Whereas politics, economics or sport in West Germany and East Germany are well and widely studied, and the similarities and differences regularly and publicly analysed and contextualised, thereby allowing for more refined, nuanced, popular understandings; design in and from the two Germanys remains, largely, a niche subject for a small band of specialists, and on a popular level something not only repeatedly reduced to a few works, institutions and protagonists, but also defined by understandings that, popularly, have barely changed since 1989.
With the exhibition German Design 1949–1989. Two Countries, One History the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden challenge those ingrained understandings and thereby allow for the development of more differentiated and detached perspectives……
In her 1929 essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf, as a component of her reflections on the myriad subjects of ‘women and fiction’, reads her way, chronologically, through a bookcase of works written by women from across the centuries.
Here We Are! Women in Design 1900 – Today at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, has the feeling of Virginia Woolf’s bookcase, allowing as it does for reflections on, and a critical questioning of, the myriad subjects of ‘women and design’…….
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.
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….
Alongside the Chinese and Korean New Year celebrations one of the most popular observances in any given February is, arguably, the Feast Day of Saint Valentine on February 14th; St Valentine famously being the patron saint of
greetings card manufacturers, lovers, but less famously, if just as importantly, also offering protection from the plague.
Now while the misanthropes amongst you will query whether love and plague aren’t synonyms, and a pox upon you for that; this February 14th we could all do with not only a little love, but a goodly dose of plague protection. And so rather than the traditional veneration of St Valentine through the distribution of hurriedly purchased and poorly considered flowers and chocolates, how about we all agree to celebrate the life of St Valentine through taking a little more care of one another, spreading a little more communal love and a little less plague, taking the weight of his shoulders for a few hours………….?
Beyond offering protection to lovers and from the plague, and protecting beekeepers, St Valentine also offers protection to travellers, which sadly no-one is these days. But those days will come again.
Until they do we continue with our hybrid exhibitions recommendations lists: that for February 2021 featuring a trio of offline exhibitions in Weil am Rhein, Hamburg und Falkenberg, and while they in all probability wont open as planned, will open, and before they do offer impetus for a little self study, and also two online highlights to explore, research and, for all, enjoy at your leisure.
Perhaps on February 14th, for as we all know, the couple that develop and deepen their design understandings together, stay together……
“It’s not possible to define a style in my work”1, opined once the Italian architect and designer Gae Aulenti.
With the exhibition Gae Aulenti: A Creative Universe, the Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot don’t contradict that opinion, but do provide for a framework for considerations on its validity……
With the exhibition Citizen Office the Vitra Design Museum staged not only their first conceptual, research based, exhibition, but also one of the first museal reflections on “the world of the office”.
Reflections which not only pointed towards new directions and understandings then, but which offer insights and lessons for today…….
The museums may be closed, travel restricted and leaving your home, when possible, unadvised….. but that’s no reason to restrict your cultural uptake, far less neglect the development of your architecture and design understandings.
Or put another way, if you can’t get to the museum….. let the museum come to you.
Five online architecture and design exhibitions and museum collections to explore from your sofa, bed, garden, balcony, wherever…..
“What is the goal?” asked Elsie de Wolfe in 1913 in context of domestic interior design.
“A house”, she answered, “that is like the life that goes on within it, a house that gives us beauty as we understand it and beauty of a nobler kind that we may grow to understand, a house that looks amenity.”1
How Elsie de Wolfe understood such, and how over the intervening century and a bit understandings of life, beauty, nobler beauty, amenity, the goal(s) of domestic interior design have developed and expanded are explored and discussed in the Vitra Design Museum’s exhibition Home Stories: 100 Years, 20 Visionary Interiors.
According to Goethe,
Without the Fastnacht’s dance and masquerade ball
February has little to offer at all.1
Rubbish! Absolute rot!
Our recommendations for new architecture and design exhibitions opening during February 2020 in Weil am Rhein, New York, Vienna, Houston and Kerkrade which ably demonstrate that February has much more to offer than carnival, and for all that February can provide for a greater degree of cerebral gratification than sensual………
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…….
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…..
“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……
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…….
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.
