By way of an addendum to our addendum to our “5 New Design Exhibitions for February 2014” post…… Until June 8th 2014 the Villa Esche in Chemnitz is presenting a special exhibition devoted to the artist and industrial designer Marianne Brandt.
Built in 1903 by Henry van de Velde for the Chemnitz textile magnate Herbert Eugen Esche, the Villa Esche is not only a wonderful example of Henry van de Velde’s approach to architecture and his understanding of his responsibilities in context of the architectural Gesamtkunstwerk, but being one of his earlier projects also provides some delightful indications of the move from Art Nouveau to Modernism that he helped initiate. Of the move from the decorative to the functional.
And as such is a more than fitting location for a presentation of Marianne Brandt’s work.
Born in Chemnitz in 1893 Marianne Liebe studied drawing at the Hochschule für Bildende Kunst Weimar, before in 1919 she married the Norwegian painter Erik Brandt and moved to Oslo. In 1924 Marianne Brandt joined Bauhaus Weimar, moved with the institution to Dessau in 1925 where in 1926 she took up a position in the metal workshops, famously working alongside the likes of Wilhelm Wagenfeld and Christian Dell. Following her graduation from Bauhaus in 1929 Marianne Brandt worked as a designer for various companies/design studios including spells with Walter Gropius in Berlin and the Ruppelwerke GmbH in Gotha. Post World War II Marianne Brandt taught briefly at both the Hochschule für Werkkunst Dresden and the Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weissensee before returning to Chemnitz in 1954 to work as a freelance designer. Marianne Brandt died on 18th June 1983 in Kirchberg, Sachsen.
Despite leaving us the most intoxicating canon of artistic and design works, and being one of the few truly successful female modernists, Marianne Brandt is, sadly, one of the lesser acknowledged Bauhaus graduates, and, save the odd tea pot and ashtray in the Alessi collection, barely exists.
Particularly sad is her relative anonymity in Chemnitz.
The triennial Marianne Brandt Contest does a truly wonderful job of keeping her memory and legacy alive, but aside from that….
Chemnitz is very keen to market itself as “Stadt der Moderne ” – “City of Modernism”; however, a quick read, and it is a quick read, of the official city website reveals that aside from a few house in the Kaßberg quarter, the Villa Esche and Erich Mendelsohn’s Schocken department store, the city struggles to find anything to confirm its modernist aspirations.
Marianne Brandt doesn’t even get a mention.
Things may however be starting to move in a more positive direction. In spring 2015 the city’s Industry Museum will unveil a newly organised permanent exhibition, which will, potentially, hopefully, devote more space to Marianne Brandt. The exhibition in Villa Esche is in many ways a foretaste of what is to come.
Marianne Brandt at Villa Esche isn’t a large exhibition, is however one of the broadest presentations of Marianne Brandt’s life and work we have seen in a long time and in addition to original examples of her product design work includes photos by and of Marianne Brandt, sketches, letters and a presentation of the current Marianne Brandt Alessi collection
Among the most interesting objects on display are a handwritten CV, a metal ball Marianne Brandt used for experimental photography and a letter confirming her appointment to the staff at Bauhaus Dessau.
150 Reichsmark per month was apparently the going rate.
In addition there is a 1935 letter from László Moholy-Nagy in which he recounts how he had recently met Walter Gropius in London, how both had regretted the lack of opportunities they could offer Marianne and in which he encourages her to learn English so that he can try to organise a position for her in the UK.
Which is just the most tantalising proposition. A classic case of, what if….?
All the products on show in the exhibition, save a 1925 cigarette box, originate from the period 1929-1932, so her time with the Ruppelwerke in Gotha and in addition to underscoring the multi-faceted nature of Marianne Brandt’s talent, her almost unnerving ability to effortlessly convey function through formal elegance, also remind us that modernism was often colourful. Something it’s all too easy to forget when the only records one normally has are black and white photos.
Presenting some 50 objects Marianne Brandt at Villa Esche is probably too small to be worth a special trip to Chemnitz; however, if you happen to be in Chemnitz it is well worth finding the time.
For all residents of Chemnitz it should be compulsory.
Fuller details can be found at www.villaesche.de
A few impressions: