smow Design Blog


For all the popular associations of the inter-War years with the reduced and the paired down, with objects whose value was deemed inherent rather than something one added, one must remember that the inter-War years were also a period that brought forth the colours and confusions of Surrealism and the glitz and glamour of Art Déco: The Roaring of the Twenties being as much about a self-confidence of expression as a joyous relief that the war years were, once and for all, over.

And thus that both the reserved and the ornate existed side by side in the inter-War years, if not necessarily comfortably; and this tension between decorative ornamentation and a more reserved understanding of design are explored in the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge’s exhibition Decoration as Trespass?

Decoration as Trespass?, Werkbundarchiv, Museum der Dinge, Berlin


“Das tritt nach …meiner Kenntnis … ist das sofort, unverzüglich”

“As far as I’m aware….. that applies …. with immediate effect, forthwith”

Rarely has an almost sentence in a press conference had such consequences. With his confidently unconfident utterances on the evening of Thursday November 9th 1989, a statement concerning a relaxation on restrictions for those East Germans wanting to travel to West Germany, a statement made while distractedly flicking through papers looking for, and missing, the answer to the question of when the relaxations applied, Günter Schabowski, East Germany’s ruling SED’s somewhat bombastically titled, Secretary of Information, in effect, opened the Berlin Wall. Within the hour streams of those East Germans were taking advantage of the freshly, prematurely, relaxed restrictions and flowing westwards…….

Yet for all its momentousness, as the exhibition 1989 – ​Culture and Politics at the National Museum Stockholm reinforces, the fall of the Wall, was only another event in a remarkable, momentousness, political year.

And a remarkable year for creative expressions: 1989 seeing the death throes of Postmodern design, art getting political, again, while in music the increasing influence of electronic dance music, for all House, in all in its numerous guises, was not only being felt in the music produced, but in the attitudes of the yoof: the poodle rockers and 80s pop kids were still there, still enjoying success, but a new generation was preparing to replace them. And a new generation who were, when not necessarily more aware than the poodle rockers and pop kids of contemporary political, economic, environmental and social realities, certainly were much more prepared to vocalise their opinions, and developing new soundscapes in which to do that.

And so by way of marking not only 30 years of Günter Schabowski stumbling towards the reunification of Europe, but all those other moments, good and less so, in 1989….. a Radio smow playlist of 89 songs from ’89……

Record sleves from 1989, as seen at 1989 - Culture and Politics, The National Museum Stockholm


Birthday’s are not only an occasion for celebration, but also for reflection on the year past, and on those milestone birthdays, for all the decadal birthdays, to reflect wider on the lives you’ve lived and the experiences you’ve enjoyed/endured, reflect on what you’ve gained, what you’ve lost, in those decades past.

So, or similar, the Vitra Design Museum, who celebrate their 30th birthday in November 2019 and are marking the occasion with reflections, when not necessarily on their own three decades, but the past three decades in design…….

After the Wall. Design since 1989, Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot, Weil am Rhein


As this Bauhaus Weimar centenary year is making ever clearer, whereas Bauhaus may have been physically sited in Weimar, Dessau and (nominally) Berlin, approaching a better understanding of “Bauhaus” involves leaving those sites and following the many paths that either led to, or from, those sites.

Paths that not only allow one to approach a better understanding of “Bauhaus”, but for all to approach a better understanding of the wider developments of the inter-War years, of inter-War Modernism, and thus to better understand that Bauhaus was but a component of that period, but a component of inter-War Modernism.

And paths, such as those mapped by the Brandenburgisches Landesmuseum für moderne Kunst, that invariably lead to new places, to new understandings and to an Unknown Modernism………

Das Bauhaus in Brandenburg, as seen at Unknown Modernism, Brandenburgisches Landesmuseum für moderne Kunst, Cottbus


On November 1st 1512 Pope Julius II celebrated the All Saint’s Day Mass in the Sistine Chapel. The first public presentation of Michelangelo’s frescos, and thereby the opening of a permanent exhibition still on show today. And still attracting a public.

And while permanent exhibitions are good and important, for all in allowing an overview and an introduction to a subject, it is those ever changing temporary exhibitions that, should, ideally, allow for new insights and deepening of understandings.

Our recommendations for five new, temporary, architecture and design exhibitions opening in November 2019, and which promise such insights and depths, can be can be found in Munich, New York, Vienna, Esslingen and Gotha…..