“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……
“Form should not be finite but should be amorphous, so that the experience within is loose, meandering and multiple” – Balkrishna Doshi1
With the exhibition Architecture for the People the Vitra Design Museum explore Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi’s understanding of, belief in and approach to realising the amorphous, the social, the humane, in architecture.
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…….
If Jean-Claude Juncker gets his way October 2018 could see the clocks of Europe turned back an hour for the final time.
And thereby bringing to an end the long tradition of local newspapers publishing bi-annual articles documenting the curious tales and legends of town clocks, stories from the Schwarzwald on the largest and smallest cuckoo clocks, and photographs of horologists surrounded by the 350+ clocks and watches they need to reset.
For our part, we’ll miss them.
It will also mean you won’t have that extra hour the last Sunday in October to enjoy an extra leisurely visit to an architecture and/or design exhibition, so take the chance while you can…..
Our five recommendations for using that extra hour in October 2018 can be found in Hamburg, Weil am Rhein, Zürich, Paris and Helsinki.
Victor Papanek’s contention that “There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a very few of them”, remains one of the most pertinent considerations on the design profession, because it succinctly underscores that in what they do designers directly and indirectly impact not only the user/consumer of that which they design, but also on all those involved in the production, distribution and disposal of that which they design. And thereby, directly and indirectly, on our environment.
A pertinence that remains relevant despite the opinion being voiced in 1971.
With the exhibition Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design the Vitra Design Museum not only present the first major retrospective of Victor Papanek, his life and work but also investigate his wider contemporary relevance.
And indicate how designers could be less harmful, more useful…..
According to Germanic lore, “ein guter Septemberregen kommt nie ungelegen“, a good rain in September is never inopportune.
This year arguably more so than ever.
Similarly a good architecture and design exhibition in September is never inopportune.
And, and keeping with rain metaphors, while we can all remember what rain is, September 2018, sees a proper downpour of new architecture and design exhibitions. A downpour that is particularly opportune. Following July’s drought and its meagre 4 recommendations we have a ongoing deficit of one in our annual quota, the current deluge however means that for September 2018 we can present 6.
And so grab your umbrellas and take yourselves to an architecture and/or design exhibition this September. Our recommendations can be found in Kolding, Munich, London, Herford, Moscow and Weil am Rhein……..
In his Ron Arad monograph Restless Furniture Deyan Sudjic notes that the Sticks & Stones furniture crusher Arad developed for the exhibition Nouvelles Tendances staged by the Centre de Creation Industriel Paris in 1987 was itself only saved from the crusher through the post-exhibition “intervention of a friendly Swiss furniture manufacturer.”1
While all Swiss furniture manufacturers are friendly, one particularly friendly Swiss furniture manufacturer springs to mind whenever the discussion turns to furniture design as being more than the shape of a chair, furniture design as a cultural imperative or the preservation of furniture design heritage.
As if confirmation were needed, the Sticks & Stones crusher greets visitors to the Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot exhibition Ron Arad: Yes to the Uncommon!
Nightclubs and discos are not only about entertainment and sensory overload, but also provide a society with means of expression and reflection.
With the exhibition Night Fever. Designing Club Culture 1960 – Today the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein explore five decades of club culture.
With the exhibition Hans J. Wegner: Designing Danish Modern the Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot explores the oeuvre of one of the Grand Doyens, and arguably one of the most widely misconstrued protagonists, of 20th century Danish design.
Arguably because Passover/Easter is early this year, every, but every, museum is opening a major exhibition in the course of March 2018, in preparation for the unofficial start of the tourist season in April.
A situation which leaves us with the daunting possibility of creating 5 such Top 5 lists. And still having some exhibitions left over.
Faced with a similar situation back in November 2017 we referred to the abundance of options which lay before us as being akin to “gardens mottled with the vibrant leaves of autumn”, here it is much more the case of lawns bestrewn with the tantalising hues of Easter Eggs. And while some will unquestionably be those disappointingly hollow ones, the majority look like being solid lumps of architecture and design endorphin loaded goodness into which to sink your teeth, and thereby celebrate the end of winter’s paucity and the coming spring.
In that sense, our top 5 new architecture and design EGGsibitions for March 2018 …. Bon appétit!!!