The Grassimesse smow-Designpreis 2023: Call for Entries

For the first time in its long and illustrious history Leipzig’s Grassimesse will award a dedicated design prize at its 2023 edition.

More specifically, will award the €2,500 smow-Designpreis.

The call for entries is now open, and you are all cordially invited closed…….

grassimesse smow-designpreis

Tracing its history back to 1920, the contemporary Grassimesse began as an, if you will, response on the part of Dr. Richard Graul, Director of the, then, Kunstgewerbemuseum Leipzig, the contemporary Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Leipzig, to the increasing flood of indifferent, low-quality, disingenuous goods on show and on sale at the biannual Leipzig Fair, products of the type that helped establish the epithet “Made in Germany” as a universally understood warning, a signifier of goods to be avoided; goods that represented a new, mass produced, commercial, reality in which, as the, contemporaneous magazine Der Kunstwanderer noted, “all that mattered was realising the maximum profit with the cheapest possible goods”1, and that very much to the annoyance and irritation of a great many.

Including Dr. Graul, who through his own biannual fair sought to offer an alternative platform in Leipzig, a platform where goods of the highest quality could be viewed and purchased, and thus an attempt, a desire, on the part of Graul to both raise the general standards of the contemporary objects of daily use, and those more decorative objects with which we all surround ourselves, and also to try to educate the contemporary public that functional and decorative goods needn’t be cheap, dishonest, illiterate “schund”2, trash. There were alternatives. And reasons for choosing them. And thus a tradition the smow Blog very much understands itself in. And a disquiet at the general low-quality and inappropriateness of much of that offered at trade fairs the smow Blog also very much shares.

A key component, arguably the decisive component, of Richard Graul’s response, was that entry to the Grassimesse3 was strictly by jury selection: everyone was free to apply, but a specially commissioned jury decided if you met the necessary standards and were worthy of admission. A strict, quality based, admission policy uncommon at trade fairs in that age, and still uncommon in our age. And a strict admission policy with its promise of a higher quality fair and the associated prestige of being selected, that saw the Grassimesse quickly become a leading institution amongst contemporary creatives, certainly amongst those who shared Graul’s desire to improve the contemporary objects of daily use and with them the standard of living for all: the earliest editions of the Grassimesse seeing the likes of, and amongst many others, the Großherzoglichen Majolika-Manufaktur Karlsruhe, the Wiener Werkstätte, Deutsche Textile Kunst, the Handwerker- und Kunstgewerbeschule, Halle, or the Bauhauses Weimar and Dessau participate.

A stellar roster that underscores the not unimportant role the Grassimesse played in disseminating the contemporary positions of the day; and an essentially Germanophone roster that was quickly extended through the presence of numerous international participants of an equally high nouveau, including, and perhaps most significantly and interestingly, by Nordiska Kompaniet, that Stockholm based department store that is and was so important in the development of interior and furniture design in Sweden, and who debuted at the Grassimesse in 1926. The same year that the Grassimesse debuted in its current home in Leipzig’s Grassi Museum.

Throughout the 1930s the success, and the reputation, of the Grassimesse continued to grow and influential institutions such as, for example, the Loheland-Werkstätten, Bing & Grøndahl porcelain, Orrefors glass, Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik, WMF, or Haël-Werkstätten für Künstlerische Keramik, alongside innumerable individual creatives from across all conceivable applied art, craft and design genres, showed and sold their work in Leipzig.

Then, as so oft in the (hi)story of Europe, came the War. And Leipzig subsequently found itself in the new East Germany.

And the Grassimesse paused.4

Until 1997 when it was reawakened as an annual event rooted very much in the traditions, demands and understandings of Graul’s Grassimesse, including the maintaining of the primary focus on quality and the very strict rule of entry by jury.

A jury who since 1997 have also been responsible for the selection of the various Grassimesse prize winners.