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for November 2019


Whereas the 1920s may have been Roaring, Golden, Années folles, a decade which could be certain that The Great War, that war to end all wars, had brought lasting peace to Europe, and where the utopian visions of the International Modernists, coupled to political and social emancipation and technological progress, made everything possible, and meant we could all gaily Charleston away our nights and days; the 1920s was also the decade that ushered Europe into one of the darkest periods in its history.

With the exhibition Design of the Third Reich the Design Museum Den Bosch explores the role of artists, architects and designers, in helping that darkness settle over 1930s Europe……..

Design of the Third Reich, Design Museum Den Bosch (Photo courtesy Design Museum Den Bosch)


Having started this Bauhaus Weimar centenary year by exploring the path from Arts and Crafts to Bauhaus, the Bröhan Museum Berlin end this Bauhaus Weimar centenary year by exploring the path from Bauhaus to Arts and Crafts Scandinavia.

Or more accurately put, by exploring Nordic Design. The Response to the Bauhaus.

Nordic Design. The Response to the Bauhaus at the Bröhan Museum, Berlin


László Moholy-Nagy may have given Marianne Brandt “mettle for metal”, and metal may be the material with which she is most readily and popularly associated; however, as she wrote in 1922, “Ich bin ganz von Glas”….. I am entirely glass.

Fragile? Transparent? Opaque? Metamorphic? Refractive? Sparkling?

For its 7th edition the triennial International Marianne Brandt Contest sought projects exploring glass in all its interpretations, properties and essences; the 60 nominated projects being presented alongside a cabinet showcase devoted to Marianne Brandt in the exhibtion Ich bin ganz von Glas. Marianne Brandt and the Art of Glass Today at the Sächsische Industriemuseum Chemnitz.

Ich bin ganz von Glas. Marianne Brandt and the Art of Glass Today, Sächsische Industriemuseum Chemnitz


Our Mondo Contemporaneo is a very unhappy, unsatisfying, unrewarding, dark, place.

Should we perhaps all consider a move to the colourful, dynamic reverie of Mondo Mendini?

At the Groninger Museum you can undertake a trial visit……………

Alessandro Mendini, Marcel Proust, & Poltrona di Proust by Alessandro Mendini, as seen at Mondo Mendini, The Groninger Museum, Groningen


While Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is arguably best known for the works he realised in the (mid-)west USA, the works he realised in west(ern) Germany are no less relevant or important for understanding the man, his work and his legacy.

Summer 2019 saw the western German State of Nordrhein-Westfalen host three Mies van der Rohe exhibitions, one each in, and devoted to Mies’s works in, Aachen, Krefeld and Essen. Three exhibitions now united in one in Cologne, and which as a unified trio not only provides for a very concise overview of the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Nordrhein-Westfalen, but also of both the development of Mies van der Rohe as an architect and, in many regards, the wider developments in understandings of architecture and design in the course of the 20th century.

Mies im Westen, Landeshaus des LVR Cologne


While it is important, and relevant, that the centenary of the opening of Bauhaus Weimar is used to delve a little deeper into the (hi)story of both the institution and inter-War Modernism, design and architecture is more than Bauhaus.

Thus following on from our October Bauhaus/inter-War Modernism focussed new exhibition recommendations, five more general, if anything but humdrum, architecture and design exhibitions opening in October 2019 in Groningen, Frankfurt, New York, Stockholm and Weil am Rhein…..

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for October 2019


“After you have settled yourself in a place as favorable as possible to the concentration of your mind upon itself, have writing materials brought to you”, so begins Secrets of the Magical Surrealist Art – Written surrealist composition, part of André Breton’s 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, “Put yourself in as passive, or receptive, a state of mind as you can. Forget about your genius, your talents, and the talents of everyone else. Keep reminding yourself that literature is one of the saddest roads that leads to everything. Write quickly, without any preconceived subject, fast enough so that you will not remember what you’re writing and be tempted to reread what you have written. The first sentence will come spontaneously, so compelling is the truth that with every passing second there is a sentence unknown to our consciousness which is only crying out to be heard.”1

Ready? Here goes, a Surrealist, automatic, blog post……………….

 

….no, not really.

Although we did consider it, as in genuinely, seriously, hired staff to bring us our writing materials and everything; but we did and do have a preconceived subject: the exhibition Objects of Desire. Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today at the Vitra Design Museum.

And so with apologies to André Breton and his Surrealist cohorts, we’ll consider their work and their influence on/interaction with design at our accustomed tempo, and with regular re-readings, re-formulations and very conscious re-framings……

Objects of Desire. Surrealism and Design 1924 - Today, Vitra Design Museum


More or less……

….. Back in May 2019 the sheer number of new architecture and design exhibitions opening globally allowed us to produce two recommendations lists: one featuring exhibitions with a strong Bauhaus/inter-War Modernism focus, and one more general, less focussed.

