-by-step. You enter into the school’s early days, close to its 1919 founding, in Weimar, with little works by instructors like Lyonel Feinenger, Johannes Itten, and Wassily Kandinsky on the walls; there’s a view through its far end, many galleries hence, where a sea-foam-green composition of hard-edged abstract forms by Herbert Bayer beckons. Soon, but not yet; in-between lies the rise, fall, and rise again of its radical aesthetic, politics, and persistent influence.