“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.
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
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…..
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……
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.
In these dispatches we once doubted the prevalence of designer furniture in comics, noting and acknowledging the regular appearance of popular furniture designs in other visual media, we, off-handedly, opined, “… Designer furniture in a comic?”
Elegantly proving us very, very wrong the Vitra Design Museum’s exhibition Living in a Box. Design and Comics not only explores the use and depiction of designer furniture and lighting in comics, but also considers how comics have contributed to and influenced furniture and lighting design.
According to the Greek philosopher Anaximenes of Miletus, air is the source of everything.
And whereas in the intervening 2500 years we have come to better understand the true nature, character and properties of air, as the exhibtion Design on Air at the Centre d’innovation et de design Grand-Hornu illustrates, air remains a very potent, stimulating, and protean creative force.
In centuries past traditions were something that were established slowly, often becoming such long after those who had began them, who had understood their origins, meaning and function in contemporary society, had shuffled off this mortal coil; in our contemporary world traditions arrive over night, no-one having the patience to wait, no-one wanting to miss out on anything.
In which sense, celebrating in 2019 its second edition, our traditional 3daysofdesign Copenhagen #embassytour.
The German town of Boppard sits on two of the most pronounced and prominent curves on the Mittelrhein.
Can it be a coincidence that Boppard’s most famous son, Michael Thonet, is most popularly known for his curving bentwood chairs?
Can it really be a coincidence?
Possibly. Almost certainly.
What is less contentious is that the flow and meandering of first Michael Thonet’s creativity and vigour and subsequently that of the company Thonet has carved its mark not only on
the Rhenish Massif furniture design and on understandings of furniture, but also the furniture industry, from production to sales and distribution.
With the exhibition Thonet & Design the Neue Sammlung Munich embark on a voyage along some 200 years of Thonet design (hi)story.
More or less……
…..while 3 of the 5 have a direct connection to Bauhaus, 5 of the 5 are very much in the spirit of the attempts of inter-War architects and designers to reform architecture and design, to establish a new architecture and design for the new society, attempts in which Bauhaus played an important role.
And for those seeking escape from Dessau and Weimar, figuratively not physically, we refer you to our more general 5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for May 2019 recommendations….
While the shortlist of exhibitions for this column is regularly long, that for May 2019 was particularly so.
And particularly tricky. Perusing it we saw no realistic chance of getting it down to five, all made good claims for inclusion, none deserved to be ignored……
Then we noticed that, with a little bit tweaking, we could get two lists: one featuring those exhibitions directly connected with Bauhaus/Inter-War architecture and design, and one featuring those less directly connected.
The Bauhaus/Inter-War architecture and design list will follow, but for all keen to explore architecture and design in a wider context, five new exhibitions opening in May 2019 in Munich, New York, Berlin, Basel & Villingen-Schwenningen, you may like to consider visiting……..
Sitting, quietly, unobtrusively, in the north-western corner of Germany, Oldenburg is, in many regards, a near textbook example of a provincial town. Which we don’t mean as an insult. Doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. In any sense less worthy than elsewhere. Much more Oldenburg is the sort of self-contained community that exists not so much independent of the rest of the world, but without the rest of the world noticing. Or Oldenburg caring if they notice. Oldenburg has its (hi)stories, its intrigues, its characters, its dramas, its ways, its understandings, the sheer number of cafes in the pedestrianised town centre confirming that it does, and that is all important for Oldenburg. But Oldenburg is inconspicuous. Oldenburg isn’t the sort of place that is ever going to feature on the news, is never casually referenced in TV programmes, magazine articles or radio discussions, if they have a football team, then not one who play in a league you’ve ever heard of. Oldenburg is the sort of place one is from, but one would never move to. Respectable, decorous, correct, happy, unassuming. Provincial.
And thus surely not the sort of place to be troubled by something as radical, avant-garde and reformist as Bauhaus.