Spring forward five months and with the global museum community now fully awoken from their summer slumber we once again find ourselves with a cornucopia of new exhibitions that invites two lists. An invitation we would consider rude to decline.

In May we started with the more general exhibitions and so this time it seemed only fair to begin with new exhibitions in Berlin, Weimar, Cottbus, London W1 and London E17 that explore Bauhaus and inter-War modernism in a relatively wide sense, but then the wider the sense, the more detailed the understanding….

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for October 2019 – Bauhaus Special


It is highly unlikely any 18th century banquet in Dresden’s Schloss Pillnitz would have been graced by a cake that came close to matching the Baroque grandeur of the location, certainly no cake that would have had a richness, plenitude or vitality to match; cake as it existed in the 1700s being a much flatter, breadier, monotone, delight, one which we today would barely recognise as cake, but which then was understood as cake, the whole cake and nothing but cake.

Then additions were made to the cake……

Add to the Cake: Transforming the roles of female practitioners @ Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden


Belgium is uncharted territory for us. Not literately, we’re in Belgium fairly frequently. Indeed so frequently that we are often asked why we don’t move to Belgium. Because we’ve been to Belgium, we reply (JOKE!!))

But Belgium is uncharted territory in terms of our annual #campustour: the design school summer showcases in Belgium tending as they do to run parallel to those in London, and that in previous years we’ve had good reason to be in London at that time, we’ve, logically, not been in Belgium. This year ’twas different, we had absolutely no reason to be in London and every reason to be in Belgium, which, yes, does sound like a metaphor. Isn’t, but does sound like one…… And so took the opportunity to visit a trio of Belgian design schools, technically a quartet, but legally a trio……

#campustour 2019: Belgium


“This house is a work by Le Corbusier” announces a yellow and white sign on the edge of the Zürichhorn park, “I commissioned it in his honour, and as a location from which to spread his ideas amongst a wider public”

With the exhibition Mon univers the Pavillon Le Corbusier Zürich attempt to do just that via an exploration of the Swiss architect, artist, designer, author, et al, through a very specific filter: that which he collected.

A Spanish Tinaja, ships cowls, and furniture by Le Corbusier/Jeanneret/Perriand, as seen at Mon univers, Pavillon Le Corbusier, Zürich


It’s almost impossible to reflect on design education without reflecting on Bauhaus. Especially this year. And especially when a tour of design school summer exhibitions takes you to Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen, to those (contemporary) German States where for 100 years Bauhaus both began and found its de facto end.

And while there will be time in coming posts for those reflections on the Gropius school and the developments of the century past, the focus of our 2019 #campustour visits to Sachsen-Anhalt and Thüringen, specifically Halle and Weimar, is and was the contemporary students and the work realised in the year past.

#campustour 2019: Germany – Sachsen-Anhalt & Thüringen


The Chinese government warning pro-democracy demonstrators to end their street protests. Central Americans risking their lives, and dodging border guards and fences, to cross into America in search of the, much vaunted, American Dream. A dogmatic right wing English Conservative government showing their contempt for the people of Scotland.

Thankfully, the world has moved on since 1989……

 Postmodern furniture and the Brandenburg Gate, as seen at 1989 - Culture and Politics, The National Museum Stockholm


With its abundance of forests, earths, coals and waterways the contemporary Nordrhein-Westfalen has long been an important centre of production, industry, trade and by extrapolation design and creativity; at various stages in history important impulses and innovation radiating from communities such as Aachen, Hagen, Krefeld, Essen, Soest or Düsseldorf…….

………and since the end of the 19th century from the myriad of art, applied art, architecture and design schools dotted throughout the region: a myriad from which logistical realities, and some most unfortunate timetabling, regrettably, meant that the 2019 smow blog #campustour only visited two. If two that represent very different approaches to design education…….

#campustour 2019: Germany – Nordrhein-Westfalen


Small as the Netherlands may be in the global jigsaw, it has been the source of numerous significant impulses in terms of architecture and design, numerous significant impulses which for reasons of brevity we’ll reduce to the Dutch gable as a defining feature of baroque architecture, to De Stijl as leading protagonists of the early 20th century European avant-garde, and to that late 20th century Dutch avant-garde that developed in the course of the 1990s and which did so much to force an evolution in understandings of design, including allowing for an increasing popular acceptance of conceptual design and thereby the understanding that design isn’t necessarily the object but how one gets there and what we (can) collectively learn from the journey.

