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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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 Objects "details 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.

Excerpt

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 creating a new visual vocabulary of restored optimism and material prosperity. Nierentisch design very much captured the decade, as evidenced by its strong presence in '50s everyday life and in the memories of West Germans a generation later. Significantly, it also developed a certain concept of both design and designer in stark opposition to its “good form” counterpart. Yet it was by no means universally welcomed as the new aesthetic of renewal and progress. On the contrary, the popularity of Nierentisch design soon gave rise to a counter-crusade by high design publicists and West German intellectuals, who roundly condemned it as crass department store kitsch and irresponsible design. Thus this '50s design fad offers an alternative account of West German modernism, particularly in its provoking such serious discussion about the very form of a progressive post-Nazi commodity culture.

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