chapter  8
18 Pages

Erich Mendelsohn's Mediterranean Longings: The European Mediterranean Academy and Beyond in Palestine

The closure in 1932 of the Bauhaus in Dessau was spearheaded by architect Paul Schultze­Naumburg, the influential member of the Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur (a nationalistic association dedicated to the fight for German culture). At the very same time modernism was being challenged in Germany, Berlin­ based architect Erich Mendelsohn, together with the French painter Amédée Ozenfant and the Dutch publisher and architect Hendricus Theodorus Wijdeveld, conceived the Académie Européenne Méditerranée (AEM) as a European art school on the Mediterranean shores of southern France. Although the idea ultimately remained on paper as an unrealized utopia, it was an ambitious enterprise, which progressed far beyond the stage of conceptual plans. Potential financial sponsors were secured, an appropriate building plot was purchased, artists from different disciplines and from various European countries had signed contracts as future academy teachers, and beautifully designed brochures with the teaching curriculum were already printed in five languages. Beyond that, an impressive list of celebrities from science, politics, and the arts joined the advisory committee as members, starting with Albert Einstein, followed by Paul Valéry, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Igor Stravinsky. The teaching program listed all the arts, including music, film, and dance, thus displaying an innovative multidisciplinary character. It would have been a kind of Bauhaus on the Côte d’Azur. But the Académie Européenne Méditerranée had more on its agenda: it presented – shortly before its crisis – a “borderless” vision of Europe, for which the Mediterranean culture would supply a unifying and universalist identity. Above all, it was about a reassessment of modern art and its nexus with the values of classical and vernacular traditions. Or as Mendelsohn put it in one of his smart bons mots: “We’ll leave it to the Schultzes from Naumburg to ignore the Mediterranean as the father of the international Western theory of style.”1