At the time of Germany’s defeat in World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm II fled to Holland, thus ending two generations of imperial rule that had begun when Germany became a nation in 1871. The power breach was quickly filled by the Social Democratic Party, which, on November 9, 1918, declared Germany a republic. The Social Democrats first attempted to employ the regular army to quell an uprising in Berlin by the far left-wing Spartacus League and to quash a nascent Soviet-style republic in Bavaria, but they soon had to resort to the use of vigilantes known as the Freikorps to repress the revolutionaries. With order more or less secured, the Social Democrats conducted elections for a National Assembly to write a new constitution. Hoping for a large turnout, they commissioned posters from some of the leading Expressionist artists such as Cesar Klein (1879–1940), Heinz Fuchs (1886–1961), and Max Pechstein (1881–1955). The overall intent of the poster campaign was to unite the disparate groups of Germans in support of the Assembly’s work. However, response to the posters was uneven and the workers were particularly critical. Either they found the Expressionists’ drawings lacking in realism or else they thought the portrayal of the working class was too bleak. One poster that may have had a more positive effect was Max Pechstein’s Do not strangle the newborn freedom through disorder and killing your brothers. Your children could go hungry. Though the poster stressed dire consequences for supporting the Socialists, it presented a child clutching a flag as a hopeful symbol for the new republic.
Even though some posters failed, the electorate still supported the Social Democrats, making them the largest party in the National Assembly. For safety’s sake, the Assembly decided to convene in Weimar, a small town, where the great German literary figures Goethe and Schiller once lived. There, the delegates wrote the new constitution, which was the most liberal in Europe, giving women the right to vote.
Despite the Socialist victory, however, the Weimar Republic was replete with extremist groups on both the left and right. During the 14 years of its existence, the republic was rife with the tension of conflicting values, which were as readily manifest in the realms of art, architecture, design, literature, and music as they were in partisan politics. The left was most prominently represented by the Communist Party, founded in 1919, while the extreme right rallied around the National Socialist German Workers’ Party whose leader was Adolf Hitler. More moderate factions on the right yearned for a return to the imperial regime of Kaiser Wilhelm II, during which Germany had enjoyed economic prosperity and international respect.
Until 1923, Germany faced severe shortages of food and fuel, harsh demands for reparations by the victors in World War I, and runaway inflation which, at its worst, could multiply the price of a loaf of bread 40 or 50 times within the span of a few hours. The stabilization of the currency in 1924, the easing of Germany’s debt payment schedule (Dawes Plan), and large short-term loans from investors in the United States helped the economy considerably and by 1927 German production had regained its impressive 1913 level. The American stock market crash in 1929 and its ensuing affect on Germany, however, resulted in the recall of loans and reintroduced a period of economic and then political chaos. The National Socialist or Nazi Party rose to power on this misery, desperation, and anger. Hitler, a dedicated opponent of democracy, became the last chancellor of the republic on January 30, 1933.
Germany’s defeat in World War I was a setback to the promotion of its commercial goods abroad. Not only had World War I caused damage to prominent German industries, but also the nation’s products were less welcome in foreign markets. During its Cologne exhibition in 1914, the Werkbund had initiated an intense debate about the future of industrial production that set Herman Muthesius’s espousal of standardized product types against Henry van de Velde’s claim that the individual artist was still the best person to develop new ideas for industrial goods. The debate was interrupted by the war, which, if anything, strengthened the mechanization of German industry, thus posing a challenge to those who supported Handwerk or craft.
When the Werkbund reconvened after the war, its members remained divided in their attitudes towards the crafts. At the organization’s meeting in September 1919, Hans Poelzig (1869–1936), one of Germany’s leading architects, urged in a keynote speech that a line be drawn between the world of industry and the world of art and craft. Poelzig equated industry with soulless profit-seeking materialism, while art and craft, he said, were based on the value of work for its own sake. Only artists and craftsmen, he argued, could create objects of lasting value. Though Poelzig’s talk garnered some enthusiasts, many Werkbund members remained skeptical of his moral distinction between industrial production and craft. Among those who disagreed with him, Robert Bosch (1861–1942), a manufacturer of well-designed automotive products, was incensed at Poelzig’s dismissal of the automobile as ephemeral art and his denigration of industrial design in comparison to art and architecture.
Poelzig’s identification of industrial design with soulless capitalism helps explain why members of left-wing cultural movements that arose after the war such as the Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Workers’ Council for Art), a left-wing association of artists and architects, and the Novembergruppe (November Group), a radical artists’ organization, expressed such antipathy to industry and adopted instead the pre-industrial community as their embodiment of utopia.
The espousal of Arbeitsrat ideals by Walter Gropius (1883–1969), who became director of the Bauhaus in April 1919 and was also a member of the Werkbund, is an interesting case in point. Before the war, Gropius worked briefly in the office of Peter Behrens, the former design director for the AEG, and designed the bodywork of a locomotive and the interior of a sleeping car for the railway factory in Königsberg. With Adolf Meyer, he also designed the Fagus shoe-last factory, one of the early buildings in Germany with a glass curtain wall. Gropius’s shift from an architecture and design practice embedded in industrial culture to a pre-industrial vision of craftsmanship and communitarian life has never been explained and one can only speculate as to why it occurred. As a member of the Arbeitsrat, Gropius may have been influenced by the war’s destruction to turn away from big business and embrace instead the vision of a simpler past where Handwerk and community spirit represented the moral high ground. He incorporated many of the Arbeitsrat pronouncements into the founding manifesto of the Bauhaus, among which was the claim that all the crafts should be united under the wing of a great architecture.
Gropius collaborated in the Arbeitsrat with the architect Bruno Taut (1880–1938), one of its founders. In 1919 and 1920, Taut, who was also a member of the Werkbund, published two books, Alpine Architecture (Plate 05) and The Dissolution of Cities, in which he called for a return to the land and the creation of small communities based on craft production and farming. In these communities, Taut envisioned temples of glass, following the mystical theories of glass architecture espoused by the poet and novelist Paul Scheerbart.
Within the Werkbund, Taut and Gropius were part of a radical faction that continued to challenge the organization’s traditional ideals. However, by 1921 the Werkbund began to return gradually to its pre-war concern with the quality of Germany’s manufactured goods. That year it sponsored a Haus Werkbund (Werkbund House) at the new Frankfurt fair, which was intended to demonstrate its concern for well-made products as pre-war exhibitions had done. However, the exhibit featured luxury items made primarily for export rather than less expensive goods for the impoverished German consumers who were beset by food shortages and inflation. The Haus Werkbund was yet to find a suitable mission in the new post-war environment. Flanked on one side by the utopian visionaries of the Arbeitsrat and the early Bauhaus and on the other by the proponents of standardization who sought to adapt Frederick Winslow Taylor’s principles of scientific management to German industrial production, the Werkbund in the early 1920s was in search of a place in the new industrial order.
Although Gropius and Taut, as members of the Arbeitsrat, were critical of industrial capitalism in a broad sense, they did not attack the new German republic directly as did members of the Dada group in Berlin between 1917 and 1920. In Zurich, Dada was associated with the disruptive performances of the Cabaret Voltaire, which had no specific political agenda, but in Berlin, the Dadaists initially focused their artistic enmity on the ruling class that had brought Germany into World War I, and then, after the war, they attacked the new Weimar Republic itself.
Richard Huelsenbeck brought the name “Dada” with him when he returned to Berlin from Zurich in early 1917. Around the same time, independently of Huelsenbeck, Wieland Herzfelde (1896–1988) started a left-wing publishing venture, the Malik-Verlag, whose first publication was the political newspaper Neue Jugend (New Youth). It lasted for two issues before the censors closed it down. Neue Jugend was designed by Wieland’s brother, Helmut Herzfelde (1891–1968), who exchanged his German name for an English one, John Heartfield, as a protest against German nationalism. Heartfield had studied commercial art at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Art) in Munich and as a young student he is said to have admired the posters of Ludwig Hohlwein. After moving to Berlin, however, he adopted a sober approach to layout, while substituting roman fonts for the traditional German Fraktur type. When he did use a Fraktur face, he always did so selectively and ironically.
In 1918, Huelsenbeck joined with Heartfield and other artists and writers, including Raoul Hausmann (1886–1971), Hannah Hoch (1889–1978), Johannes Baader (1875–1955), Franz Jung (1888–1961), and George Grosz (1893–1959), to present a series of performances and readings at various galleries and theaters under the title Club Dada. Hausmann’s prospectus design for a new periodical with that name featured a rough Expressionist woodcut combining a jagged abstract form with the jumbled letters of the title (Fig. 21.01). For the text, he mixed typefaces as the Futurists did and broke up words into separate fragments. Like Hugo Ball, Hausmann wrote and performed poems composed of sounds without meaning and in his typography he mixed words and different letter sizes and weights to give his text a sonic quality. Although Hausmann adopted the techniques of the Expressionists and the Futurists in his design for the Club Dada prospectus, his typographic composition took on a new meaning because it represented his and the other Dadaists’ intent to subvert the forms and content of public discourse. This was as evident in the three issues of the periodical Der Dada that Hausmann designed in 1919 as it was in the layouts that John Heartfield and George Grosz did for Dadaco, an unpublished anthology of Dada writings.
Though Dada typography could be disruptive, another technique, photomontage, more forcefully expressed the Dadaists’ opposition to current Weimar politics and cultural values. For the Dadaists, photomontage was a collection of photographic fragments that were arranged in a composition to yield a new meaning. The composition could either be a one-off original or it could be rephotographed and produced as a poster, a magazine cover, or an illustration. For the Dadaists, photomontage was an oppositional technique. The sources of their images were primarily the bourgeois press—daily newspapers and illustrated weekly magazines such as the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung. The point of Dada photomontage was to extract these photographic images from their original context and give them an oppositional meaning by reorganizing them into new compositions. Heartfield, Hausmann, and Hoch were the principal creators of photomontage among the Berlin Dadaists.