And, as the exhibition Between Utopia and Adaptation. The Bauhaus in Oldenburg in the Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte discusses, was not only troubled by, but actively contributed to.
“I first saw resilient tubular steel furniture designed by Professor Mies van der Rohe in September 1927 at the exhibition “Samt und Seide” in Berlin, objects which made a very deep impression on me, because I felt and saw that here, for the first time, was a meaningful way to utilise the forces inherent in tubular steel.” Anton Lorenz, 27th March 19391
Because discussions on the steel tube furniture that, in many regards, characterises the inter-War period tend to focus on the designers and architects, it can be all too easily forgotten that without those who identified the potential, those who not only understood the significance of the new developments of the period, but had the requisite skills to bring the ideas of a, relatively, small group of creatives to the market, steel tube furniture may not today enjoy the fascination and following that it does.
Certainly wouldn’t stand as characteristic of the inter-War period.
Amongst those who played a leading a role in such developments was the Hungarian born designer and entrepreneur Anton Lorenz. With the exhibition From Avant-Garde to Industry the Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot not only explain Anton Lorenz’s role in the development of inter-War furniture, but also his post-War contributions to an, apparently, contradictory furniture genre……
Aside from the, inevitable, consolidation the main theme at Milan Furniture Fair 2019, and the one which occupied us much more than that which was on show for our perusal, is/was the international furniture industry’s increasing hunger for data; a hunger which embodied itself at Milan 2019 in a exponential surge in the number of manufacturers requiring potential stand visitors to either pre-register, submit a business card or have their Fair ticket scanned before being allowed onto the stand.
No data. No entry.
And a state of affairs on which we have penned several hundred (agitated) words; but, this is neither the time nor place for them. We will however return to them at a later date, not least because the scale of the shift we witnessed at Milan 2019 suggests that as a development it is on it way to becoming standard. Which ain’t good.
Elsewhere the halls of Milan were busier with visitors in 2019 than we remember them for many a long a year, the weather in 2019 cooler than we remember for many a long year, and despair and delight stood as close to one another as every year
And in that sense, and as ever accepting we may have missed one or two gems, not least because we decided against sharing our data in order to view new items of furniture manufacturers had, allegedly, brought to Milan to promote, and so subsequently weren’t on a lot of stands, a smow Blog Milan 2019 High Five!!
“Beware the Ides of March” Julius Caesar was, allegedly, advised by the soothsayer Spurinna. And he probably wished he had. March 15th seeing his death at the hands of some 60 Senators, a death which led to civil war as opposing forces sought to control Rome’s destiny.
“Beware the 5th of the Calends of April” a modern day Spurinna would no doubt warn the good folks of the United Kingdom. March 29th looking as it is like being an equally fateful day.
But while Caesar could have taken steps to prevent his demise, the fate of the good folks of the United Kingdom is out of their hands, they must wait and see what an ideologically driven group of some 60 Conservative
Senators MPs have in store…….
And while we all wait, what could be more enriching than that which helps set the temporality of politicians’ decisions against the irrepressible force of social and cultural evolution; a force parliamentarian laws can delay but never stop, and a truth one finds elegantly mirrored in architecture and design.
Our five recommendations for new exhibitions opening in March 2019 can be found in Frankfurt, Brussels, Chemnitz, London and Magdeburg.
“On, on, on, cried the leaders at the back….”
As regular readers will be aware, in these dispatches we, very, very occasionally, quietly bemoan a certain monotony at furniture trade fairs, protest that, if you will, we regularly find ourselves wading through an homogenous mass.
On this occasion we will however let someone else make that observation on our behalf.
In his 2015 book Swedish Design: An Ethnography the American anthropologist Keith M. Murphy notes of a visit to the 2006 Stockholm Furniture Fair, “[T]he only problem was, so much of the stuff here looked so similar, and I had a difficult time anchoring myself in the exhibition’s plan”, continuing later that, “[T]he place is predominantly suffused not with a variety of different kinds of objects, but rather with a variety of different objects of the same general kind.”1
So 2006. So 2019.
