Extending the Bauhaus Tradition
On March 17 2022, Lynn University premiered an NFT museum at the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRiC) located at 4950 Communications Avenue, Boca Raton, Florida. The museum is now open to the public. Visitors can view the artwork Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., from March 18 through the summer. In a corridor of BRiC, visitors will see works of digital art—which have been turned into non-fungible tokens (NFT) created by Lynn students, Lynn faculty, and artists who donated their work to the university—displayed on six 65″ commercial monitors. The museum also includes fine art, hung on BRiC’s walls, created by the faculty of Lynn University’s College of Communication and Design.
The building in which the museum is housed was designed by a famous architect and has a rich history. This essay argues that it is the perfect place for a site of Lynn University’s NFT museum.
We Want to Tell a Story
The story starts at a famous art school—the Bauhaus—in Weimar, Germany in 1923, ultimately leading to Lynn University’s NFT museum at the BRiC in 2022. It is a story about how artists have thought about, and still think about, the relations between art, technology, commercial industry, and mass production.
Our story will focus on Bauhaus teacher Marcel Breuer, who eventually designed buildings for IBM, including locations in Boca Raton. After IBM left Boca Raton in 1996, the site was renamed the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRiC). Lynn University’s NFT museum will be housed in a building at BRiC designed by Breuer.
Lynn University’s NFT museum belongs to a bigger story and bigger tradition: the Bauhaus tradition. The NFT museum draws strong connections between art and technology. This essay will explore how these connections relate to the beliefs and work of Bauhaus school masters like Marcel Breuer.
Art & Technology: A New Unity
The Bauhaus was a German art school founded in 1919 and operational until 1933. Its teachers were some of the best artists in the world, including: Walter Gropius, Josef Albers, Wassily Kandinsky, Anni Albers, Paul Klee, Ludwig Mis van der Rohe, Marianne Brandt, Marcel Breuer, László Moholy-Nagy, Oscar Schlemmer, and many others.
In 1923, the Bauhaus adopted a new slogan: “Art and Technology—A New Unity” (Bauhaus Archiv & Droste, 1998, p. 53). Many Bauhaus masters encouraged artists to work with cutting-edge technology and collaborate with business and industry (cf. ibid., pp. 58-59; Dearstyne, 1986, pp. 58-60 & 67-69). They claimed artists should learn to use recently developed machines and machine-made products in the creation of art (Dearstyne, 1986, p. 67; Bauhaus Archiv & Droste, 1998, p. 60). Artists could develop skills in industrial design and create products that could be mass produced by factory machines (Gropius, 1923/1938, p. 27; Dearstyne, 1986, pp. 58 & 69; Bauhaus Archiv & Droste, 1998, p. 60). Artists could also develop advertising, marketing, and public relations materials for corporations and retail stores (Dickerman, 2009, pp. 14-15).
Many Bauhaus masters hoped their students would become a new kind of artist, transformed by their new technical skills and by their collaborations with business and industry. In a 1967 speech, Bauhaus master Marcel Breuer said:
If we speak of the dilemma of the artist in the World of Science, we refer, perhaps, to the transformation of the artist…The painter may use the camera, in addition to brush and paint, he may be consultant to industry, he may design street signs, messages in light, he may paint in a new, dynamic medium, color projection, moving or still…The artist…is likely to play a similar role in our industrial, technological era, perhaps in the disguise of a scientist, a technical perfectionist, an inventor, a photographer, a coordinator. (as cited in Papachristou, 1970, p. 19)
According to Breuer, technology can fuse the artist “with the engineer, with the scientist” (ibid). Through learning to use modern technology, the artist becomes something more than he or she was before. Working with technology “broadens his philosophy, it shows him new materials, possibilities” (ibid).