Heartfield developed photomontage as a means of political agitation. For him, it was always related to mass media rather than art. In fact, he called himself a monteur or mechanic rather than an artist. He first began working with photographic fragments in Jedermann sein eigner Fussball (Every man his own football), a political newspaper whose single issue the Malik-Verlag published in 1919. For the cover, Heartfield cut out photographs of Germany’s prominent politicians and military leaders and pasted them on a drawing of a woman’s fan above which he placed the ironic question in Fraktur type, “Who is the best-looking?” as if the leaders were competing in a beauty contest (Fig. 21.02). Although this display was not strictly a photomontage, Heartfield did produce one of his early photomontages elsewhere on the cover, an image of himself inside a huge soccer ball, which illustrated the nonsensical title of the newspaper.
In contrast to Heartfield, Hausmann approached photomontage as an artist rather than a designer. His composition of 1920, Tatlin at Home, depicts a man with a machine part for a brain and though he names this figure Tatlin after the Russian artist who created the Monument to the Third International, he does not implicate him in any revolutionary activity. Instead, he constructs a curious landscape that suggests a greater interest in exploring the unconscious than in making an explicit political statement (Fig. 21.03). Other photomontages of his such as Dada siegt (Dada conquers) and Dada Cino (Dada cinema) of 1920 have a comparable enigmatic quality.
Hannah Hoch, who had studied calligraphy and book design, shared Hausmann’s interest in ambiguous imagery, though she also worked occasionally with photographs of well-known political figures to produce oppositional statements about Weimar culture. Her complex photomontage Schnitt mit dem Küchenmesser Dada durch die Letzte Weimarer Bierbauchkuluturepoche Deutschlands (Cut with the Kitchen Knife Dada through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch of Germany) combines images of politicians from Kaiser Wilhelm II’s regime, military leaders, and figures from the new Weimar Republic with communists, dancers, athletes, and even some fellow Dadaists, Raoul Hausmann and Johannes Baader. Photographs of crowds make reference to urban life while images of ball bearings and gear wheels signify industrial culture. Among the many figures in Hoch’s photomontage are some with mixed parts of men’s and women’s bodies. This was an early instance of her interest in gender identity, which she was to develop in subsequent photomontages for many years afterwards.
By the summer of 1920, Dada in Berlin had run its course. Its climax was an exhibition called the First International Dada Fair, where the public was provoked with an array of paintings, objects, and signs that urged them to take Dada seriously while also declaring the end of art. Suspended from the ceiling was Rudolf Schlichter’s figure with a pig’s head and an army uniform, which juxtaposed disparate elements, as did photomontage artists, to ridicule the military.
For a brief period, the Berlin Dadaists joined together in opposing the political, military, and cultural establishments of the new Weimar Republic. While they shared the name “Dada,” they had different concerns ranging from the partisan politics of Heartfield and Grosz, both of whom were among the first to join the German Communist Party (KPD), to Hannah Hoch’s questioning of cultural mores and Raul Hausmann’s attack on the prevailing conventions of art (Plate 06). After the First International Dada Fair, the group’s legacy of opposition was continued in the vitriolic drawings and paintings of George Grosz and in the photomontages that Heartfield began to contribute to the publications of the Communists and other left-wing organizations, including his brother’s own Malik-Verlag.
Whereas the Expressionists promoted a spiritual renewal through art and architecture and the Dadaists mounted a critique of Weimar culture and politics, the Constructivists in Germany called for a language of objectivity that would manifest itself in art, architecture, and design. None of Constructivism’s leading proponents were German. Theo van Doesburg (1883–1931), who founded the De Stijl movement, was Dutch; El Lissitzky was Russian; and László Moholy-Nagy was Hungarian. These artists were attracted to Germany by its cosmopolitan atmosphere, particularly in Berlin. The German Constructivists, who were active in 1922 and 1923, were not part of the Russian movement, nor did they adopt a political agenda as the Constructivists in Russia did.
Although the German Constructivists mainly created paintings and sculptures, both Lissitzky and van Doesburg also produced book covers and journal designs that embodied Constructivist values. With the Russian writer Ilya Ehrenburg, Lissitzky edited two issues of a cultural magazine, Veshch (Object), that was intended to create a bridge between artists in Europe and Russia. In their initial editorial, the two editors used the term “constructive art,” declaring that its mission was ”not, after all, to embellish life but to organize it.” Lissitzky’s cover design and opening page layouts for Veshch were good examples of what they meant by organization.
Lissitzky was trained as an architect rather than a commercial artist. Thus, he thought of his publication designs as structural compositions rather than conventional layouts. For the two Veshch covers, he created a dynamic composition by contrasting a striking black diagonal with the horizontal title and issue number (Fig. 21.04). Lissitzky was a strong advocate of visual economy and demonstrated it in his cover design by reversing the French and German translations of the Russian title out of the black diagonal shape. His architectural approach to graphic composition is also evident in his cover for the First Russian Exhibition that was held at Berlin’s Van Diemen Galerie in 1922. Here Lissitzky treated the letters as compositional elements and played with varying letter scales within the individual words to create a strong design. By endowing letters and abstract shapes with equivalent plastic value, Lissitzky produced typographic compositions that departed radically from the traditional conventions of commercial art, thus introducing an entirely new approach to page layout.
Though van Doesburg, was the founder of De Stijl and the principal organizer of German Constructivism, he also adopted a Dada identity and expressed it through Mécano, a small publication he published for four issues in 1922 and 1923. However, his notion of Dada was eclectic and he was not affiliated with any existing Dada groups in Berlin, Paris, or elsewhere. The first three issues of Mécano were actually broadsheets that folded down into 16-page editions. One side of each sheet was printed successively in the De Stijl colors, blue, yellow, and red. Van Doesburg mixed photographs of sculptures by Raoul Hausmann, paintings by Moholy-Nagy, and poems by Tristan Tzara with his own short texts written under his Dada pseudonym, I. K. Bonset. Van Doesburg’s combination of discipline and playfulness was evident in his layouts as well as his cover design where he separated the letters of the title and arranged them in a rectilinear frame with rules between them.
One artist whose work van Doesburg published in Mécano was Kurt Schwitters (1887–1949), perhaps best known for his tightly organized collages composed of scrap paper, packaging labels, street car tickets, and other ephemera. In Hanover, Schwitters started a one-man movement called Merz, which was actually the last four letters of the German word “Commerz” (commerce). Like van Doesburg, he was also a sometime Dadaist and actually participated in a series of Dada performances on a tour through the Netherlands with van Doesburg and his wife Nellie.
Schwitters became interested in typography through his contact with van Doesburg, Lissitzky, and Moholy-Nagy and in 1923 he began to publish an irregular magazine of limited circulation called Merz after his movement. As with many little magazines of the period, its typography and content were innovative. Schwitters printed his own writings (he was also a poet) as well as avant-garde art and writing by his friends. In the fourth issue he presented El Lissitzky’s short manifesto “Topography of Typography,” in which the Russian argued for economical typographic expression and a close relation between typography and the content it expressed.
Besides making art, Schwitters also worked as a graphic designer, operating through his own agency, Merz Werbezentrale (Merz Advertising Center). His clients included various businesses such as Günther Wagner, a Hanover company that produced Pelikan inks and related products, as well as the municipality of Hanover and the Dammerstock housing exhibition in Karlsruhe for which Schwitters designed all the promotional materials. One of the purposes of Merz was to present new ideas for advertising as Schwitters did in the 11th issue, where he proposed a series of new designs for Pelikan products (Fig. 21.05). Schwitters also collaborated with both Constructivists and Dadaists. He presented a series of Dada performances on tour with van Doesburg and his wife and invited Lissitzky to design a poster for two performances he was presenting, one with Raoul Hausmann, in Hanover. Lissitzky’s poster was a complex typographic diagram that combined shapes, text, and arrows to guide the reader in several directions through the announcements (Fig. 21.06).
Although the Dadaists and Constructivists were only active for a brief period, their publications were soon to exert a major influence on working designers and art directors. With few exceptions, they were trained as artists rather than designers and thus brought a more open attitude to photography and typography as means of communication. By blurring the traditional distinctions between art and design, they applied numerous discoveries of the artistic avant-garde to the design of graphics for mass circulation.
In early 1919, while still active in the Arbeitsrat and the Werkbund, Walter Gropius became the director of the Bauhaus in Weimar. The school inhabited the building that Henry van de Velde designed for the Weimar School of Applied Art and also inherited some of its faculty members. Although the Bauhaus curriculum was based on a workshop model that was similar to other applied arts schools in Germany, Gropius staffed each workshop with an artist or Form Master as well as a craftsman or Workshop Master. In this way, he sought to invent a new role for the artist in the design process. His emphasis on craft workshops rather than design for mechanized production was consistent with the prevailing ideas in the Arbeitsrat, as well as the beliefs of some in the Werkbund. Drawing more on the Arbeitsrat ideology than the Werkbund philosophy, however, Gropius sought to establish an idealistic community of creative teachers and students to produce artifacts for a new world.
His utopian ambitions were expressed in the founding manifesto. The woodcut image of a cathedral of socialism on its cover was created by the Expressionist artist Lyonel Feininger (1871–1956), who was also a Bauhaus faculty member (Fig. 21.07). For Gropius, the cathedral represented the power of architecture to unite the different crafts within the common purpose of building. To foster a creative community, he attempted to break down the hierarchy between the artist and the craftsman and he reduced the aura of the professor by eliminating academic titles. In 1922, Oskar Schlemmer’s depiction of a human profile ringed by the name of the school was adopted as the Bauhaus identity mark and was used throughout the school’s duration (Fig. 21.08).
Essential to the Bauhaus curriculum was the foundation course, which prepared students for the specialized workshops. To teach the course, Gropius hired the Swiss artist Johannes Itten (1888–1967), who had a special interest in how children expressed their artistic abilities. Itten cultivated the creativity of each student, addressing the whole person through exercises that fostered the students’ spontaneity, while also strengthening their powers of observation and analysis.
The foundation course centered on Itten’s theory of contrasts, which permeated many of the exercises. Students carved wooden blocks into different textures, explored the relation of contrasting colors, and made sculptures from unusual materials that included feathers, woven cane, and even string. In addition, they learned to draw from nature and analyze the structure of famous paintings. As a result, they entered the workshops with well-developed visual vocabularies that enabled them to produce richly textured designs. For example, students in the weaving workshop, such as Benita Otte (1892–1976), created hand-woven wall hangings whose intricate patterns consisted of contrasting and complementary fibers, colors, shapes, and textures (Fig. 21.09).