Though interestingly he does also note that, “one cannot evade the impression that Sweden endures under a tyranny of simple forms and solid bright colours”. These days it’s more solid pastel tones, but…..
Such isn’t exclusive to Stockholm, but can be experienced wherever the furniture industry meet to display their wares. Clearly there are a host of varied, arguably inter-related, causes for such a situation, but here is neither the time nor the space to discuss them; the consequence, however, is that walking through the halls of any give trade fair one finds that while many objects do speak to you, they all tend to do so with a repetition of the same limited vocabularies, often in a very forced, insecure, equivocal manner, and which thus, very quickly, becomes tiresome.
However as Keith M Murphy also notes, “not everything fit [sic] the model” and there are not only always objects to be found with something interesting to say, but which say that in an intelligent, literate and engaging fashion.
And so, and as ever, with the understanding that we have inevitably missed and/or not properly understood several gems, a smow blog Stockholm Furniture Fair 2019 High 5!!
According to US gonzo journalist, Hunter S Thompson, “the human animal needs a Good Reason to get out of bed on a wretched morning in February.” 1
May we humbly suggest…….
According to the posters to be found liberally distributed throughout the city, IMM Cologne 2019 promised to present “1000 furnishings ideas for your home”
And it may very well have done. We didn’t count. Not least because….
What interest the number, if the ideas themselves ain’t meaningful?
What interest the number, if the ideas themselves ain’t logical?
What interest the number, if the ideas themselves ain’t justifiable?
Or reducing the thought to its essence, what interest the idea if it ain’t meaningful, logical and justifiable?
1 meaningless, illogical and unjustifiable idea being every bit as undesirable and harmful as 1000.
As Brexit so poetically underscores.
And so while we can’t confirm there were a 1000 ideas, we can confirm that the principle idea at IMM Cologne 2019 was “consolidation”, the presentation of familiar lines in different colours, materials, heights, widths, etc….
Which, yes, is a comment we make a lot about furniture trade fairs, one we get the impression we’re making ever more often, one we feel will ultimately see us stop attending such; but a comment that, as ever, isn’t a complaint, far from it. It needn’t, shouldn’t, always be new, new, new. If it is it becomes fashion, not furniture. And thoroughly awful.
Whereby one must add IMM Cologne featured some very intelligent, meaningful, logical, justifiable, consolidations. Consolidation ≢ bad.
But there does also need to be new. Because on the one hand technology and materials are ever new, and furniture designers and the, and for want of a better phrase, designer furniture industry, have a duty to respond to those changes; on the other society is ever new, and by extrapolation so are the demands we place on our furniture, be that functionally, aesthetically or environmentally, and furniture designers and the designer furniture industry have a duty to respond to those changes; and on the rare, and especially valuable third hand, in order to advance we need that which we didn’ know we needed, that which we could never have imagined being without, even though we could never imagine being with, that which questions the accepted. Responding to such new realities, challenging conventions, presenting solutions based on a singular understanding of the reality, is the basis of what ultimately became the designer furniture industry and the furniture designer, and the future of both can only be found in the same.
Or put another way, the balance between the established and the new needs to remain healthy if the, for want of a better phrase, designer furniture industry, is to remain relevant.
And so, and as ever with the assumption we have missed one or the other delight, and/or not fully understood something we did see, a smow Blog IMM Cologne 2019 High Five!!
On December 10th 1869 Gebrüder Thonet voluntarily relinquished their 1856 Privilege in respect of “The manufacture of chairs and table legs made of bent wood, the bending facilitated by the action of steam or simmering liquids”; thereby ending not only a thirteen year monopoly during which time Thonet became a firmly established global brand, but also the culmination of a neigh on three decade story which highlights the importance of patent protection in the furniture industry.
French designer Ionna Vautrin first reached a broad international public with her Binic lamp for Italian manufacturer Foscarini, a design which, it’s fair to say, is/was one of those genuinely, gloriously, joyous moments in the (hi)story of lighting design, a work full of character yet devoid of vanity, universally applicable yet always individual.
