When the Bauhaus opened back in 1919 in Weimar, there were more women applicants than men. So how come we just remember the men and can’t seem to single out any given “Bauhaus Girl“?
As it’s usually the case, history is written by men so we remember Gropius, Klee or Kandinsky. Still, the Bauhaus was a rare art school which accepted women and proclaimed equality between men and women in the twilight of the Nazi rule. At least Gropius claimed as much, holding that there “shouldn’t be any difference between the prettier and stronger gender.“ Although things functioned a bit differently in reality as only men were allowed to participate in painting, molding and designing classes. Crotcheting was designated for women. Gropius contrarily believed that women could only think in two dimensions while men could grasp all three!
The twenties were, at least from today’s perspective, a time of substantial women’s liberation, especially visible in fashion, so that the phenomenon and one-year education of one woman from this part of Europe at the Bauhaus is seemingly unusual at first glance.
Ivana Tomljenović Meller is the first Croatian woman to obtain a formal education at the Bauhaus so her completely marginalized status in the official history of art/architecture and her still unsystematically presented opus is truly baffling. The Zagreb City Museum started by setting that wrong right through an exhibition of her life, reconstructed through Meller’s family. The emphasis of the exhibition is more on her private, autobiographical dimension, as curator Leila Mehulić describes “her work was in limited magnitude imbued with the Bauhaus’ particular artistic hand, while reflecting the spiritual aura of the 1929 and 1930’s community she belonged to.”
Photography was her most expressive medium, where she made good use of all the features of the new time: vertical perspective and low camera angles, light-dark effects, double exposition, while using montage to display her extensive political engagement, for example in the “Dictatorship in Yugoslavia”. For the most part she photographed her colleagues, as well as school events.
Coming from a well-off family, Meller held progressive leftist views, which weren’t welcome under her father’s governing in the Banate of Croatia era.
She started her painting education in Ljube Babić’s class, followed by the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna and at last, impelled by Hannes Meyer’s lectures, went to Dessau in 1929. Her one-year education in Dessau was critical for her to master the Bauhaus’ fundamental ideas, while the majority of her opus is currently part of a private collection. After breaking away from Bauhaus, she worked in scenography and design. She died in 1988 in Zagreb.
Regardless of the quantity and quality of her opus, Meller’s emerging within the context of the most important European movements is looked upon as an important validation and documentation of the times. Certainly more important than various written historical recordings of quasi-sentimental stories about her life pointing out her alleged loneliness due to the lack of a life partner and offspring.
The recently published monograph “Bauhaus Women“ by curator Ulrike Müller will also greatly contribute to exploring women’s history of the Bauhaus. Click here for more on the exhibition about Ivana Tomljenović Meller, which is open for visitors in the Zagreb City Museum until the end of January.