by Michael Papendieck
by Adrian Searle
Wednesday 2 May 2012 12.35 EDT
[A review of Bauhaus: Art as Life Barbican Art Gallery, London EC2, 3 May - 12 August, 2012]
Tracing the trajectory of the radical German art and design school from its founding in Dessau by Walter Gropius in 1919 to its closure in Berlin in 1933, the exhibition Bauhaus: Art as Life is superb. It is filled with fascinating and often beautiful things, from table lamps to ceramic pots, glove puppets to advertising posters for Nivea, school party invitations, dresses, photographic portraiture, gorgeous weaving and much besides.
The Bauhaus tried to encompass both old and emerging technologies and bring a new approach to everything – from stained glass to advertising, theatre design to packaging, furniture to painting and sculpture. It was the last thoroughgoing attempt to apply a consistent idea to modern living, and we still live with and among its ideas and artefacts. At the time, everyone involved was feeling the way forward. There is a sense here of the genuinely exploratory.
The Bauhaus: costume for the Neue Sachlichkeit [New Objectivity] Party, 1925
“The Bauhaus was held together as much by social gatherings and festivities as by [Walter] Gropius’s vision for a new art school. These celebrations promoted contact between school and public, giving free rein to masters and students to demonstrate creativity and design invention, conceiving invitations, posters, costumes and decorations.
“The Bauhaus parties moved from improvisations and seasonal Festivals to spectacular and monumental stage productions in Dessau. The highpoint was in 1929 with the resplendent Metal Party. They entered the building by sliding down a large chute that deposited them in the first of several rooms decorated with silver spherical balls”
— Barbican Art Gallery, 2012. Bauhaus: Art as Life; Koenig Books
If Andy Warhol had known his contemporary, Arnold Odermatt, it might have alleviated a certain frustration the former was experiencing. “I’ve met a lot of cops recently,” commented Warhol in 1963. “They take pictures of everything, only it’s almost impossible to get copies of them.”
From 1948 to 1990 Odermatt was employed as a traffic policeman in the Swiss canton of Nidwalden and took hundreds of photographs, mainly of his fellow workers and of the the towns and countryside where he worked and still lives. Surrounded by mountains and a large lake, Nidwalden was a fairly isolated place until 1976, when a major tunnel and bridge were built.
As a result, Odermatt’s photographs bear witness to an environment gradually coming to terms over the years with various degrees of encroaching modernity. Roads figure prominently: snowy lanes and wet streets contrast with bright new highways, which appear like fresh scars across valleys and forests, slicing through picturesque village that huddle on the shores of photogenic lakes beneath leaden skies. These scenic detours, however, more often than not lead to the end of the road: a car crash.
Arriving at the scene of an accident, Odermatt would take one set of photographs for the insurance or police reports, and then take another for himself. His reasons for doing so are mysterious, but the results are often strangely beautiful.
Unlike the photographs of, say, Weegee or Mell Kilpatrick, in which stoic cops and horrified bystanders are pictured dealing in different ways with the reality of sudden injury or death, Odermatt empties the image of everything but the forlorn wreck and the landscape in which it came to rest: a crumpled car floats in a glassy lake beneath the Alps; a couple of abandoned shells tenderly touch bumpers on a charming wintry lane; an upturned VW Beetle reclines on the edges of a still river.
Despite the often disturbing evidence of injury, there is something oddly calming, even restorative, about these modest images, most of which are black and white. Odermatt scrutinizes surfaces like a sculptor on a budget; he has a canny eye for maximum visual impact with the most economical means. Denied movement and passengers, cars are reduced to the sum of their material parts; as devoid of horror as a log. Yet despite the crisp elegance of their composition, the pictures make apparent, in the most straightforward way, how life can be at once very strange and very ordinary – and how, by association, death is no different.
– extracted from an article in Frieze Magazine, issue 73, March 2003
A large series of these photographs were exhibited in Krakow Poland, during Photomonth 2009.
The Weegee of car accidents?
[Use arrows on either side to switch images]
Photographs of real car accidents by Arnold Odermatt
Arnold Odermatt (May 25, 1925, Oberdorf, canton Nidwalden, Switzerland) is a celebrated Swiss police photographer. Originally trained as a baker, he was a photographer for the Nidwalden district police from 1948 until his retirement in 1990. He is best known for his eerily beautiful black-and-white photographs of the aftermaths of motor vehicle accidents. His photographs have earned him a great deal of respect on the art scene for a number of years.