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

By Paul Betts | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
Design, the Cold War, and West German Culture

Even the humblest material artefact, which is the product and symbol of a particular civilization, is an emissary of the culture out of which it comes.

T. S. Eliot,Notes Toward the Definition of Culture

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 nothing more than unmeasured enthusiasm from a well-known entrepreneur and design publicist interested in pitching his country's wares. Never mind that Mozart was Austrian, nor need one linger over what Rosenthal meant by “everyone already knows” these great luminaries past. What is so striking about the passage is his casual assumption about the elective affinity of industrial design and the rehabilitation of the “good German. ” Rosenthal's remark prompts several questions: What exactly did industrial design have to do with West Germany's “cultural foreign policy”? What was so special about the modernist idioms of Bauhaus and Braun that they acquired such transformative cultural power? Or, more broadly, what were the imagined connections among commodity styling, cultural progress, and national identity?

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction - Design, the Cold War, and West German Culture 1
  • Chapter One - Nazi Modernism Reconsidered 23
  • Chapter Two - The New German Werkbund 73
  • Chapter Three - The Promise and Peril of Organic Design 109
  • Chapter Four - The Ulm Institute of Design 139
  • Chapter Five - The German Design Council 178
  • Chapter Six - Design and Domesticity 212
  • Conclusion - The Return of History as Design 249
  • Notes 265
  • Bibliography 319
  • Index 339
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