The Bauhaus workshops were, with few exceptions similar to those in other schools of applied art. A major difference was the role played by the Form Masters to introduce new formal ideas. As in other schools, students learned to make furniture, pottery, wall hangings, stained glass, and metalware. The contrasting backgrounds of the Form Masters and the Workshop Masters created a number of tensions, however, although the distinctions did produce some successful results such as the pottery by students who worked under the Expressionist sculptor Gerhard Marcks (1889–1981).
Other artists who joined the faculty included the Germans Oskar Schlemmer (1888–1943) and Georg Muche (1895–1986); the Swiss painter Paul Klee (1879–1940), who taught a course in elementary design that supplemented Itten’s foundation course; and the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944). Schlemmer worked briefly in the wall painting and sculpture workshops before taking over the school’s theater workshop in 1923. Muche was the Form Master in the weaving workshop. He also assisted Itten in the foundation course, which may account for Itten’s strong influence on the tapestry designs. Both Klee and Kandinsky mainly taught outside the workshops, although their theories did have some influence on workshop production.
Until László Moholy-Nagy joined the faculty in 1923, the artists came primarily from the Expressionist milieu. Consequently the Bauhaus experienced little influence from other avant-garde movements such as Dada or Constructivism. Moholy-Nagy replaced Itten whose influence on the school did not support Gropius’s ambitions for its future. Itten was trained as an art educator rather than as a craftsman and seemed to have little concern for applied arts training. He belonged to a spiritual movement called Mazdaznan and sought to recruit students for it as well as influence the school’s culture by, for example, pressing the canteen to serve only vegetarian food.
Moholy-Nagy took over Itten’s foundation course, while also becoming the Form Master in the metal workshop. He was the first faculty member with an interest in industrial design and he was instrumental in bringing about a cultural change at the Bauhaus that led to more prototypes for industrial production. Moholy brought a highly developed visual vocabulary to the Bauhaus and shifted the emphasis to simpler and more functional forms in the metal workshop. Soon Marianne Brandt (1893–1983), the only woman in the workshop, along with other students, was incorporating the circles, hemispheres, and related geometric forms of Moholy’s Constructivist paintings and sculptures into designs for teapots, pitchers, and fruit dishes.
Moholy also encouraged his students to produce designs for lighting, bringing them directly into the sphere of industrial design. Karl Jacob Jucker (1902–1997) explored designs for lamps with moveable positions, while he and Wilhelm Wagenfeld (1889–1949) designed a table lamp whose circular metal base, tubular glass stem, and rounded glass shade incorporated Moholy’s geometric design vocabulary just as the teapots and other metal artifacts did (Fig. 21.10).
Although Gropius had called for uniting the crafts under the wing of a great architecture, he was not able to organize an architectural department until 1927 after the school had moved to Dessau. To compensate for the lack of architectural instruction, he used his professional commissions to foster cooperation among the workshops. His design of a house for the Berlin timber merchant Adolf Sommerfeld in 1921 incorporated woodcarving, stained glass, and furniture design. The primitive appearance of the house was due largely to the necessity of building it from teak timbers that Sommerfeld had reclaimed. The carved exterior beams and interior doors and walls by Joost Schmidt (1893–1948), the densely patterned stained glass designs by Josef Albers (1888–1976), and the ponderous hall furniture by Marcel Breuer (1902–1981) gave the house the feeling of a primitive community hall rather than a modern dwelling. At the time, however, this look was still compatible with the craft aesthetic that dominated the Bauhaus.
The initial furniture of Breuer, a Hungarian student in the cabinetmaking workshop, drew heavily on African forms and Hungarian folk art but he soon became interested in the spare designs of the Dutch furnituremaker, Gerrit Rietveld. This is evident in a seminal cherry wood chair of 1922, which follows Rietveld’s idea of a linear frame, but Breuer chose fabric for the seat and the backrest rather than the wooden planks that Rietveld used (Fig. 21.11). The cabinetmaking workshop fulfilled a number of successful commissions, providing furniture for the Sommerfeld House, an experimental children’s home, and the Haus am Horn that was designed and built for the Bauhaus Exhibition in 1923.
By 1923, Gropius was under pressure from the state government of Thuringia, which provided funds to the school, to demonstrate what had been accomplished in the four years since it opened. Marshaling all the workshops to show student projects, Gropius created an exhibition that became a public-relations triumph. During the exhibition, he gave a speech in which he proclaimed his belief in a new unity between art and technology. This was less evident in the workshop projects than in the Haus am Horn, a prototype for inexpensive mass-produced housing.
Designed by the artist Georg Muche (1895–1987) with the help of Adolph Meyer, Gropius’s architectural partner, the house was constructed with the latest materials and had the most up-to-date kitchen equipment in Germany. Far more than the Sommerfeld house, it was furnished by many of the workshops. Marcel Breuer and Erich Dieckmann (1896–1944) from the cabinetmaking workshop produced furniture in a contemporary style, while Moholy-Nagy designed the lighting, which consisted of fluorescent tubes. The house also included specially designed carpets, tiles, radiators, and ceramic containers for the kitchen.
Alma Buscher (1899–1944), the only female student in the cabinetmaking workshop, concentrated on wooden furniture and toys for children, and her children’s room for the Haus am Horn avoided the conventional adult furniture in miniature, introducing instead a modular container system that allowed the child’s imagination free play. This system was later marketed by the Bauhaus.
Another example of Gropius’s shift away from the craft romanticism of the school’s first years was the exhibition catalog, whose cover was by a student, Herbert Bayer (1900–1985). The Bauhaus had no commercial art course until it moved to Dessau, thus all graphic material, which consisted mainly of postcards and prints that the Masters designed, was produced in the school’s print shop. Other graphics such as announcements for Bauhaus events displayed Expressionist graphics consisting of hand-drawn letters of questionable proportions. Itten’s theory of contrasts was evident in Joost Schmidt’s poster for the 1923 exhibition, which strove for a synthesis of diverse elements—differences of shape, texture, scale, and tone (Plate 07). The eclectic lettering was done by hand, yet it was tightly integrated into Schmidt’s extremely formal composition. The poster was, however, a transitional design between a craftsman’s approach to graphic form and a striving to adopt a tightly ordered composition that neatly integrated all the poster’s elements.
By comparison, Bayer created a distinctly modern cover with the title displayed in large san serif letters whose colors alternated in sections of blue and red (Plate 8). Moholy-Nagy designed the interior layout in a style that recalled the rational approach to page design of van Doesburg and Lissitzky. He also published an essay in the catalog called “The New Typography,” in which he espoused “unequivocal clarity in all typographic communication,” and asserted that “[t]he new poster relies on photography,” which he called the “new story-telling device of civilization.” This was a direct challenge to the entire profession of commercial art in Germany, which was based on the artist’s ability to draw both images and letters. It was also the first clarion call for a new modern approach to graphic design, a call that would shortly be heeded by the young typographer Jan Tschichold, who visited the Bauhaus exhibition and was highly stimulated by what he saw there.
Despite the new direction that the 1923 exhibition heralded, the Bauhaus nonetheless had its enemies, particularly among members of several right-wing parties who were elected to the Thuringian parliament in 1924. For them, the Bauhaus was too cosmopolitan. Its faculty was international as was its student body. And Gropius’s new technological thrust angered local craftsmen. For these and other reasons, the parliament curtailed the school’s funds and it had to close in 1924, only to reopen a year later in Dessau, whose mayor, Fritz Hesse, clearly understood how the presence of the Bauhaus could contribute to his vision of a modern industrial city.
In 1924, the German economy began to move again, fueled by a huge loan from the United States under the Dawes Plan. That year the Werkbund organized Form ohne Ornament (Form without Ornament), an exhibition featuring unornamented objects that were both machine-made and hand-crafted. Even though not all the objects were made by machine, by emphasizing simple forms as the ideal for production, the exhibition signaled the Werkbund’s move away from the Expressionist idealism of the immediate post-war years and marked its support of the more rational aesthetic of Neue Sachlichkeit or New Objectivity. This was the style that characterized progressive art, design, and architecture in the years between the Dawes Plan of 1924 and the stock market crash of 1929. Form ohne Ornament raised again the question of standardized forms for industrial production that had been central to earlier debates but the Werkbund in the 1920s was unable to promote quality design to the large companies that produced the bulk of Germany’s consumer goods to the same degree that it had before the war.
The AEG, for example, one of Germany’s largest manufacturers of electrical products, did not build on the accomplishments of its pre-war design director Peter Behrens. In the 1920s, the AEG manufactured many different products from hanging lamps and hair dryers to vacuum cleaners and radios but none achieved the aesthetic distinction their products had before the war. The lack of notable design was also true at Siemens & Halske, which started in the telephone business but later expanded to compete with the AEG in the manufacture of electric appliances for the consumer market. The company established a line called “Protos,” which included electric cooking ranges, vacuum cleaners, toasters, electric water heaters, washing machines, and electric irons. Without a design director of Behrens’ caliber to give some character to these products, they were straightforward and practical but had no exceptional formal qualities.
One reason why design may not have seemed as important to large German companies in the 1920s as it did to the AEG before the war was the interest in Frederick Winslow Taylor’s theories of scientific management. Managers in the 1920s were more concerned with increasing organizational efficiency at all levels than with addressing the questions of product form that interested the Werkbund. Within the large corporations, support for rationalization methods, which meant efficiency and standardization, spread from the production system to physical distribution and marketing as well. The rationalization movement was led by the Deutscher Normen Ausschuss (German Standards Board), which promoted efficiency methods and standards throughout Germany. The board had been founded in 1916 to standardize the production of military equipment and then continued to establish specifications for parts and procedures that covered all manufacturing sectors. It published a series of industrial standards called Deutsche Industrie Normen (German Industrial Standards) or DIN. These standards had a particular effect on graphic design through the standardized paper sizes that were based on a single unit that could be multiplied to produce sheets of varying dimensions.
