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 this talk, art historian Elizabeth Otto delves into the previously unexplored question of sexuality and gender fluidity at the Bauhaus by focusing on female Bauhäusler including Florence Henri, Margaret Camilla Leiteritz, and ringl + pit, who queered the school’s aesthetics in order to disrupt gender conventions, represent lesbian subjectivities, and picture same-sex desire. By looking broadly at what Jack Halberstam dubs a queer way of life—one that encompasses “subcultural practices, alternative methods of alliance, [and] forms of transgender embodiment,”—this talk disrupts the narrative of a normative Bauhaus to yield a richer history that only emerges when we look at a new range of Bauhaus works and artists, and reconsider the questions that we ask of them.
Elizabeth Otto is a specialist on gender and visual culture in early twentieth-century Europe and Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Among her books are Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics and the co-authored Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective. Her essays and reviews have been published in journals including Art Forum, History of Photography, and October. Otto’s work has been supported by numerous organizations including the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, and, currently, the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. She is presently at work on a new book titled Bauhaus Under National Socialism.