Ionna Vautrin is however more than Binic: before Binic Ionna had enjoyed a varied, international career working with a diverse roster of studios and across an equally diverse range of design genres. Since Binic Ionna had enjoyed a varied, international career working with a diverse roster of manufacturers and across an equally diverse range of design genres.
Keen to know more we met up with Ionna Vautrin in Paris…….
At Orgatec Cologne 2016 Vitra staged, in effect, their own trade fair, renting an entire hall and inviting family and friends along to share the space and their ideas on the future of work.
And obviously had a lot of fun and/or success with the concept.
For at Orgatec Cologne 2018 they once again staged the Vitra Fair……. Work
History is not only written by the winners, and re-written by those who can’t accept the facts of their defeat, but history is also the story of the visible, those who are invisible having nothing to contribute.
With the exhibition Against Invisibility – Women Designers at the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau 1898 to 1938 the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden not only re-introduce nineteen, largely, forgotten female creatives, and therefore allow their contributions’ to history to be recorded, but in doing so allow for new understandings of the development of design in the first decades of the 20th century, the (hi)story of the Werkstätten Hellerau, and also reflections on today’s contemporary furniture design industry.
As previously, and repeatedly, noted, one of the defining aspects about an office furniture fair such as Orgatec Cologne is that wherever one looks one sees a similar vista. Whereas in terms of domestic furnishings there are enough genres of furniture and interpretations of those genres to allow for a, at least relatively when not necessarily satisfyingly, varied landscape, office furniture is much more limited, not only doesn’t have the variety of genres, but has a few that are essentials; consequently every manufacturer has very similar product lines, every manufacturer has, for example, a height-adjustable desk, a sofa with high sides, a desk height rocking stool, a modular bench system, and an office chair with flat, slightly organic quadratic armrests that resemble cutlery Georg Jensen may have produced in the 1960s. The differences are, generally, to be found in terms of mechanisms, connection systems, interfaces, materials or textiles, so very technical aspects. Very important aspects, very fundamental aspects, but things that aren’t necessarily instantly visible. Hence the visual monotony. And aspects which when explored in detail aren’t always that interesting/innovative/engaging/sensible/relevant/practical/functional/etc. It’s a tiring, thankless, business working your way through such a landscape.
Particularly a landscape such as Orgatec 2018 which was, at least as we experienced it, largely about consolidation, about manufacturers extending existing product families or presenting existing products in new materials, new textiles, new colours, new fragrances, etc, etc…..
Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a thankless and fruitless task, just thankless, and thus, and with the standard disclaimer that we have invariably missed numerous genuine highlights, a smow blog Orgatec Cologne 2018 High 5!!
The top story from Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 is that use of the toilets is free. Jubilation all round!! Much as we like to think our campaign against the previous 50 cent charge was responsible, we suspect the answer lies elsewhere. But we made a stand, and that’s what’s important.
As is the fact that freed from our rage at the intolerability of the charges, and the thus ensuing intolerable bladder pressure, we could concentrate freely on the objects on show.
Accepting, as ever, that we missed one or the other genuine delight, a Biennale Interieur Kortrijk 2018 High 5!!
Whereas today the term “design” is regularly understood as an adjective or a noun, its origin is as a verb. It is something one does.
The interesting and relevant being that everyone does it differently.
With the exhibition Process the centre d’innovation et de design au Grand-Hornu explore Belgian designer Benoît Deneufbourg’s definition of that verb.
It is a universal rule of life that some of the most pleasing things occur unplanned, and that is certainly the case when visiting a design week, events where the disappointment that invariably arises visiting shows you intended to, is quickly offset by something you stumble across per chance.
So too was it as we turned into the Rue des Coutures-Saint-Gervais, our thoughts less concerned with where we were or where we were going as with where we had been and for all why we’d been where we’d been, then we passed number 14. Stopped. Went back…..