Armchair with retractable backrest, so-called “Senftenberger Ei”, design: Peter Ghyczy, 1968, VEB Synthesewerk Schwarzheide, around 1971.
© Kunstgewerbemuseum, Dresden State Art Collections, Photo: Gunter Binsack

German design achieved worldwide renown at the beginning of the 20th century, after having been shaped by the Bauhaus and Werkbund. After 1949, it underwent a development as surprising as it was unique: the pre-war approaches continued on in both parts of the divided country, with completely different omens. The Vitra Design Museum, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden’s Kunstgewerbemuseum and Wüstenrot Foundation have together conceived an exhibition entitled “German Design 1949–1989. Two Countries, One History”. Over 30 years after reunification, it will be the first-ever major comprehensive exhibition to study German design history of the post-war era. It will present the different environments that people lived in as well as the parallels and links on both sides of the wall.

The image of post-war German design was often determined by clichés, both in the East and in the West. People said that East German design was simple and comprised cheap, colourful plastics and elastics. West Germany, on the other hand, was said to be dominated by sober functionalism. The exhibition wishes to sweep away generalisations such as these and turn a nuanced gaze towards the protagonists, from Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot in the West to Rudolf Horn and Margarete Jahny in the East. It will also present defining institutions such as Burg Giebichenstein in Halle and the Ulm School of Design. Other subjects raised include the continuation of Bauhaus thought and use of design as a form of protest during the 1980s.

Germany’s “special history” also enables an examination of design’s role in capitalism and in socialism. In the West, design became an engine for Germany’s export economy, whereas in the East, it was intended to advance the planned economy and make products affordable for the masses. The exhibition, which has received funding from the Federal Republic of Germany’s Federal Foreign Office, will be making its first stop at the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein from 20 March to 5 September 2021. After that it will be on display at the Kunsthalle in Lipsiusbau, Dresden, from 15 October 2021 to 20 February 2022.

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