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The Authority of Everyday Objects

The Authority of Everyday Objects: A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 361
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  • Book Info
    The Authority of Everyday Objects
    Book Description:

    From the Werkbund to the Bauhaus to Braun, from furniture to automobiles to consumer appliances, twentieth-century industrial design is closely associated with Germany. In this pathbreaking study, Paul Betts brings to light the crucial role that design played in building a progressive West German industrial culture atop the charred remains of the past.The Authority of Everyday Objectsdetails how the postwar period gave rise to a new design culture comprising a sprawling network of diverse interest groups-including the state and industry, architects and designers, consumer groups and museums, as well as publicists and women's organizations-who all identified industrial design as a vital means of economic recovery, social reform, and even moral regeneration. These cultural battles took on heightened importance precisely because the stakes were nothing less than the very shape and significance of West German domestic modernity. Betts tells the rich and far-reaching story of how and why commodity aesthetics became a focal point for fashioning a certain West German cultural identity. This book is situated at the very crossroads of German industry and aesthetics, Cold War politics and international modernism, institutional life and visual culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94135-9
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Design, the Cold War, and West German Culture
    (pp. 1-22)

    Philip Rosenthal, the longtime director of the world-renowned design firm Rosenthal AG and then-president of the German Design Council, offered the following comment in a 1978 interview about the cultural importance of West German industrial design: “If we consider what Bauhaus achievements and Braun design policies have done to offset the image abroad of the ‘despised German’ bent on war and economic power with that of the ‘good German,’ then we should enlist more monies and manpower to help continue this cultural foreign policy, especially since everyone already knows Goethe and Mozart.”¹ At first glance, such an opinion may seem...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Re-Enchanting the Commodity: Nazi Modernism Reconsidered
    (pp. 23-72)

    One of the most curious things about contemporary academic culture is the amount of recent attention devoted to what is now known as “fascist modernism.” These days there seems no end to the intense international preoccupation with a subject that only a generation ago was routinely regarded as reckless and even repugnant, more recycled Third Internationalism than legitimate scholarship.¹ This was especially true during much of the Cold War in Western Europe and the United States, where fascism and modernism were typically treated as intrinsically antithetical and morally incompatible. What has emerged quite clearly since the events of 1989, however,...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Conscience of the Nation: The New German Werkbund
    (pp. 73-108)

    Among those interested in the history of German modernism, the German Werkbund continues to attract wide attention. Even the wartime destruction of most of the original Werkbund archive has not deterred scholarly interest in the lasting importance of this colorful organization.¹ As discussed in the last chapter, the Werkbund occupies a prominent place in the larger story of modern German architecture and design. But surprisingly, its post-1945 career has passed largely unremarked in Werkbund commentaries. Though included in the more comprehensive documentary histories of the association, the postwar period has inspired little attention in its own right.² The reigning assumption...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Nierentisch Nemesis: The Promise and Peril of Organic Design
    (pp. 109-138)

    However important the revival of “good form” design was for the postwar generation, it was hardly West Germany’s only design culture in the 1950s. The decade also witnessed the explosion of a new “organic design” in West German domestic furnishings. This design wave generally went by the term “Nierentisch culture,” after its main icon, a small threelegged side table shaped rather like a kidney(Niere)(figure 22). Stylistically it was a firm rejection of the austere boxiness of neofunctionalism in favor of more playful lines, asymmetrical shapes, and bold colors. It represented a vital break from an unwanted past by...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Design and Its Discontents: The Ulm Institute of Design
    (pp. 139-177)

    In the larger narrative of twentieth-century German design, the Ulm Institute of Design (Hochschule für Gestaltung) continues to enjoy a powerful status. Given both its ambitious design program and its star-studded roster of instructors, which included not only the principal cast of Inge Scholl, Otl Aicher, Max Bill, and Tomás Maldonado, but also highprofile cultural figures such as the poet and critic Hans Magnus Enzensberger, the writer Martin Walser, and the filmmaker Alexander Kluge, it was obvious that this was no ordinary design school. Its well-publicized christening as the “New Bauhaus” in 1955 illustrated the extent to which the Ulm...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Design, Liberalism, and the State: The German Design Council
    (pp. 178-211)

    On April 4, 1951, the Rat für Formgebung, or German Design Council, was established by West Germany’s Bundestag as a new government agency charged with promoting “the best possible form of German products.” The creation of this national design council capped a hard-fought campaign by the German Werkbund to enlist government assistance in popularizing “good form” design. Called upon to protect the “competitive interests of both German industry and handicrafts as well as German consumers,” the council represented Bonn’s first and only attempt to wed the economic and cultural life of West German industrial commodities.¹ But unlike the Werkbund or...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Coming in from the Cold: Design and Domesticity
    (pp. 212-248)

    Despite the difficulties described in the preceding chapter, over the course of the 1950s the German Design Council’s moral design crusade managed to attract a wide range of adherents outside the more established “good form” design world. These people too worried about the dangerous effects of rampant consumerism, but their strategy to preserve the moral substance of the industrial commodity was very different, for they sought to do this by wedding modern design with the modern family. At issue, then, is how the private sphere was re-imagined during the decade, how the nature and understanding of domestic space were changing....

  12. CONCLUSION. Memory and Materialism: The Return of History as Design
    (pp. 249-264)

    In a 1984 interview Tomás Maldonado offered the following reflections about the Ulm Institute’s evangelical attitude:

    One must admit, however, that the propensity to assume the role and above all the rhetoric of the preacher was present in many of us. In short, the propensity to pontificate more than was necessary. Perhaps it was a result of the fact that we believed vehemently in the ideas we supported. An attitude which, one must underline, is currently on the road to extinction. And this led us to believe, in good faith, that we were the bearers of messages of salvation. ....

  13. Notes
    (pp. 265-318)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 319-338)
  15. Index
    (pp. 339-348)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 349-351)