As a consequence of the emphasis on scientific management and standardization in large companies, including the AEG and Siemens & Halske, designers made a greater impact on smaller firms, particularly those that produced modern versions of traditional applied arts such as glassware and ceramics. For the Jenaer Glaswerke (Jena Glass Works), Gerhard Marcks (1889–1981), the Form Master in the Bauhaus pottery workshop, and Wilhelm Wagenfeld (1900–1990), a student of Moholy-Nagy’s in the metal workshop, designed a glass coffeemaker whose sculpted modern shape recalled the ceramic forms created by some of Marcks’ students (Fig. 21.12). Wagenfeld was to continue designing glassware for Schott, producing a glass tea service and a wire holder with three cups for boiling eggs among other objects.
In ceramics, the designs of Marguerite Friedlander-Wildenhain (1896–1985) and Trude Petri (1906–1989) for the Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur, Berlin (KPM), helped make that company a leader in the production of modern ceramicware. The design director for the KPM beginning in 1929 was Günther von Pechmann (1882–d.o.d. unconfirmed), a leading figure in the pre-war Werkbund and author of a 1924 book on quality production. Under von Pechmann, Friedlander-Wildenhain produced her Halle service, consisting of several white unadorned tea and coffee pots, along with tea and coffee cups with concentric gold bands that Petri designed (Fig. 21.13). The commitment to simple ceramic forms began for Friedlander-Wildenhain and Petri when they were students at the Bauhaus. Friedlander-Wildenhain was particularly active in the pottery workshop when Gerhard Marcks was the Form Master and she continued to work with Marcks when both joined the faculty of the applied arts school known as Burg Giebichenstein in Halle after they left the Bauhaus. Petri’s Urbino glazed porcelain dinner service of 1930–1932 was perhaps the purest example of the new KPM ceramicware. The tops of the coffee pot and sugar bowl fit seamlessly with the rest of the object so that their separation was barely noticeable, while the cups, saucers, and plates were cut low and wide to achieve graceful curves. Among the other notable ceramic services produced during this period was the simple Functionalist dinner service, Form 1382, that Herman Gretsch (1895–1950) designed for the porcelain manufacturer Arzberg in 1931.
The German automobile companies Daimler and Benz were the first to design internal combustion engines but neither envisioned the car as a mass-produced product as did Henry Ford, whose adoption of the assembly line for making inexpensive vehicles revolutionized the automobile industry. Instead, German manufacturers produced custom-made vehicles for the nobility and the newly rich. Initially designers played no role in their production. Opel was perhaps the first automobile company to take design seriously. Besides the poster they commissioned from the Berlin sachplakat artist, Hans Rudi Erdt, an early attempt to involve a designer was their 1907 commission of a drawing for an auto body from the Austrian Secession architect Joseph Olbrich, although the design was never put into production.
The first passenger cars had closed box-like compartments, which were generally constructed with wooden frames that had flat sheet metal applied over them. The leading car designer in the early years of the German automobile industry was Ernst Neumann-Neander, who had set up a studio in Berlin to design posters, advertising, and car bodies. He worked as a consultant for several well-known coachbuilders and completed his first auto body prototypes in 1910 and in 1911. In 1912 he designed the Opel 13/30, an early attempt at a streamlined car that eventually became known as the Opel Egg. The streamline theme was pushed further by the Viennese aeronautical engineer Edmund Rumpler (1872–1940), who presented his Tropfen Auto, or teardrop car, at a Berlin auto show in 1921. Rumpler based his aerodynamic body on the precedents of his airplane designs although he attempted to combine the aerodynamic bullet shape with a more conventional curved-box cabin. Benz tried unsuccessfully to market the car as a passenger vehicle, though the company eventually incorporated Rumpler’s ideas into a racing car in 1923.
Opel took its first steps towards an affordable automobile with its Doktorwagen (Doctor’s Car) in 1909. In 1924 the company began to produce a popular two-seater called the Laubfrosch (Tree Frog) because of its green body paint (Fig. 21.14). The Laubfrosch was an open car with a canvas top. As one author noted, instead of being big and black it was small and green. Modeled on a French Citroën, the Laubfrosch was the first car in Germany to be produced on an assembly line like the Ford. It was also the first German car that was accessible to a wide public. Though relatively inexpensive to begin with, its price dropped by more than half within six years after 100,000 had been produced. Opel continued to manufacture for a mass market after General Motors purchased the company in 1929. Among the new mass-oriented vehicles was the Opel Kadett of 1932, whose cab with rounded corners and arched grill followed the form of GM’s Plymouth.
The best-known firms that produced larger, more expensive cars were Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Horch, and Adler. At the beginning of 1900, the Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) developed a lighter, smaller, racing car called the Mercedes, which featured numerous innovations such as a low center of gravity, a pressed-steel frame, and a honeycomb radiator. The car, designed by Daimler engineer Wilhelm Maybach (1846–1929), was a big success. After World War I, however, German automobile manufacturing was at a low point due to the high inflation and the devastation that the war brought about. Both Daimler and its strongest rival, Benz, were producing very few cars and decided to merge in order to strengthen their operations. Following their merger in 1926, the company was called Mercedes-Benz and it adopted as its symbol a three-pointed star, which initially symbolized the Daimler engines on land, sea, and air. Rather than producing inexpensive popular cars like Opel, however, Mercedes-Benz focused on more expensive models such as the Stuttgart and the Mannheim and then in the late 1930s the company launched the Grosser, whose extended body, large rounded fenders and curved hood signified the ultimate in luxury (Fig. 21.15).
Horch, founded in 1899, produced cars for the luxury class and often had exclusive bodywork created by famous coachbuilders such as Glaser and Neuss. In 1928, the company commissioned automobile designs from the well-known commercial artist O. W. H. Hadank and shortly thereafter created its own design team. The firm’s founder, August Horch, also established a second company, Audi, which produced its own automobiles until 1932 when Audi and Horch merged with two other companies under the Audi name.
BMW, the acronym for Bayrische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works), was founded in 1928, considerably later than the other leading automobile manufacturers of the 1920s, and began to produce its most significant cars in the late 1930s, when it established its own department of design headed by Wilhelm Meyerhuber (1888–1978), the chief stylist.
Like Horch, Adler also started at the beginning of the century though it produced bicycles, typewriters, and motorcycles as well as automobiles. Around 1930, the company commissioned Walter Gropius, the former Bauhaus director, to design an auto body, which it manufactured in two versions, the Standard 6 and the Standard 8. Gropius created a design that had strong horizontal and vertical lines and plain surfaces without decoration. Though Adler sought to capitalize on the name of the well-known architect, his designs made a more potent reference to modern architecture than to automobile design. Consequently they contributed little to the development of the automobile and few of the cars were sold.
In 1922 there were over 100 automobile manufacturers in Germany. Most of the cars they produced such as the Freia, the Gridi, the Libelle, and the Szawe were in production for short periods and are now mainly forgotten. What is important to note, however, is that the Weimar Republic had an active automobile culture that has received little attention to date. By 1929, when the American stock market crashed, many of automobile firms had gone out of business, others merged, and a few were bought by foreign companies. By 1933, only 16 manufacturers remained.
The cathedral was the building type that framed the organization of the Bauhaus workshops in Weimar, but in Dessau it was the modern home to which Bauhaus production was directed. “The Bauhaus wants to serve the development of present-day housing,” wrote Gropius in 1926, “from the simplest household appliances to the finished dwelling.” To achieve this end, he defined the workshops as “laboratories in which prototypes of products suitable for mass production and typical of our time are carefully developed and constantly improved.”
The number of workshops in Dessau was reduced. The pottery, a local Weimar enterprise, remained behind and the stained glass workshop, which did not translate easily into objects for mass production, was discontinued. Some of the Weimar teachers took other jobs, leading Gropius to promote several of the former students to the position of Workshop Master. Of these, Marcel Breuer (1902–1981) headed the cabinetmaking workshop; Gunta Stötzl (1897–1983) assisted Georg Muche in the weaving workshop; Herbert Bayer (1900–1985) transformed the printing workshop into a workshop for advertising, exhibition design, and typography; and Hinnerk Scheper (1897–1957) was in charge of the wallpainting workshop. Moholy-Nagy and former student Joseph Albers (1888–1976) shared the Foundation course, while Moholy continued to head the metal workshop until his resignation in 1928. In 1927, Gropius hired the Swiss architect Hannes Meyer (1889–1954) to head up a department of architecture, the first in the school’s brief history. As a complement to the architecture program, Oskar Schlemmer continued to receive support for a theater workshop even though it was not directly related to the school’s new emphasis on industrial production.
As with the Haus Sommerfeld and the Haus am Horn, Gropius involved all the workshops in furnishing the Bauhaus building, which was completed in 1926 and whose construction was funded by the city of Dessau. The building’s plan exemplified the new rationalism of the fledgling modern movement. Functions were divided into separate wings, which were connected by corridors or walkways. Gropius preserved the sense of community that he originally desired for the school by incorporating all the functions within a single building—the student dormitory, the canteen, the auditorium, the gymnasium, and the glass-enclosed workshop wing.
Much of the work on the interior was done in the cabinetmaking workshop. Breuer designed a range of chairs and tables that were constructed with tubular steel frames. These included his seating for the auditorium—chairs with cloth seats and backs that were made of polished steel—along with chairs and tables for the canteen. Other furnishings for the building included the tubular fluorescent lighting that Moholy-Nagy’s metal workshop produced for the auditorium. Hinnerk Scheper created the color scheme for the walls, while Herbert Bayer designed huge letters spelling out “Bauhaus,” which were attached to the outside of the building (Fig. 21.16).
One of the more influential objects produced in the early Dessau period was Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair of 1925, which he originally constructed of bent nickel-plated tubular steel and combined with a fabric seat and back although the chairs were later produced with leather instead of fabric. (Fig. 21.17). Breuer supposedly got the idea for the chair from the tubular steel handlebars of a bicycle. He called the chair Wassily because he designed it for the house of his colleague, the painter Wassily Kandinsky. The chair did not originate in the Bauhaus furniture workshop and Breuer sought to market it himself through a company called Standard-Möbel, which he set up with a partner in Berlin.
