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1 Painting in Collection

Benita Koch Otte


Works in Select Public Collections

Bauhaus Museum Weimar, Germany;  Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; University of Oregon, Eugene, OR; Bauhaus-University, Weimar, Germany; Kuntsmuseum Moritzburg, Halle, Germany; Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain

Selected Recent Exhibitions

Taking a Thread for a Walk, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 2021

To Open Eyes: Art and Textiles from the Bauhaus to Today, Bielefeld Kunsthalle, Germany, 2013-2014

The Bauhaus Member Benita Koch-Otte, Retrospective, Bauhaus Archive, Berlin, 2012

Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY 2010


Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective by Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rossler, Herbert Press, London, 2019

To Open Eyes: Art and Textiles from the Bauhaus to Today, exhibition catalog by Irene Below, Bielefeld Kunsthalle & Kerber Publishing, Germany, 2013

Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops in Modernity by Barry Bergdoll and Leah Dickerman, MOMA exhibition catalog, 2009

Women’s Work: Textile Art from the Bauhaus by Sigrid Wortman Weltge, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1993.

Born 1892 Stuttgart, Germany
Died 1976 Bieleford, Germany

Benita Koch-Otte was an important and innovative member of the Bauhaus’ weaving workshop. In her tapestries and textile designs she experimented using light and dark contrast and complimentary colors in geometric designs. She was a dedicated teacher, colorist and designer whose works continue to influence artists and designers today.

Benita Otte graduated from secondary school in 1908 and then took a series of examinations to become a teacher. In 1915 she became a certified needlework teacher in Berlin. From 1915-1920 she taught gymnastics and drawing at a Secondary School for Girls in Uerdingen.

In 1919 she had an exhibition of her work at the Weimar Museum of Fine and Applied Art which more than likely prompted her to further her own education at the Bauhaus a year later. At the Bauhaus Weimar, she quickly became a leading member of the weaving workshop, experimenting with different weaving techniques and constantly innovating. Recognized as a leader and teacher, she was sent to the Dyeing Technical School in Krefeld to learn new production methods from their dye works operation. She attended the dye workshop with fellow student Gunta Stolzl who was the only woman to achieve “master” status at the Bauhaus. The two returned from Krefeld to set up dye works at Bauhaus where they taught others and experimented with natural dyes.

This earned Otte “journeyman” status and she was officially now allowed to teach and participate in the 1923 Bauhaus exhibition. She was asked to draw the elevation plan for the Haus am Horn in Weimar that was designed by architect Georg Muche. Otte also contributed a design for the house’s kitchen that was so innovative in its functionality that it was used as a model later by other architects. She also designed a rug for the children’s room. During this same time Walter Gropius, the founder of Bauhaus, commissioned a rug from Otte for his office.

The Bauhaus was a groundbreaking institution that not only taught art differently but sought a new place for art and design in society. The school was founded on modernist beliefs that the arts could and should play an active role in shaping society. Bauhaus teachers and students sought to design objects for a new, post war (WWI) era. They were generally progressive modernists who were deeply invested in creativity’s power.

About one third of Bauhaus students were female, and male and female students worked and lived side by side, although recent scholarship indicates that the school was not as gender neutral as its modern approach might imply. Almost all of the female students were directed to ceramics or the weaving workshop as that seemed the appropriate place for “the ladies.”

Founder Walter Gropius invited Johannes Itten to join Expressionist painter Lyonel Feininger and sculptor/ceramist Gerhard Marcks in Bauhaus’s first year. Itten quickly became one of the most influential teachers. He was a bit of an eccentric for the time—a vegetarian whose religious beliefs were a hybrid of Eastern and Western thought, he began each class with meditation and breathing exercises. Itten was the only trained educator at the Bauhaus and he believed deeply in each student’s creative abilities. He understood that color had both spiritual as well as emotional qualities and that harmony was created by both color and sound—one sense activating the other. Both Itten and painter Paul Klee, whose ability to harmoniously use complimentary color blocks was worked out at the Bauhaus, had an important influence on Otte’s approach to color.

The gouache in the Wolfson Collection was done while Otte was at the Bauhaus. The painting is a preparatory drawing for a tapestry. The interplay of different geometric shapes and sizes is complimented by the balance of bright colors. From early on, color played an important role in Koch-Otte’s works. In this design she creates rhythm by contrasting bright hues and balance by strategically placing horizontal and vertical bands. Triangles and repeating step forms add liveliness to the work.

Otte left the Bauhaus in 1925 because she was leery of the move to industrialization that the school was taking when it moved to Dessau. She took a position as Artistic Director of the Weaving Department at Burg Giebichenstein in Halle, Germany, a traditional craft school where she created a production facility for modern interior textiles. Every year Otte created new collections that were showcased at the Grassimesse, an annual sales fair for the applied arts sponsored by the Museum of Applied Arts in Leipzig. She also presented her textiles at trade fairs and exhibitions throughout Germany, Spain, Poland, Austria and Switzerland.

In 1929 she married Heinrich Koch who she had first met at the Bauhaus. Koch eventually became head of the school’s Photography Department in Halle. In May of 1933 both artists were fired and stripped of their teaching licenses by the Nazi regime, a fate that befell many Bauhaus masters and students. The Koch-Otte’s moved to Heinrich’s home in Prague where he accepted a position at the National Museum to create a photo archive. Benita was engaged to assist him.

When an accident took Heinrich’s life in 1934, Benita suddenly needed to find a job. She left Prague and took a position as Director of Weaving at the Bethel Institution, a facility for people who had epilepsy or were suffering from other mental or physical disabilities. Teaching art as a kind of therapy was fulfilling for Koch-Otte and she kept the position until she retired from teaching in 1957. During her time at Bethel, Koch-Otte combined what she had learned about color from Johannes Itten and Paul Klee and structured that material into a successful teaching curriculum.

Recently it has been discovered that around 1937 Koch-Otte created two wall hangings that included a Reich eagle, swastikas and oak wreath, all symbols of the Nazi regime. Historians believe that they were commissioned for a room in the district municipality of Gadderbaum, near Bethel. Koch-Otte researcher Irene Below suggested that the hangings were commissioned by the mayor, who Koch-Otte would not have been able to refuse as all Bethel residents had been subject to the “direct police instructions” of the mayor. It is difficult to know in retrospect how Koch-Otte felt about the regime or the commission but it is a stunning contradiction that an artist/educator who had been fired and exiled by the regime was doing work for them. Without any direct references in her diaries or correspondence, we may never have the answer to that riddle.

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