What is a chair?
With the exhibition Chairs. For children only! the Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst, Leipzig, explore the (hi)story of and developments in children’s seating, and in doing so not only allow for insights into an all too often undervalued, underappreciated, ignored, genre of furniture, but also forces you to reconsider your response to what you thought was a very, very straightforward question…..
Much as with “Bauhaus”, “Memphis” is all too often popularly reduced to a “style”, something one can “recreate”.
As with “Bauhaus” that it is not only disingenuous, and erroneous, but hinders development of understandings of the (hi)story of design, understandings of the path taken to our contemporary design that are important for considerations on where we are and how best to progress.
With the showcase Memphis: 40 Years of Kitsch and Elegance the Vitra Design Museum Gallery issue an invitation for us all to delve a little deeper, to look below the plastic laminated surface.
Braun occupy a special, ¿unique?, position not only in the mythology of product design but also in the (hi)story of West Germany; arguably no brand is as closely related with and to West Germany as Braun.
With the exhibition Braun 100 the Bröhan-Museum, Berlin, explore the development of design at Braun in the post-War decades and in doing so help one approach differentiated understandings of not only Braun and Braun design, but also of the relationships between Braun, design and West Germany…….
“In his work the designer seeks to find the constancy of the good”, wrote Karl Clauss Dietel in 1973, a lightly articulated yet not so straightforward task for, as he continues, not only is the assessment of such dependent on a myriad varying factors, but “the search for what defines design, what it grows from, where it comes from and where it wants to go, takes on new dimensions against the background of our cultural upheaval”.1
With the exhibition Simson, Diamant, Erika. Formgestaltung von Karl Clauss Dietel the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz allow insights into not only how Karl Clauss Dietel understood “what defines design, what it grows from, where it comes from and where it wants to go” but how those understandings aided and abetted him in his own search for, understanding of, “the constancy of the good”…….
We go in withering July,
To ply the hard incessant hoe;
Panting beneath the brazen sky,
We sweat and grumble, but we go…..1
…..alternatively, skip the panting, sweating and grumbling with a visit to an air-conditioned museum.
Our recommendations for escaping the brazen sky of withering July 2021 can be found in Munich, Aalborg, Eisenhüttenstadt, Wrocław and Karlsruhe.
And as ever in these times, if you are planning visiting any exhibition please familiarise yourself in advance with the current ticketing, entry, safety, hygiene, cloakroom, etc rules and systems. And during your visit please stay safe, stay responsible, and above all, stay curious……
Although cultures very often arose in splendid isolation, only very few remained splendidly isolated for very long.
For much like a young child who having learned to walk intuitively understands what a powerful tool mobility is/can be and seeks to exploit it to the fullness of their abilities, so too did our youthful human civilisations very quickly understand that there was, in all probability, a world beyond their own, and began wandering, at first in their immediate vicinity but increasingly further afield. Increasingly beginning to settle in those further afields.
With the exhibition Cultural Affairs. Art without Borders the Grassi Museum für Angewandte Kunst Leipzig reflect on the thereby arising cultural exchange in context of art, craft and design…….
An Island; A Notion; A Context
In 1950 the Dutch architect and designer Mart Stam told a conference in Leipzig, “when I speak here for a group of individuals active in industry about the problem of industrial design, I do so because I believe that it is necessary for us to concern ourselves in detail with the question of industrial design, and also because I believe that through intensive work and cooperation in this field we can contribute to increasing the cultural quality of our goods.”1,2
With the exhibition The Early Years. Mart Stam, the Institute and the Collection of Industrial Design the Werkbundarchiv – Museum der Dinge Berlin elucidate that Stam did more than simply speak about “the problem of industrial design” in the, then, fledgling East Germany, that Mart Stam wasn’t the only person in 1950s East Germany interested in “increasing the cultural quality of our goods”, if ideas about how one defined “increasing” and “cultural quality” varied greatly; and in doing so allows insights into the development of industrial design in East Germany……
“I wonder what it would be like to live in a world where it is always June”, ponders Anne Shirley in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s 1915 novel Anne of the Island.
“You’d get tired of it”, sighs her adoptive mother Marilla Cuthbert by way of reply.
“I daresay”, responds Anne, “but just now I feel that it would take me a long time to get tired of it…”
Thoughts we very much concur with as we survey and contemplate the varied profusion of new architecture and design exhibitions sprouting forth in June 2021. Who could ever tire of such a joyous abundance? Who?
Our five recommendations from that early summer crop can be found in Leipzig, Hornu, Berlin, Bloomfield Hills and Chemnitz…….