With funding from the timber merchant Adolf Sommerfeld, the Bauhaus established a company to market its designs to industry. Among the most successful products created at the school while Gropius was still director were the lamps that Marianne Brandt and other students designed in the metal workshop. Moholy-Nagy must be given much of the credit for this direction, which moved the school away from the craft typologies that Gropius originally envisioned. The firm Körting & Matthiesen in Leipzig produced Brandt’s well-known Kandem bedside table lamp. It came in two stem lengths and like many lamps to follow, had a swivel joint between the shade and the stem, which made it possible to change the angle of the light (Fig. 21.18). All the lamps produced in the metal workshop had clean forms and no ornament. These included hanging lamps with metal shades, ceiling lamps with frosted glass globes, and wall mounted lamps with moveable arms. One of the most innovative ideas was the construction of lighting fixtures consisting of shallow glass dishes that were attached directly to the ceiling. Almost all of these prototypes were brought to market by firms in various parts of Germany.
Due to differences with the students, Muche resigned as head of the weaving workshop in early 1927 and Gunta Stötzl replaced him. Under her guidance, students began to experiment with new materials for machine production and these soon came to the attention of the textile industry. Leading textile manufacturers bought patterns from the Bauhaus and they became widely accepted by the public. Significant results were achieved particularly in the production of slipcover fabrics and drapery. The new textile designs were complemented by Hinnerk Scheper’s innovative approach to wall decoration. Scheper was interested in covering walls with large areas of flat colors, which could vary from wall to wall. He also preferred either solid colors or subtle patterns for wallpaper because he believed that such designs would not compete with the architecture.
Herbert Bayer transformed the printing workshop into a modern studio for the design of posters, advertising stands, and promotional literature. He also assumed responsibility for the design of all Bauhaus promotional graphics including stationery, brochures, and schedules. Bayer derived his clean page organization, use of white space, and preference for san serif type from the principles of the New Typography that Moholy-Nagy had enunciated in the 1923 Bauhaus catalog and the typographer Jan Tschichold had begun to codify in a special issue of the German printing magazine Typographische Mitteilungen in October 1925. Bayer also adopted the argument of Dr. Walter Portsmann, an engineer who argued in his book Sprach und Schrift (Speech and Writing) of 1920 that capital letters were inefficient. Bayer began to use “kleinschreibung” or writing with small letters, to support the argument for efficiency in communication that Moholy-Nagy had also promoted in his Bauhaus catalog essay of 1923.
Bayer’s interest in efficiency was the basis for his design of an alphabet he called “universal,” which had no capital letters. In the spirit of modernity, Bayer rejected the tradition of roman alphabets and instead constructed his own letters from several basic elements, notably circles and arcs (Fig. 21.19). While this created some unity between letters based on similar shapes, it also left other letters outside the system, hence the alphabet lacked the consistency that was a traditional hallmark of typographic quality.
Bayer’s alphabet was not picked up by a type foundry and thus it served a polemical aim rather than a functional one. Others at the Bauhaus also experimented with modular alphabets. Joseph Albers created his “kombinationschrift” (combination writing), which was based on ten modular shapes. It was an interesting experiment but had no practical application since a typesetter would have had to build letters out of modular elements rather than use already formed letters to compose lines of type.
Before the Bauhaus moved to Dessau, Gropius had asked Moholy-Nagy to co-edit a series of Bauhaus books that would publicize work being done at the Bauhaus, present the ideas of the Bauhaus teachers, and sum up the major modern movements in art and architecture. The first books appeared in 1925 and by 1929, when the series ended, 14 books had been published, although about 50 were planned. The published books included Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook, Wassily Kandinsky’s Point and Line to Plane, Kazimir Malevich’s The Non-Objective World, and Moholy-Nagy’s Painting Photography Film. Moholy-Nagy designed most of the books according to the principles of the New Typography that he had promoted. He organized the covers with heavy geometric elements and used photographs or photograms (cameraless photographs) in some instances. Moholy drew his design aesthetic from his own Constructivist paintings and though he was somewhat heavy handed in his designs, the Bauhaus books contrasted sharply with the conventions of book design, especially the design of covers, that prevailed in Germany at the time. The Bauhaus books helped to publicize the school widely as did the photographs of Bauhaus projects and school life that circulated widely in articles and promotional literature. Many of these photographs were taken by Moholy’s first wife Lucia, who was actively documenting events at the school while he taught there.
In early 1928, Gropius decided to resign, most likely because he wanted to devote time to his architectural practice but also because he had consumed a great deal of energy defending the school against numerous critics. However, he was leaving the Bauhaus in a strong position. The facilities were excellent and the school had begun to increase its contacts with industry as was originally intended. Bayer, Moholy-Nagy, and Breuer decided to resign at the same time, which left the school with a considerable gap to fill.
The new director was Hannes Meyer, the Swiss architect whom Gropius hired in 1927 to head up the first architecture department. Meyer could not have been more different from Gropius. Politically, he was considerably to the left of Gropius’s moderate socialism and architecturally he promoted a rational approach to building that was based more on sociological and economic research than on design. Under Meyer, the architecture department supported a major project of Gropius’s in Dessau, the Törten housing estate, which was built with standardized components. Though there were some problems with the construction, the project pioneered new methods of low-cost efficient building that gradually began to spread within the German construction industry.
Though Meyer’s emphasis on science and technology and his extreme left-wing politics antagonized some of his colleagues and some students, he did accomplish a lot at the Bauhaus and these contributions should be recognized. First, Meyer brought in a series of lecturers with knowledge of science, engineering, and the social sciences to speak about theoretical issues that might have a bearing on the curriculum. Second, he shifted the emphasis in the cabinetmaking workshop, now combined with the metal workshop, towards low-cost furniture for the working class. Compared to the more widely recognized icons of modern furniture such as Breuer’s Wassily chair and his cantilevered tubular steel Cesca chair, the furniture produced under Meyer is less well known. Made primarily of wood, it featured a folding table and chair by Gustav Hassenpflug (1907–1997), a chair made of modular parts that Josef Albers designed, and a folding chair of tubular steel and plywood that Hin Bredendieck (1904–1995) created. Meyer publicized this populist approach to furniture design in several exhibitions, first in Leipzig in 1929, where the living room, bedroom, and kitchen of a Bauhaus Volkswohnung (People’s Apartment) was on display, and then the following year in Moscow where he sent an exhibit that summed up Bauhaus achievements between 1928 and 1930.
Under Meyer, Joost Schmidt, a former Bauhaus student and head of the sculpture workshop, replaced Bayer in the workshop for advertising, commercial art, and typography. Schmidt worked out a successful pedagogical method for teaching students visual fundamentals, while also adding an emphasis on exhibition design. His department also designed exhibition stands for the Junkers airplane factory in Dessau and won a contract to do all the newspaper advertising for the large chemical factory, I. G. Farben. Schmidt’s advertising and typography workshop was supported by a new photography workshop that was established in 1929. It was headed by Walter Pederhans (1897–1960), an industrial and portrait photographer before going to the Bauhaus, who specialized in close-ups of objects, an approach that lent itself particularly to advertising photography. Meyer’s biggest commercial success was the Bauhaus wallpapers that were designed in the wall painting workshop under Hinerk Scheper. Commissioned by a wallpaper manufacturer, Emil Rasch, their subtle textures and patterns were unlike anything else on the market and four and a half million rolls were sold in the first year alone.
During his tenure as director, Gropius had sought to keep the Bauhaus politically neutral. Meyer, however, allowed the formation of a communist cell at the school, while also establishing closer ties with his counterparts in Moscow. By 1930, his political activities prompted the Dessau City Council to demand his resignation. He then took some students with him to the Soviet Union where, as the Bauhaus Brigade, they sought an engagement with the ambitious building program of Stalin’s First Five-Year Plan.
Meyer was replaced by the architect Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), who moved the school in its final phase towards an architectural program. He combined the furniture, metal, and wallpainting workshops into a single department for interior design, which was headed by the interior architect Lilly Reich (1885–1947), beginning in 1932. Reich was also in charge of the weaving workshop.
Mies divided the school into two main areas: architecture and interior design. His principal interest during his period as director was in single-family residences, which was a major shift from the radical social agenda of Hannes Meyer. The focus in the interior design seminar, headed first by Alfred Arndt (1896–1976), a former student, and then by Lilly Reich, was on reasonably priced furniture for the home. Students learned to make precision construction drawings and several won prizes in a 1931 Werkbund competition for standardized home furnishings. In late 1932, the Dessau parliament, which now had a large number of Nazi members, closed the Bauhaus. Mies moved the school to Berlin, where it briefly occupied a vacant telephone factory until he finally shut it down in August 1933. Clearly the Bauhaus values, whether socialist, communist, or simply modernist, were out of step with the new Nazi regime.
Despite all its accomplishments, however, the Bauhaus engaged in only a limited segment of the modern industrial production that was emerging in Europe. Its constraints were framed by the initial emphasis on architecture and its related arts rather than the broader array of industrial products including automobiles, airplanes, radios, and other goods that formed a growing part of Germany’s industrial culture. In general, the constraints of the Bauhaus were typical of other applied arts schools in Germany during the 1920s. In Frankfurt, Christian Dell (1893–1974), who had been the technical instructor in the Bauhaus metal workshop, headed up a comparable program, and in Stuttgart, the art academy, headed by Bernhard Pankok (1872–1943), the former Jugendstil designer, developed strong programs in furniture design and typography.
The school that had the most direct relation to the Bauhaus was Burg Giebichenstein in Halle. It was established in 1915 by the architect Paul Thiersch (1879–1928), who sought to realize the Werkbund ideals with a strong art program and complementary workshops that could produce prototypes for industry. When the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau, Gerhard Marcks, who had directed the pottery workshop in Weimar, went to teach at Burg Giebichenstein and in 1928 he became the school’s director. Between 1925 and 1930, while at the Halle school, Marcks along with Wilhelm Wagenfeld designed his well-known Sintrax coffee percolator for the Jena Glass Company.