How the coming generation of Dutch, and in the Netherlands trained non-Dutch, designers are making their way, what they’ve learned thus far from their journey and why they are undertaking the journey, were among the motivations for taking our 2019 #campustour to the Netherlands.

Small as the Netherlands may be in the global jigsaw, our visits to its design schools was the source of more than could comfortably be accommodated in one post, and so we’ve split it into two, starting in Maastricht and Arnhem…….

#campustour 2019: Netherlands - Maastricht & Arnhem


Whereas in the natural world spring ushers in new life but once a year, in the design museum world re-awakenings are biannual: a spring spring as curators awake from their winter hibernation and an autumn spring as they awake from their summer dormancy. Both bringing forth not only the promise of growth, energy, of a new esprit, of new experiences, new sensations, but confirming the eternal nature of existence, that we are but a moment on an endless spiralling continuum…….

Our five new stimulations for September 2019 can be found in Berlin, Helsinki, Weil am Rhein, Stockholm and ‘s-Hertogenbosch…….

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for September 2019


In 1968 the East German designer Rudolf Horn opined that “the changed tenor of industrial production in the socialist society, in relation to its task of satisfying cultural needs on a mass scale, raises the question of how despite mass production the consumer can realise an individual [domestic] environment, and in addition forces us to consider the problem of how the cultured personality can creatively contribute to the design of their immediate surroundings.”1

How indeed….?

It was, however, a largely rhetorical question, because, and as the exhibition Rudolf Horn – Wohnen als offenes System at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden explains, in 1967 Rudolf Horn had already formulated an answer, or perhaps more accurately put, in 1967 formulated a framework via which to allow each and everyone of us to approach our own answer…..

Rudolf Horn - Wohnen als offenes System, the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden


If the recent history of Germany is one of East and West, the longer history is one of North and South; a history which, and simplifying to the point of falsehood, saw the rivalry and conflict between the Hanseatic League and the traders of the southern states become a rivalry and conflict between Prussia and the realms of Baden, Württemberg, Hessen and Bavaria: the latter being the most reluctant to ratify the 1870 November Treaties and join the new Deutsches Reich. A reluctance expressed not only by the then Bavarian parliament’s protracted deliberations on, and initial rejection of, the Treaties, but Bavaria’s then King, Ludwig II, he of the fairytale castles, absence from the formal proclamation of the Kaiserreich in January 1871.

Yet despite Bavaria’s long, deep, and (arguably) continuing, resistance and hostility to the union, it is Weißbier, Lederhosen and FC Bayern, and fairytale castles, which stand representative for many a non-German’s understanding of German identity.

Conversely, while Bavaria has contributed much to the development of contemporary design in Germany, not least through the efforts of, and amongst many others, the late 19th/early 20th century Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk, Die Neue Sammlung as one of the oldest and largest dedicated design museums, the Munich born and based designer Konstantin Grcic or Stuttgart born but Chiemgau based design publisher Nils Holger Moormann, the popular understanding of “Designed in Germany” lies outwith the Freistaat, in the realms of gute Form, largely developed in Ulm and arguably most popularly understood through Braun; in Stuttgart’s Porsche or Wolfsburg’s Volkswagen; or, and this year of all years, by Bauhaus, an institution which as we noted in context of our 2019 smow Song Contest coverage, was very, very Prussian in its make up, students from Bavaria being outnumbered by those from Mars. More or less.

But what can Bavaria’s design schools contribute to altering such a position? To raising the profile of Bavarian design? We can’t offer any concrete prognosis, or at least not here, logistic realities meaning that we only visited two Bavarian design schools, technically three but we’ll get to that, at length; however, from the two (three) we did visit……

#campustour 2019: Germany - Bavaria


Partly for reasons of its size, and partly on account of the way the then nations of the contemporary Germany responded to the challenges and realities of late 19th/early 20th century industrialisation, Germany is home to a truly outrageous number of architecture and design schools, certainly more than it would be logical, prudent or congenial to pack into one post.

And so to save your nerves, and our fingers, we’ll present the German leg of our 2019 #campustour via a series of regional postings, starting in and around the German capital.

campustour 2019: Germany - Berlin & Brandenburg


The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was (reportedly) the opinion that, “in art there are only fast or slow developments. Essentially it is a matter of evolution, not revolution.”

A position one, arguably, could apply to all expressions of contemporary culture and society.

And a position the exhibition SPACES. Interior design evolution at the ADAM Brussels Design Museum explores in context of domestic interiors.

SPACES. Interior design evolution, ADAM Brussels Design Museum, Brussels