“¿Qué es diseño?” asked Clara Porset in 1949. What is design?1
Not because she didn’t know. Far from it. Over the course of the preceding two decades Clara Porset had ably demonstrated her considered, critical and responsive understandings of design; understandings that saw her develop into one of the most important, interesting and informative furniture designers in Mexico, understandings that saw her develop into one of the more important, interesting and informative protagonist in the development of industrial design in Mexico.
Before she slipped from view and into the (relative) anonymity she finds herself today.
Before the more pertinent question became, ¿quién es Clara Porset?
“What would it mean to live life as lightly as possible?” asks the exhibition School of No Consequences. Exercises for a New Life at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, “what would it mean to live life in a way that had as small an impact as possible?”
In 1935 George Nelson opined that “the history of art in Italy presents the astonishing spectacle of a series of men who knew no boundaries between the arts”; a history, a tradition, Nelson saw continued into 1930s Italy through “the cheering example of Gio Ponti, who found early in life that no one profession was sufficient to use up his energy or exhaust his interests, and added others with the nonchalance of a small boy increasing his collection of marbles”.1
A borderless, inexhaustible collection of marbles explored and discussed in the new Gio Ponti monograph from TASCHEN Verlag……
According to Germanic folklore Mairegen bringt Segen, Rain in May brings blessings.
It also brings an excellent excuse to visit an architecture and/or design exhibition.
Our five recommended shelters from the showers in May 2021 can be found in Ulm, Stockholm, Baruth, Zürich and Hasselt……
As the title of Hella Jongerius’s 2016 book I don’t have a favourite colour succinctly explains, Hella Jongerius doesn’t have a favourite colour.
Not that Hella Jongerius is indifferent about colours.
Far from it.
And in explaining why colours are important to her, and why she doesn’t have a favourite colour, Hella Jongerius helps one approach a better understanding not only of colours, nor only of our relationships with and to colours, but also helps one approach a better understanding of the functionalities of colour…….
In 1956 the Dutch electronics conglomerate Phillips asked Le Corbusier if he would be interested in designing their pavilion for the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels.
Le Corbusier was.
Albeit, “je ne ferai pas de pavillon; je ferai un Poème électronique avec la bouteille qui contiendra“, “I will not create a pavilion; I will create a Poème électronique with the bottle to contain it.”1
And a pavilion/bottle/Poème électronique which offers an apposite starting point to approaching a differentiated image, a differentiated composition?, of Le Corbusier…….2
A Peninsula; An Archipelago; A Context
As the 19th century English poet Robert Browning so very, very, nearly phrased it:
Oh, to be in Berlin, Vienna, Chemnitz, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, or Berlin (again),
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in Berlin, Vienna, Chemnitz, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, or Berlin (again),
Sees, some morning a most interesting, entertaining and instructive sounding architecture and/or design exhibition,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough……
In the final decades of the 19th century the lands of the, then, German Empire, established themselves amongst the leading protagonists in the developments of contemporary applied arts as they moved towards that which we today term design. A leading position which, in certain regards, became a European dominance in the course of the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s through the contributions made to the evolving practices, processes, expressions and understandings of the period by institutions such as, and amongst many others, the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau, the Deutsche Werkbund, the Frankfurt city building authorities and, and perhaps most famously, the Bauhauses.
Then, as so oft in 1920s Europe, came the 1930s, the War and subsequently the establishment within (part of) the lands of the, former, German Empire two new nations: West Germany and East Germany.
And what became of the design understandings and approaches that had developed and evolved in that region over the previous half century?
That, to misquote Hamlet, is one of the questions the Vitra Design Museum pursue in German Design 1949–1989. Two Countries, One History.
“Conservative Hamburg only permits white paint for its ceilings, doors and windows, and, at most, economical gilding”, remonstrated once the decorative painter Peter Gustaf Dorén.1
And set about rectifying that, set about bringing more colour to Hamburg……
“One sits more comfortably on a colour that one likes” declares Verner Panton in his 1997 book Lidt om Farver/Notes on Colour.1
A succinct expression of an understanding of colour as more than just a decorative element, and one of many reflections on the function and relevance of colour beyond the merely decorative which, in a myriad guises, pervade the history of furniture and product design.
And contrasting, if at times complementary, reflections, pun intended, we will consider in the coming weeks and months via a selection of texts and pronouncements from a contrasting, if at times complementary, collection of international creatives. And while not all the sources considered represent theories in a classic understanding of the term, and certainly not colour theory in a classic understanding; in representing the respective creative’s understandings of the relationships between colour and form, colour and function, colour and user, colour and artistry, etc, can be considered as contributions to the development of a more formal design.colour.theory..