Breuer appealed to technological innovations in his own work. He was impressed by the bicycle he owned and rode. He appreciated its innovative design and tubular steel body. Although very light, it could support his weight and movement. If tubular steel could be bent into the shape of a handlebar, then could it also be used to build furniture (McCarter, 2016, p. 28; von Eckardt, 1972, p. 6)? Breuer designed numerous chairs, built partly out of steel tube, several of which were mass produced—thousands of identical chairs—and the chairs often still used today (cf. von Eckardt, 1972, p. 6).
Before Breuer, other artists designed metal chairs, but they tended to be heavy, their curves often “reinforced by solid metal cores to keep the walls of the tubes from collapsing” (Winkelmann, 1981, p. 17). Breuer used cold-drawn, cold-bent seamless steel tubes, which were light and strong, and which did not require reinforcement (ibid., pp. 17 & 44). The kind of steel tube he used had only recently been developed, and those who helped him to bend the steel into furniture frames made use of recent “technological advances in the working of steel tubes” (ibid, p. 44).
Breuer appreciated the aesthetics—the beauty—of finely made, mass-produced objects. He also believed that the technology involved in the making of mass-produced objects is directly reflected in how the objects look. Machine-made objects are likely to look certain ways rather than others. He writes that:
Mass production and standardization had already made me interested in polished metal, in shiny and impeccable lines in space as new components of our interiors. I considered such polished and curved lines not only symbolic of our modern technology, but actually technology, itself. (as cited in Papachristou, 1970, p. 208).
There is no easy way to separate out the aesthetics of objects from the technology used to make them.
Marcel Breuer’s foremost teacher, who eventually became his colleague and friend, was Walter Gropius, the famous German architect and founder of the Bauhaus. Gropius directed his attention to the role mass production could play in the production of buildings. Gropius was fascinated by the possibility of building houses out of prefabricated components, mass produced by machines in off-site factories (Hughes, 1983/1984, pp. 175 & 177; Herbert, 1984, pp. 35,42, 49, 51, 56, & 60). Houses like this would be efficient and inexpensive, and if they were designed by great architects, could also be beautiful and functional (ibid). Everyone could have an inexpensive and attractive house. Such buildings would be best only if a good artist—an architect—designed them (Herbert, 1984, p. 62). A good architect would best understand how buildings will shape the lives of the people inside them (ibid, pp. 62-63).
Boca Raton Ties
In the late 1960s, when Marcel Breuer codesigned buildings for IBM’s Boca Raton site, he relied on just the kind of prefabrication and mass production that his teacher, Gropius, explored. Most of the panels and beams used in the construction of the Boca Raton buildings were precast off-site by three different manufacturers, which offered “speedy, continuous delivery” to the construction site (Gatje, 2000, p. 216; cf. Pedrão 2013; 2017; Architectural Record, 1971). Imagine a thousand identical concrete panels made by humans working with machines off-site. The façade of the finished building likewise forms a repeating pattern; identical elements appear around each window and above each column, many different times. Around the windows, deep precast fins project “out as sunshades” (Gatje, 2000, p. 216; cf. Pedrão, 2013; 2017), creating repeating, straight-lined, geometric patterns (BocaHistory, 2021).
The Boca Raton buildings are beautiful in part because of these repeating patterns (cf. Pedrão 2013). “Architecture loves repetitive elements,” Breuer claims (as cited in Architectural Record, 1971). Breuer, like us, appreciates the repetitive elements of his IBM site – “the visual rhythms these elements create as they bend gently around the ‘y-shaped’ plan of his new complex” (Architectural Record, 1971).
Because the beauty of the buildings arises from repetition—from seeing the patters again and again as you walk outside—it is surprisingly difficult to capture their beauty with a small number of photographs. Angela West Pedrão (2013) describes this difficulty:
Although the surface of precast panels is repeated…shot after shot the buildings remained elusive. No frame was the right one, or no number of images was enough. Alike the ocean movement, the ever smooth rhythm created by the deep ridges under the sun, created an ever changing ephemeral façade.
