Helen M. Post, “Xanti Schawinsky’s Spectodrama,” 1936-1937. Collection of Michael Reid.
Xanti Schawinsky (b. 1904 Basel, Switzerland – d. 1979 Locarno, Switzerland)
Alexander (Xanti) Schawinsky was born to Jewish parents in Switzerland. He was one of the original members of the Bauhaus in Germany where he worked as a painter, graphic designer, and dramatist. When the Bauhaus was closed under pressure from the Nazis in 1933, Schawinsky escaped to Italy, where he organized several Bauhaus exhibitions. In 1936, Josef Albers secured Schawinsky and his wife Irene passage to the U.S. as fascism began to gain traction in Italy.
Upon arriving at Black Mountain, Schawinsky taught painting and drawing. Later, he became more involved in the printing press and theater, using the stage as an educational medium. Schawinsky had learned about the theater from Oskar Schlemmer at the Bauhaus, and brought an avant-garde, experimental spirit with him to BMC. This work influenced many Black Mountain students, establishing the foundation for Elizabeth and Pete Jennerjahn’s Light Sound Movement workshops in the 1950s. Schawinsky is credited with bringing Bauhaus avant-garde theater to the U.S. through his time teaching at Black Mountain College.
Eventually, Schawinsky became a polarizing figure at BMC and ended up leaving in 1938. Though he was offered a position in Chicago at the Institute of Design’s New Bauhaus, Schawinsky opted to move to New York where he focused on painting rather than theater. He was an integral figure in the New York art scene, having solo exhibitions and participating in Bauhaus retrospectives around the world. He died in 1979.