We start with Verner Panton and Lidt om Farver/Notes on Colour……
An Alma Mater; An Academy of Art; A colony of experimentation
Following the declaration of the French Republic in 1792 a new calendar was introduced in the realms of France: the Revolution had washed away France past and the Republic marked the start of a new reality for mankind, one of universal Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, and therefore demanded a resetting of the collective clock, a new measuring of time, and thus out went the Gregorian calendar and its historic associations with church and state, and in came le calendrier républicain, the French Republican Calendar.
And while, yes, one can consider the belief amongst the new republicans in the eternal gloriousness of the coming future as somewhat naive, one must remember that we can reflect on their optimism with the benefit of over 200 years hindsight and experience.
The argument for a new calendar appears however as compelling and self-evident as it must have done at its adoption on October 24th 1793. Or 3 Brumaire II, as we believe le calendrier républicain would date the day of its adoption.
Aside from its ten day week, an early attempt at bringing decimalisation to our time keeping, and the bequeathing of every day its own unique name, the principle difference between the Gregorian and Republican calendars is the move from the 12 months of varying lengths inherited from the Romans to twelve months each comprising thirty days, three ten day weeks, and the renaming of the months to give them a connection to nature rather than to Romans: the period between 19/20th February and 19/20th March, that period in which we find ourselves at the time of writing, being known as Ventôse, from venteux, windy, and was preceded by Pluviôse, rainy, and followed by Germinal, germination
Which all strikes us as particularly apposite as we move towards the next phase of our post-pandemic society; as a fresh wind blows the global rain clouds away and ushers in a period of re-birth and springing forth. Yes, such optimism may be as naive as that of the French revolutionaries, but we have a much better understanding of history today, and for all a much better understanding of the sense and logic in, utter necessity of, making use of the myriad lessons of history in order to avoid the pitfalls and follies of the past, and to allow us to chart an untroubled course forward……oh…..hang on……
Although, now is as good a time as any to start. The theory is known, we just need to move into the practice. And so given that all nations and all peoples have had their Corona tribulations should we not think about re-setting our global clocks, starting afresh at a new global year zero for a new global society?
We’ll leave others more qualified than us to work out the practicalities and technicalities, and decide on the basis of the nomenclature, and instead recommend here four new exhibitions scheduled to open in Germinal CCXX, and thus, one hopes, once the winds of Ventôse have begun to do their job, and also recommend a radio station that’s been online since the rains of Pluviôse….
Wandering aimlessly through the digital Marcel Breuer Archive one afternoon, we stumbled across a letter dated July 25th 1950 from Peter M Fraser, one of Breuer’s employees, to the Eames Office, enquiring about a lighting design by Charles and Ray that Breuer was interested in using in one of his architectural projects, and requesting…
…”a lighting design by Charles and Ray”???
Eames furniture ✔ Eames toys ✔ Eames exhibitions ✔ Eames textiles ✔ Eames films ✔ Eames photography ✔
But where is the lighting design in the portfolio of Charles and Ray Eames…?
In context of the exhibition Luigi Colani and Art Nouveau, the Bröhan-Museum Berlin’s staircase is emblazoned with a long quote from Colani, a long and typically outspoken quote, in which Luigi Colani denigrates the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, that design school which has such a prominent and pre-eminent position in popular understandings of design in post-War West Germany; and who for Luigi Colani were “defrauders of the German creative spirituality of the twenties and thirties! Imbecilic criminals.”1
A quote that not only neatly epitomises the (consciously cultivated) Colani communication strategy, nor only leads one to reflect on Colani’s own relationship to inter-War design in Germany, but for all leads one by necessity to question the validity of the accusation; and thereby to reflect on the relationship(s) between the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm and the “German creative spirituality of the twenties and thirties”, and by extrapolation to reflect on post-War design in West Germany……..
For popularly understood reasons not only did the 2021 edition of the IMM Cologne furniture trade fair not take place as planned in mid-January, neither did the 2021 edition of Cologne’s Passagen Interior Design Week…..
….which doesn’t mean that fresh contemporary design wasn’t to be found in Cologne in mid-January.
In an offline realised and online presented exhibition the assemblage Generation Köln introduced the results of their collaborations with the CIAV Meisenthal glassworks; a virtual exhibition, and very much hands-on project, that can now be explored via a short film……