Breuer appreciated that, unlike glass, concrete casts shadows (Breuer, 1955, p. 34; 1966, frame 95). A building with glass windows and a concrete façade gives the sense of both “sun and shadow” (ibid). To enable sunlight to enter buildings and reflect, and yet also to create the darkness and contrast of shadows, an architect needs to pair the transparency of glass with the solidity of a material like concrete (Breuer, 1955, p. 34).
The buildings at the Boca Raton site, covered in windows, are constructed out of solid, uniform concrete. The main building at the site curves around a lake at its center. Walking on a path with the buildings on one side and the lake on the other, the ever-repeated patters of shadows and sun can be seen, created by the ever repeated-geometric patterns of precast fins, sunshades, columns, and windows (cf. Gatje, 2000, p. 180). Breuer appreciated that concrete has far more depth than glass; a concrete façade has “three-dimensionality” (Breuer, 1966, frame 95). Walking along the path, the buildings give off a sense of presence and of weight (Pedrão, 2013; cf. Gatje, 2000, p. 102).
Here is a building designed by a great artist, the Bauhaus master, Marcel Breuer, for IBM, a major force in industry and technology. Here is a building that embodies the slogan: “Art and Technology—a New Unity.”
Breuer was a great artist, but he also looked to advances in technology and industry, like those used in his mass-produced steel chairs. He was an artist who considered the way some of his work looked “not only symbolic of our modern technology, but actually technology itself” (as cited in Papachristou, 1970, p. 208). He was an artist who experimented with mass production—the mass production not only of his chairs, but also of the components of large-scale building complexes.
Meanwhile, IBM developed and sold computers, themselves only possible because of then-recent technological advancements. IBM Boca Raton initially manufactured large-scale computer systems. Later, employees in Boca Raton worked on developing the first IBM personal computer intended for mass production (Speed, 2020; Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum, n.d.). For a time in the 1980s, Boca Raton also became the central location for IBM’s personal computer division, both for their manufacture and development (Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum, n.d.; Bunnell, 1982). IBM reports that, at the peak of its sales, “An IBM PC sold at a rate of one every minute of every business day” (IBM, n.d.).
On one hand, you have a great artist, the architect Marcel Breuer, who focused attention on the relations between art, technology, industry, and mass production. On the other hand, you have IBM at the forefront of the mass production of technology. The main IBM building in Boca Raton represents the unity of art and technology, the coming together of the two.
A New Kind of Museum
Lynn University will open its new NFT museum in this Breuer/IBM building. Lynn University’s museum is innovative—far different from traditional museums of the past. Consider a traditional museum—the Louvre—which displays the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. Outside of the museum, many people own prints and posters of the Mona Lisa, but they do not look quite like the original. Copies always have some degradation. Imagine that the Louvre opens a second museum site a mile from the first, which displays the best copy of the Mona Lisa that money could buy. Still, the copy would not look quite like the original. The experience would be different, if only a little.
Digital art is different. A digital artwork can be viewed at a million different museums, stores, homes, and websites, all at the same time, and look the identical to everyone. Lynn University hopes to open many sites for its museum, in many different locations, all showing the same digital images and videos, which will look the same to everyone at every site. On March 17, when Lynn opens its museum site at the BRiC, it will also simultaneously open a site on its own campus on the third floor of its library building. Both sites will show the same images, and what people see at both sites will look the same. The Louvre could not do that with the Mona Lisa.
Each site of the museum will only ever need a handful of screens to display artwork, and each site may, on first reflection, appear modest and small. But this is only because each screen can, in a single hour, display many different digital artworks, displaying one after the next in an endlessly repeating pattern.
This endless repetition and mass duplication of images seems comparable to the mass production of IBM computers, the mass production of Breuer’s chairs, and the mass production of concrete panels for the buildings. The main building of the IBM site curves around a lake, and as people walk along the lake, they see the same elements of its façade repeat again and again. Likewise, if visitors stare at the NFT museum’s screens for hours, they should see the same images and videos, repeated.