Several former Bauhaus students—Benita Otte (1892–1976), Erich Dieckmann (1896–1944), and Marguerite Friedlander-Wildenhain—joined Marcks at Burg Giebichenstein. Otte took over the weaving workshop, where her course was more open to artistic experiment than the growing tendency towards machine production in Dessau. Dieckmann, who headed the furniture workshop, designed both wooden furniture and furniture made of cantilevered steel. In ceramics, Marguerite Friedlander-Wildenhain achieved great success with her previously mentioned Halle service for the Staatliche Porzellan-Manufaktur, Berlin, while one of the prominent graduates of the metal workshop, Wolfgang Tümpel (1903–1978), gained recognition as a designer of lamps, bowls, teapots, and other metalwork.
Besides the applied arts schools in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Halle, and other cities, a number of private art schools offered successful design programs. Among the leading ones were the Itten-Schule and the Riemann-Schule. In 1926, Johannes Itten, who left the Bauhaus in 1923, opened his own school in Berlin. It provided basic art education for aspiring artists, architects, photographers, advertising artists, designers of fashion, and other types of designers. Among the faculty were George Muche, who had assisted Itten in the Bauhaus Foundation course and also headed the weaving workshop. Other teachers included former Bauhaus students Gyula Pap (1899–1983), who had studied in the metal workshop with Moholy-Nagy, and Umbo (a.k.a Otto Umbehr) (1902–1980), who became a well-known photojournalist. Lucia Moholy (1894–1989), Moholy-Nagy’s first wife, also taught photography there. The curriculum featured classes based on Itten’s Bauhaus foundation course. In the morning, students had a gymnastic session that included singing and humming to harmonize the body and spirit. Itten also made contact with several Japanese artists, and around 1932 the school offered classes in Japanese brush painting.
Another Berlin school, the Riemann-Schule, was established by Albert and Klara Riemann in 1902. It offered courses in the practical arts, including fashion, poster design, metalworking, stage design, textile design, film animation, and portrait photography. One of its specialties was window display, which achieved a high level of distinction during the Weimar years. By the late 1920s, up to 1,000 students, many from abroad, might have been studying at the school each year. The Riemann-Schule did not have its origin in the crafts as did the Bauhaus and other applied arts schools. Consequently it developed numerous programs that were not part of the traditional applied arts curriculum. However, the school was closely associated with the Werkbund and student projects were published regularly in the Werkbund yearbooks.
The conflict between modernity and tradition was nowhere more evident in Weimar Germany than in the ambitious building programs that were instituted in many cities following the Dawes Plan in 1924. Although the architectural styles varied from one city to another, several cities, notably Berlin, Frankfurt-am-Main, and Stuttgart, became showcases for a modern style known as the Neues Bauen (New Building) that was based on rational efficient design. The large building programs also provided the impetus for the design of new furniture and interiors that supported the ambitions of architects and planners to create low-cost housing for large numbers of people.
In Berlin, Bruno Taut transformed his Expressionist yearning for community into the large Britz housing project, which featured a horseshoe-shaped ring of apartments that surrounded an open communal green space. The Britz housing was financed by the GEHAG, a socialist building society, and featured modest low-cost apartments and town houses for the working class.
In Frankfurt, the building program was directed to similar ends though it was considerably larger. The architect Ernst May (1904–2005) was in charge of the entire project, which consisted of various large housing estates around the periphery of the city and several developments that were closer to the center.
May formed a multidisciplinary design team for the Neue Frankfurt or “The New Frankfurt,” that included architects, planners, furniture designers, and graphic designers. Faced with such a massive project, he devised cost-cutting techniques that included establishing standards for doors, windows, and other building components, fixing a set number of floor plans, and producing modular pre-cast foamed concrete wall slabs on site. A hallmark of the housing designs was the flat roof, which the Nazis were later to equate with a racist Mediterranean style.
As part of his comprehensive plan, May was concerned with the design of standardized low-cost furniture that would fit comfortably in the new flats. To address this problem, he brought the architect Ferdinand Kramer (1898–1985) into the municipal building department. Kramer and the designer Franz Schuster (1892–1972), an Austrian who briefly directed the architecture class at the Frankfurt applied art school, created inexpensive typenmöbel or standardized chairs, tables, cupboards, and other furniture pieces. Primarily rectilinear in form, the designs were manufactured by Hausrat, a non-profit enterprise the city set up to sell furniture to the new tenants at a reasonable price. Another function Hausrat served was to provide work for unemployed carpenters and cabinetmakers. Kramer also created standardized children’s furniture at a smaller scale for the city’s kindergartens and in 1926 he designed an inexpensive cast iron heater called the Kramer-Ofen (Kramer heater) that was produced by the firm of Hugo Buderus, which specialized in heating devices.
An additional source of furniture was the Frankfurt Register, a catalog published by the city on a regular basis. It included lamps and light fittings as well as chairs, tables, beds, and other conventional items. Residents were strongly encouraged to furnish their apartments with the modern furniture that was either sold by the city or featured in the Register.
The apartments featured the Frankfurt kitchen, designed by the Polish architect Grete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897–2000), who had been inspired by May’s social vision and came to Frankfurt to work with him. Schütte-Lihotzky’s design was based on the same desire for household efficiency that had stimulated the Americans Catherine Beecher as well as Christine Frederick. The latter’s book The New Housekeeping: Efficiency Studies in Home Management was translated into German in 1922 and her espousal of rationalization in the home found numerous supporters in Germany. Similar to the ideas of Frederick, Shütte-Lihotsky’s kitchen was conceived like a ship’s galley with continuous counter space that included a cutting board with its own waste bin. Besides the cabinets, an array of metal drawers was built in for the storage of basic provisions (Fig. 21.20). Shütte-Lihotsky designed the layout to reduce excess motion and facilitate the transition from one function to another. The Frankfurt kitchen challenged the traditional idea of the kitchen as a comfortable hearth and defined it instead as a space for productive work. On the manufacturing side, its most radical feature was its design as a single factory-assembled unit that could be delivered to a building site and easily integrated into the existing construction.
Das Neue Frankfurt was conceived as a total environment that included advertising, graphics, and public signage as part of the overall urban design. Walter Dexel (1890–1973), a graphic designer and gallery curator, was a consultant to the city on advertising and he introduced designs for illuminated outdoor advertising that were installed at various locations in the city. The artist Karl Peter Rohl (1890–1975), a former Bauhaus student who was teaching at the Frankfurt applied art school, devised a system of standardized signage to delineate different specialties within the medical profession, while another artist, Robert Michel (1897–1983), painted large outdoor advertising signs in a Constructivist style. Hans Leistikow (1880–1962) was the city’s graphic designer whose responsibilities included the supervision of all printed designs from posters to book covers, the redesign of the city’s coat of arms, and the design of Das Neue Frankfurt, a cultural magazine published by the city that promoted modernity in all its forms from automobile design and architecture to typography, film, and exhibition design. Between 1925 and 1930, the year Ernst May led a design team to the Soviet Union to participate in the construction of the new industrial city of Magnitogorsk in the Ural Mountains, Das Neue Frankfurt was an exceptional experiment in social planning that invited many architects and designers to apply the most advanced forms of modern design to a progressive social end.
By 1926, the Werkbund had shifted its attention from the problems of craft and machine production to the question of architecture. Meeting in 1926, the organization decided to sponsor a major housing exhibition the following year in Stuttgart. Directed by the architect Mies van der Rohe, the Weissenhof exhibition, as it was known, was intended to showcase the most advanced thinking in architectural design. Its set piece was an apartment building by Mies, which was joined by separate homes and small groups of row houses by Europe’s leading architects including Walter Gropius, Peter Behrens, Le Corbusier, Hans Scharoun (1893–1972), and Victor Bourgeois (1897–1972). Unlike the Neue Frankfurt, the exhibition did not have a social agenda although some of the entries, notably the row houses by the Dutch architects Mart Stam (1899–1986) and J. J. P. Oud (1890–1963) were designed for residents with lower incomes.
The furnishings of the various houses and apartments in the exhibition highlighted two strong developments in Weimar furniture design—the inexpensive standardized wooden pieces designed for working-class flats and the higher-end tubular steel furniture that Marcel Breuer pioneered at the Bauhaus and was then developed by Mart Stam, Mies van der Rohe, and other architects and designers. Besides Ferdinand Kramer and Franz Schuster in Frankfurt, other leaders in the design of low-cost furniture were Adolf Schneck (1883–1971), a professor at the Stuttgart applied arts school, and Max Hoene (1884–1965), who designed a line of mass-production furniture for the Bayerische Hausrathilfe in south Germany.
Schneck believed that only necessary pieces of furniture should be produced in standardized forms. “Any item of furniture that is not an absolute necessity,” he wrote, “is a luxury article. And a luxury article that is standardized is what we call kitsch.” He created a line of inexpensive furniture for the Deutsche Werkstätten für Handwerkskunst (German Workshops for Arts and Crafts) in Hellerau, one of the firms that had started during the Jugendstil period. By 1927, the Werkstätten had become one of the leading manufacturers of standardized furniture and had adopted machine production.
Hoene’s designs featured basic units including cupboards, that could be modified with add-on elements such as glazed cabinets or small bookcases. The intent was to encourage a sense of individuality for people who could not afford to commission custom furnishings. The firm held down costs by using plywood and rationalizing the machine production by working with a standardized frame and panel system.
Though Marcel Breuer can be credited with designing perhaps the first chair made of tubular steel, the Dutch architect Mart Stam was the first to design a cantilever chair whose suspended seat was enabled by the strength of the metal tubing that made up its frame. Stam’s design was constructed with gas pipes that were held together with elbow joints. Though the design, which consisted of a single line of tubing, was potentially elegant, Stam’s initial iteration was awkward. He subsequently refined the design in later models, but it was Mies van der Rohe, after learning of the idea from Stam at a planning meeting for the Weissenhof exhibition, who refined the cantilever concept and produced its most elegant versions in chromed tubular steel. These were the MR10, a simple linear form with the seat and back made either of black leather or wicker (Fig. 21.21), and the MR20, the same chair with tubular steel arms. During the planning for the Weissenhof exhibition, Mies had made no secret of his dissatisfaction with the low-cost wooden furniture, which he thought had a look of poverty. As he once told a colleague, he was building homes not tin cans. In 1928, Marcel Breuer produced his own version of the cantilever form, the Cesca chair, which differed from both Stam’s and Mies’s designs by its combination of a partial tubular steel structure and black wooden frames for the back and seat. Caning was stretched over the frames. For the Weissenhof exhibition, tubular steel furniture was on display in a number of the dwellings and Breuer’s earlier pieces, combined with lighting from the Bauhaus metal workshop, were exhibited in the two houses by Walter Gropius. They served as examples of what Breuer believed to be a “styleless” modern room that avoided “any preconceived notion of the psyches of its users.”