Yet despite the ongoing presence of design, and designers, at the Grassimesse since its earliest editions, there was no dedicated Grassimesse design prize.

And then in 2022 smow co-founder Jörg Meinel and Grassi Museum Director Olaf Thormann found themselves, by pure chance, and thanks to a little fortunate misfortune, in conversation, one of those unplanned, spontaneous, moments fate often springs upon us all; an unexpected, spontaneous, conversation which turned towards the Grassimesse, and from their very quickly led to the initiation of the smow-Designpreis. A design prize that not only seeks to fulfil a long term wish on the part the Grassi Museum to increase the amount of design at the Grassimesse, to make the Grassimesse more reflective of the fluid mix of applied art, craft and design that underscores the Grassi Museum’s collection and it’s understanding of itself as an institution, but for all a desire on the part of both smow and the Grassi Museum to offer a platform for younger designers seeking to establish themselves, a platform, a very visible platform, that for smow is also about seeking to give something back to design, an expression of an understanding of the necessity to care for the resources on which you depend, and not just selfishly use them, and for all an understandings of the importance in that caring of helping young growths become established in their environment, assisting the new growth that will ensure the future vitality of design.

But to achieve all that, designers are very much required. smow and the Grassi Museum can’t do it without you.

Interested? Fancy your chances?


Entering is easy: Whether as an individual, a group, a collective or a company you need to submit a short statement on your work and up to 5 photos representative of your current work, whereby as with all Grassimesse prizes, only works created in the last two years, and also available for sale, Grassimesse is a sales fair, will be considered for the smow-Designpreis. And while, yes, smow are very closely associated with furniture and interiors, are very passionate about furniture and interiors, are very keen to see what understandings and approaches to furniture and interiors are currently being developed and advanced, and equally keen to see more furniture and interior objects at the Grassimesse: furniture and interiors are much wider terms that they were in the early 1920s when the likes of, for example, Elisabeth von Baczko, Paul Lászlo, Josef Frank or the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau displayed their furniture at the Grassimesse, used the Grassimesse as a platform for a discourse on contemporary furniture and interiors. It’s a design prize, and smow is a very curious and open community. And loves diving headfirst into the unknown.

Winning is a little harder: Following the closing of applications the 2023 Grassimesse jury, a 12 member caucus whose number include Kai Lobjakas, Director of the Estonian Museum of Applied Arts and Design, Rita Rentzsch, Professor for interior design/spatial-functional theory at Burg Giebichenstein Halle, Sabine Epple, Curator of the Grassi’s Modern Collection and Axel Kufus, Professor at the Universität der Künste Berlin, will perform that ancient, solemn, task of selecting participants. And that same jury will, on the opening morning of the 2023 Grassimesse, view the physical works, chat to the responsible creatives, and select the prize winners. Including selecting the 2023, the inaugural, winner of the smow-Designpreis, and the associated €2,500, and all the publicity such an award brings with it.

And also recording for all time your central role in the opening of a new chapter in the long and illustrious (hi)story of both the Grassimesse and smow. For the 2023 Grassimesse smow-Designpreis is just the beginning.

Full details, and the all important terms of conditions of the 2023 Grassimesse, can be found at Applications close on Friday May 12th 2023.

Good luck!!!

1. Dr. L. St., Geschmack und Qualitäts-Steigerung auf der Leipziger Messe, Der Kunstwanderer, 1./2. Märzheft, 1920 page 279 Available via,info,text_ocr (accessed 09.04.2023)

2. ibid

3. Grassimesse is a contemporary term, and not that by which the pre-War events were known. However, in the interests of clarity and readability we apply it here to all editions regardless of what their actual title was. Apologies for the small deceit…….

4. Again, not entirely true. There were Grassimessen during the DDR years, but it’s a very complicated, if not uninteresting, story. One we shall return to at a later date, when we have the time and space it deserves. And so here, again in the interests of clarity and readability, we say it paused. Apologies, again, for the small deceit…….

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