Consider—again—the Louvre. It, and it alone, currently displays the Mona Lisa. While the Louvre could loan the Mona Lisa to other institutions or sell it, currently the Louvre is the sole home of the original Mona Lisa. It has exclusive access. This is a small part of what makes the Louvre special.
Will Lynn University, together with its artists, have exclusive access to its museum’s artwork? To reflect on this question, imagine a university with the ill intent of competing with Lynn’s NFT museum. Suppose this university creates its own museum, and without permission from either Lynn University or its artists, displays images that look the same as those Lynn displays. Since this university’s images look the same, would the Lynn University museum or artists still have exclusive access to their artwork? Arguably, yes.
Because Lynn’s museum and artists have transformed their artworks into NFTs, they could prove they have exclusive access to the artwork. An NFT is a unique chunk of data that is stored in a specific ledger called a “blockchain.” We do not need to fully understand what this means to understand how NFTs can help. An NFT is unique and can be exclusively owned by a single person or organization that can prove ownership. Using modern technology, an artist can transform something that can be duplicated endlessly (a digital artwork) into something unique and exclusive (an NFT). Each artwork in Lynn University’s new museum has either been turned into an NFT or has been “lazy-minted”—an inexpensive process which creates a voucher that can later be redeemed for an NFT. Each NFT is exclusively owned by the museum or by one of its artists. A university with ill intent could display images that look the same as those Lynn University displays, but it would not own the NFTs the artworks have become. Suppose that each NFT is part of the artwork that has been turned into the NFT. Then, even if the university would have images that look the same, since it would not own the NFTs, it would be missing part of each artwork. Only Lynn University or its artists could prove they exclusively own the NFTs, and so only Lynn or its artists exclusively hold each artwork in its entirety. This exclusivity is a small part of what makes its museum special.
Perhaps we should not always identify an artwork with a single image or display. Imagine an artist develops a specific artwork involving a screen, computer, and a camera. Suppose that, whenever audience members enter the room where this artwork is displayed, the camera watches the audience and a computer program changes the images that appear on the screen based on how the audience behaves, without ever showing the same image twice. Arguably, it can be said that there is a single artwork in the room—a single interactive artwork that shows numerous images over time. This interactive artwork is not identical to any single image or small set of images. The artwork is more than the images.
So, what is the artwork in the room? Suppose the program was uninstalled from the computer so that the screen no longer displays images. Then, it seems, audiences would no longer see the artwork when they enter the room. The program on the computer is essential to the artwork. Central to the artwork is something invisible audiences never sense—the program on the computer. The artwork, in this example, seems to be something quite complicated; it is the computer, screen, and camera that create displays generated by the right sort of program. (For related considerations, see: Lopes, 2010, e.g. pp. 42-45 & 65-66).
A computer program can be essential to an artwork, and an artwork can be more than just what is visible to audiences—more than what audiences can sense. In that case, why could an NFT not be essential to an artwork, too? Why could an NFT not be part of an artwork? If an NFT can be part of an artwork, then the fact that each NFT is unique and exclusive would mean that part of the artwork is unique and exclusive, too.
Part of what makes an NFT useful is the relation between: (1) the unique NFT, which cannot be copied; and (2) a digital image or video that can be copied endlessly. An NFT museum calls to attention the uniqueness of each artwork it displays because each of its artworks has become an NFT (or has been “lazy-minted”). But an NFT museum also calls attention to the infinite duplicability of its images and videos. If digital images could not be copied, an NFT museum would not be as interesting. Similarly, part of the beauty of Breuer’s Boca buildings is born out of the repetition of its elements and patterns—the fact that they are experienced again and again over time. Repetition is the key theme.
Breuer sees the beauty of mass-produced, machine-made objects. Lynn University’s NFT museum sees the appeal of infinitely duplicable images stored on computers and displayed on screens.