For Mies, architecture continued to be the stimulus for the further design of modern furniture. In 1929, when he designed the German Pavilion for the International Exhibition in Barcelona, he created two chairs made of chromed flat steel frames which supported leather cushioned seats and backs. The chairs came with matching footstools and a solid glass coffee table that rested on a chromed steel cross-frame. Shortly thereafter Mies returned to the cantilever concept with his chairs for the Tugendhat house in Brno, Czechoslovakia. The padded leather back and seat of the Brno chair were exquisitely suspended in mid-air, supported by a frame of flat chromed steel strips.
Neither Stam, Breuer, nor others who designed tubular steel furniture shared Mies’s preoccupation with formal elegance, believing instead that tubular steel furnishings exemplified a modern way of living that was accessible to large numbers of people. The widespread display of tubular steel furniture at the Weissenhof exhibition most likely contributed to the belief of a few furniture manufacturers such as the Austrian firm Thonet that a viable market existed for the new designs. Thonet purchased its first tubular steel designs from Marcel Breuer who had unsuccessfully tried to market his initial pieces through his own company, Standard Möbel. Thonet took over all Breuer’s designs from the Standard Möbel catalog and began to market 19 different pieces. Although tubular steel furniture was more expensive than the low-priced designs in wood by Kramer, Schneck, and others, Thonet’s mass production of it lowered the price substantially. Beginning in 1932, Thonet also began to manufacture some pieces by Mies, including his two Weissenhof chairs. Other architects who produced tubular steel pieces for Thonet were the Swiss Le Corbusier, the Frenchman Andre Lurçat (1894–1970), and the supposed French architect Béwé, who was most likely a fictional character devised by the company.
Thonet was the first furniture company to introduce tubular steel furniture to a mass market. By the late 1930s, the firm had commissioned and produced several hundred designs, exploiting the material to the limit as it had previously with its bentwood chairs. But then, Thonet ceased to produce tubular steel furnishings, perhaps because so many of its designs were copied by other furniture companies both in Germany and abroad. Tubular steel had become as common as wood and when produced in sufficient amounts it was even as economical if not more so.
During the 1920s, advertising, typography, commercial art, mass media, and political propaganda in Germany were as diverse and complex as the economic and political situation of the nation itself. Before World War I, German poster design and advertising art as well as typography and printing had all developed to a high degree. After the war both the Dada and Constructivist avant-gardes adopted new forms of visual rhetoric that contrasted strongly with these developments. While Constructivism stimulated the emergence of the New Typography on the one hand, Dada contributed to the rise of a working-class press and print culture on the other. Weimar Germany also fostered the growth of the picture-laden photo magazines, which provided work for many photographers, introduced the new role of picture editor, and redefined the function of the art director.
To some degree, the different design practices influenced each other but they frequently clashed. Jan Tschichold’s New Typography, for example, posed a powerful challenge to the conventional methods of commercial artists, both in terms of technique and style. The photograph, argued Tschichold (following Moholy-Nagy), should replace the drawing while san serif type should be used exclusively. For Tschichold, hand lettering, which most commercial artists practiced, was passé. Likewise, avant-garde designers challenged the tradition of book design and proposed new book formats that accommodated the photograph as much as or more so than the text. In many ways, the techniques of left-wing designers like John Heartfield were similar to the tenets of the New Typography and the visual strategies of the mainstream picture magazines, but as oppositional practitioners, left-wing designers always incorporated an element of criticism or irony that influenced the pictorial forms and accompanying texts of their posters and publications.
Perhaps the biggest conflict, which mirrored that of Weimar itself, was between the modern and the traditional, a clash that was echoed in other fields of design as well. Photography was central to the modern vision and its growing incorporation into book design, advertising, the picture press, and political propaganda signaled an espousal of the modern that transcended both left and right. The Modernist incursion into all aspects of graphic design did not occur without resentment and once the Nazis came to power in 1933, there was a new celebration of German black-letter typefaces aimed at replacing internationalist modernism with nationalist tradition.
Most commercial artists in Weimar were generalists. Some were trained as artists while others had studied poster design or taken courses in lettering and other aspects of commercial design. Many were members of the Bund der Deutschen Gebrauchsgraphiker (Association of German Commercial Artists), which was founded in 1919. The term “Gebrauchsgraphik” (literally, useful graphics) was more widely used than “Reklamekunst” (advertising art) or “Werbekunst” (publicity art) as it could be applied to a broader range of activities. It was also the name of an important commercial art magazine that began publication in 1926 and brought to the design community news of commercial art activities throughout Germany and in a number of other countries.
The clients for commercial art were predominantly small and medium-sized businesses, which made it possible for the artists to operate independently or with modest support. Among the commissions they undertook were the design of shop windows and retail spaces, posters, letterheads and business cards, lettering, calendars and prospectuses, newspaper ads, packaging, and company trademarks. Some also did magazine titles and covers. Book design was considered a separate art, more akin to typography. Berlin and Munich were the principal centers of graphic design activity, although commercial artists were working in most German cities.
The leading poster artist was Ludwig Hohlwein, who had already established himself as a prominent designer in Munich before the war. When he began his career, he specialized in posters that were built up with flat colors, but during the 1920s, as his fame grew, he began to model his figures in more detail. He specialized in portrayals of the German upper class—self-confident men and women who dressed elegantly, ate well, and traveled widely (Fig. 21.22). His clients included haberdashers and clothiers, makers of perfume, cigarettes, and fine foods, and manufacturers of sewing machines, typewriters, and bicycles. As well, Hohlwein created movie posters and magazine covers. He had a colonial mentality and portrayed a full array of exotic natives from all continents to promote tea, cocoa, and other goods. Hohlwein, like many commercial artists, was also a versatile lettering man who could vary his lettering style from delicate French curves to strong blocky shapes.
Other commercial artists in Munich included Valentin Zietara (1883–1935) and Otto Ottler (1891–1965). Though Ottler had his own style, he occasionally drew heavily on Hohlwein’s depictions of upper-class men and women, as did another Munich poster artist, J. V. Engehard (dates unconfirmed). The artist and illustrator Walter Schnackenberg (1880–1961) developed an illustrative style that referenced French cabaret posters of the 1890s, although he depicted more daring sexual behavior including beautiful women tantalizing both young and old men.
In Berlin, Fritz Rosen (1856–1935) managed Lucian Bernhard’s studio after Bernhard moved to New York in 1922, but Bernhard continued to collaborate with Rosen and the two men signed some commissions jointly. Although the focus on the single object, which characterized the sachplakat before the war, had declined as a visual technique, Bernhard and Rosen continued to create posters in that style but they varied it with designs that were strong on lettering or the depiction of objects from unusual angles. Among the other prominent poster and advertising artists in Berlin were the Viennese Julius Klinger (1876–1920), who frequently gave his images a humorous twist, and his student Willy Willrab (dates unconfirmed), who specialized in posters featuring architectural constructions of a product name in large three-dimensional letters; Otto Arpke (1886–1943), whose clients included the steamship company Norddeutscher Lloyd; Jupp Wiertz (1888–1939), whose drawings frequently reflected the elongated figures of French fashion illustrators; and Max Bittrof (1890–1972), whose work had a more abstract tendency, occasionally influenced by Cubism.
Though most commercial artists were men, a few women were also active. Perhaps the most prominent was Dora Mönkmeyer Corty (1890–1973), who lived in Dresden. Primarily a poster artist, she designed numerous trademarks as well. Her work often conveyed a sly wit as evidenced in her poster of a man tilted forward on his seat reading the Dresden newspaper, Die Anzeiger.
Fritz Hellmut Ehmcke holds an unusual place among German commercial artists of the 1920s. He had a strong background in typography and book design as well as teaching. Ehmcke was an active Werkbund member and designed the poster for the 1914 Werkbund exhibition in Cologne (see Chapter 17). Though he did many commercial jobs including posters, trademarks, colophons, and packaging, he continued to run his own press, the Rupprecht-Presse in Munich, from 1913 to 1934. He printed more than 50 books by hand, all set in his own typefaces, which reinterpreted traditional forms including Fraktur, Schwabacher, Antiqua, Rustica, and their related italics. Historian Jeremy Anysley characterized Ehmcke as a “modern conservative.” A critic of both the Bauhaus and the New Typography, Ehmcke continued to combine traditional and modern elements in his commercial work. He oversaw the graphic design and publicity for the gigantic Pressa exhibition that was held in Cologne in 1928. For that event, he designed a poster that featured a large roman letter P topped by three small crowns as the exhibition logo. The logo, combined with a color scheme of yellow, red, and black, established an identity for the exhibition and was applied to everything from cigarette packaging to postage stamps. Other materials designed under Ehmcke’s supervision included a souvenir booklet, a publicity leaflet, maps, and signage for visitors.
Though most commercial artists accepted a range of commissions, a few specialized in particular activities. Karl Schulpig (1884–1948), for example, was known for his trademarks, which often featured small comic figures. Another prominent trademark designer was Wilhelm Deffke, who took a more analytic approach to trademarks, basing most of his designs on combinations of letters or the creation of abstract symbols (see Chapter 17) (Fig. 21.23). O. H. W. Hadank was known for his trademarks and his packaging. What characterized both was his exquisite calligraphy, which varied according to the commission. Hadank did a great deal of work for companies that made cigarettes and produced wines and spirits (see Chapter 17). He established long-term relationships with several firms including Haus Neuerburg, a manufacturer of cigarettes, and Kaloderma, a company that made cold cream.
The commercial art scene in Germany gained an international identity from the publication of Gebrauchsgraphik, a magazine that published illustrated articles on German designers and their counterparts abroad. It first appeared in 1924. The editor H. K. Frenzel was an active promoter of German commercial art and gave many German designers wide exposure by inviting them to do covers in their own style. He had a special predilection for the posters of Ludwig Hohlwein and helped to make Hohlwein’s reputation by featuring him prominently in the magazine. Frenzel was also a proponent of American advertising and frequently ran articles that described the more analytic American approach to selling goods and services. As he noted in a special American issue of 1926, “Advertising is the literature of the Americans.”