NFTs bring together blockchain technology with art—a new, peculiar meeting of art and technology. It is by appealing to modern technology that a museum can guarantee the exclusivity of its artworks, even if the images it displays could be reproduced perfectly elsewhere. Technology has allowed artists to perform a kind of magic trick, transforming something duplicatable into something unique.
Insofar as Lynn University’s NFT museum appeals to new advancements in technology, and focuses on computer technology, it is fitting for it to find a home in a building once owned by IBM, which made advances in computing. As the NFT museum showcases artwork that appeals to advanced technology, it is fitting that it will find a home in the building of a Bauhaus master concerned with the link between art and technology.
A Boca Bauhaus
IBM left its Boca Raton site in 1996, well before its current owner, CP Group, acquired and renamed the BRiC. Lynn University’s NFT museum site is possible only because CP Group has volunteered to host it, and to host it without cost to the university, as part of its Art on BRiC Walls initiative. The exhibit is part of BRiC’s long-term vision of creating a walking art museum with exhibits throughout its miles of corridors to integrate art and technology into the ecosystem of the campus. Lynn University’s NFT museum fits into this plan for the larger art museum.
BRiC would also like to create a STEAM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) lab on their site. This lab will be a makerspace and computer programming lab. In addition to computers, it would also include equipment like a 3D printer and CNC laser cutter that would help businesses, industries, and schools complete projects. BRiC’s tenants could pay to rent the space, and local schools and organizations could host workshops.
The STEAM lab immediately recalls Marcel Breuer, who was impressed by his steel bicycle and sought to make prototypes of furniture out of steel. Perhaps the STEAM lab will host similar projects—the new Breuers of the future! The STEAM lab feels, in some ways, comparable to a Bauhaus workshop, and when it is used by schools, students might learn—like they did in the Bauhaus—how to develop prototypes for mass production.
Could the NFT museum at BRiC be the beginning of a new Boca Bauhaus? Could it herald the beginning of endeavors to develop new connections, in Boca Raton, between art, technology, industry, and education?
Cesar Santalo, dean of Lynn University’s College of Communication and Design, speaks about the NFT Museum:
We are at the forefront of digital technology and the ongoing trends in the art world—that is why we believe creating the NFT Museum will allow us to develop new and dynamic partnerships with artists, museums, galleries, collectors, and tech companies in South Florida. (as cited in Powers, 2021).
This sounds a lot like the Bauhaus’s emphasis on art and technology. How similar is this to the Bauhaus’s hope that it might partner with local industries and develop artwork and prototypes with them? Alex Duque, a professor at Lynn University, who has donated artwork to the university that will be displayed in the museum, says:
I am honored and humbled to be part of the next level of technology…As an educator with a background in computer animation, I believe it is imperative to teach our students about these technologies and always stay current on digital skills. (as cited in Powers, 2021).
This is reminiscent of a 21st-century version of claims by Bauhaus masters about the importance of uniting art and technology. We wonder if Duque would agree with Breuer that technology can transform artists and broaden their outlook, making them something more than they were before.
Might the NFT museum serve as a catalyst for new connections in south Florida between those who focus on art, those who focus on technology, and those who focus on industry? Housed in buildings designed by a great Bauhaus master, which were built for a major manufacturer of technology, could Lynn University’s NFT museum be the beginning of a new Boca Bauhaus?
In 1923, Oskar Schlemmer, a painter and choreographer associated with the Bauhaus, called for “an idealism of activity that embraces, penetrates, and unites art, science, and technology and that influences research, study, and work” (Schlemmer, 1923, p. 66). He was calling for something different from, but with the same heart as, what we imagine might be possible. Schlemmer claimed society had not yet achieved the ideals he discussed. In 2022, there is still a way to go, but strides toward them are being made. Art, scholarship, technology, industry, and science can be created together. “Today we can do no more than to ponder the total plan, lay the foundations, and prepare the building stones. But we exist! We have the will! We are producing!” (ibid).
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