Though commercial art was more highly developed and widely accepted in Germany than in other countries during the 1920s, there was still something insular about it. Many artists clung too strongly to tradition. They were slow to adopt new styles of modern lettering, for example, and, with some exceptions, the images they used to promote goods, services, and events were often naive or too cute. Consequently, few German commercial artists attracted international attention.
The situation was different for type designers. Germany produced a spate of modern typefaces during the 1920s and several of these became widely used abroad. Following the early German san serif face Akzidenz Grotesk, which was cut at the end of the 19th century, the first modern geometric san serif in Germany was Erbar, designed by Jacob Erbar (1878–1935) in 1926. The designer had taken classes with Anna Simons, a former student of Edward Johnston, and created his first san serif, Feder-Grotesk, in 1908, well before Johnston designed his typeface for the London Underground. Though Erbar possessed subtle traces of calligraphy, it had a consistency and repetition of elements that qualified it as a modern typeface.
Paul Renner (1878–1956), an early Werkbund supporter and admirer of the Arts and Crafts movement, was first exposed to Functional design when he taught for a year at the applied arts school in Frankfurt. Arriving there in 1925, he encountered, among others, Ferdinand Kramer, the architect and furniture designer, whose san serif capital letters, designed to be used for signage, provide an interesting parallel to his own san serif typeface, Futura (Fig. 21.24). In 1926, Renner left Frankfurt for Munich where he became director of the Graphische Berufsschule, a school for the printing trades, and then in 1927 he was named the first head of the Meisterschule für Deutschlands Buckdrucker (Master School for German Book Printers), which opened that year. At the Meisterschule, Renner forged a new curriculum for printers and hired the typographer Jan Tschichold, the leading proponent of the New Typography, to join the faculty.
The Bauer Foundry released Futura in 1927 and it soon became the preferred typeface for advertising and setting modern texts. Its strong geometric forms did have some relation to Herbert Bayer’s Universal typeface, but Renner, an experienced typographer, refined his alphabet to work successfully as a text face in smaller point sizes as well as for larger-format advertising. Other foundries quickly recognized the need to have a modern typeface of their own. The Klingspor Foundry commissioned Rudolf Koch (1876–1934), its in-house type designer, to design Kabel. Koch based his typefaces strongly on the calligraphic tradition and some idiosyncrasies of that tradition, notably the extended height of particular letters and the disproportionate size of the upper case letters in relation to the lower case. These gave Kabel a more decorative than standardized quality. The decorative aspect of the typeface was also accentuated by Klingspor’s release of Koch’s Zeppelin, an inline companion to Kabel in 1929, and a striated version called Prisma in 1931.
In 1923, several years before he designed Kabel, Koch created a thick san serif black letter alphabet called Neuland for which he cut the punches himself. The rough shapes of the letters recall the irregular lines of medieval woodcuts, a reference that is suggested when the letters form a block of text. Unexpectedly, Neuland became a popular advertising typeface and found a welcome reception in Britain and the United States. The heavy black letters assumed a racial overtone when the British Monotype Corporation named its own version of the typeface Othello, after the dark-skinned lead character in Shakespeare’s play of the same name. In Germany, the Bauer Foundry made an even more overt racial reference when it called a similar face, designed by Lucian Bernhard, Negro. Other novel faces that were used primarily for advertising purposes were Beton, a heavy neo-Egyptian alphabet designed by Heinrich Jost (1889–1949), typographic director of the Bauer Foundry, and Georg Trump’s City, of 1931, an eccentric interpretation of a rectilinear Egyptian style.
Trump (1896–1985) studied with F. H. Ernst Schneidler (1882–1956), who taught lettering at the art academy in Stuttgart. He was one of Schneidler’s most successful students, who also included the typographers Imre Reiner (1900–1987) and Walter Brudi (1907–1987). Schneidler, who had studied with Peter Behrens and F. H. Ehmcke in Düsseldorf, taught at the art academy from 1921 to 1949 and is said to have created a “Stuttgart school” of typography. Central to his teaching was the idea that typographers should study graphic disciplines besides calligraphy and that each discipline should influence the others. This is evident in the variety of typefaces created by his former students. Trump, for example, ranged from City to a black letter of 1935 called Deutsch, a three-dimensional Egyptian face called Shadow of 1937–1945, and a condensed serif with an inordinately high x-height called Signum that he designed in 1955. Between 1929 and 1934, Imre Reiner, who moved to Switzerland in 1931, designed Corvinus, which he derived from 19th-century modern faces, as well as other faces that were based on script lettering.
Jan Tschichold (1902–1974) was the chief promoter of the New Typography (die neue typographie), a set of principles and rules for modern graphic design. Tschichold studied calligraphy and classical typography in Leipzig at the Staatliche Akademie der Graphischen Künste (State Academy for the Graphic Arts), whose director was the typographer and book designer Walter Tiemann (1876–1951). In 1923, Tschichold visited the previously mentioned Bauhaus exhibition in Weimar and was transformed by the modern design he saw there. A strong influence was Moholy-Nagy’s essay on the New Typography in which Moholy declared clarity to be the principal aim of typography, designated photography as the most precise means of illustration, and urged the liberation of the typographic line. The innovative books that the Russian artist El Lissitzky published in Berlin, About Two Squares and For the Voice, also influenced Tschichold. Like Lissitzky, whose typographic innovations were related to his multi-directional Proun paintings, Moholy derived his own typographic principles from his work as a Constructivist artist. Tschichold cited both Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy as precedents for his principles of elementare typographie (elementary typography) that he first enunciated in a special issue of the German printing journal Typographische Mitteilungen (Typographic Communication) in October 1925. Tschichold’s ten principles echo Moholy-Nagy’s claims that the New Typography should be purposeful, but Tschichold then added specific rules that forbade the use of ornament and mandated that all type should be san serif and composed in asymmetrical arrangements. To support his principles he presented examples by various avant-garde artists and designers including Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy, Kurt Schwitters, Herbert Bayer, and Max Burchartz.
Paul Renner invited Tschichold to Munich in 1927 to teach calligraphy and typography at the Master School for German Book Printers, and Tschichold remained there until 1933. Among the design commissions he undertook in Munich was a series of film posters for the movie theater Phoebus Palast in 1927. His poster for Georg Jacoby’s Die Frau ohne Namen (The Woman without a Name) makes use of angular lines and stills from the film, growing larger as they advance from a vanishing point to convey a sense of movement and drama (Plate 09). Like the Soviet avant-garde designers, Tschichold limited his color pallet mainly to black, red, and white and made use of photographs rather than illustrations, which set him apart from most German graphic designers at the time.
In 1928, Tschichold published his most important book Die Neue Typographie (The New Typography), in which he explained in detail how his principles could be applied to all forms of graphic design including letterheads, posters, envelopes, bills, business cards, and logotypes. Typography played a much more important role for him than it did for other commercial artists, and the New Typography, which replaced “elementary typography,” strongly challenged the heavy reliance on drawn images that German commercial artists preferred.
Tschichold presented the New Typography as a total method for graphic design, although his own emphasis on typographic rather than pictorial solutions derived from his training as a typographer rather than as a painter or illustrator. He functioned as a mediator between the avant-garde artists who inspired his thinking and the wider professions of typography, book design, and commercial art that were exposed to his ideas through the mainstream printing journals and design magazines. Tschichold’s principles were controversial and were questioned or opposed by many practitioners.
There was, however, a cadre of designers, many of them artists, who embraced the New Typography and applied it in their own practices. These included Max Burchartz (1887–1961), Johannes Canis (1895–1977), Walter Dexel, Johannes Mohlzahn (1892–1965), Willi Baumeister (1889–1955), César Domela (1900–1992), Kurt Schwitters, and Anton Stankowski (1906–1998), In 1924, Burchartz, a former painter who was influenced by Constructivism and De Stijl, and Canis founded werbebau, Germany’s first studio for modern graphic design. Located in Bochum, a town in the industrial Ruhr area of Germany, they worked extensively for firms involved in heavy industry, particularly the Bochumer Verein für Bergbau und Gussstahlfabikation (Bochum Association for Mining and Cast Iron Manufacture), a firm specializing in metal parts of all kinds. For this client, Burchartz and Canis designed catalogs that used photographic product fragments and photomontage to present the range of parts the company produced. Burchartz moved to Essen in 1927 to develop courses in modern graphic design, photography, and advertising at the Folkwangschule, a school of applied arts. One of his outstanding students was Anton Stankowski, who relocated to Switzerland in 1929, where he became a founder of the Swiss style of “constructive” graphic design.
In 1928, Kurt Schwitters founded the ring neuer werbegestalter (circle of new advertising designers), a group of designers who adopted the New Typography and techniques of the new advertising, particularly photomontage. From its founding until 1931, the “ring” actively promoted modern graphic design through numerous exhibitions that circulated widely in Germany and occasionally abroad. The members also organized the publication of Gefesselter Blick (Focused Gaze), the most important survey of new advertising design to be published in the Weimar period (Fig. 21.25).
When the Nazis came to power, they associated the New Typography and advertising with left-wing internationalism. Tschichold was branded a cultural Bolshevik and managed to emigrate to Switzerland, where he continued to teach and work as a freelance designer. The New Typography spread to other countries, notably the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Czechoslovakia, where it continued to develop during the 1930s.
During the 1920s, the mass media in Weimar grew at an exceptional pace and Germany had more illustrated newspapers and magazines than any other country in the world. By 1928, photography had replaced drawings as the principal means of illustration in these publications. The first of the illustrated magazines was the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, which was founded in 1892, while its chief competitor, the Münchner Illustrierte Presse, did not appear until 1923. Soon other imitators followed: Die Kölnische Illustrierte, Die Hamburger Illustrierte, Die Stuttgarter Illustrierte, and the Illustrierte Blatt in Frankfurt. The Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung or BIZ, as it was popularly known, had a circulation of 1,600,000 in 1928. It belonged to the Ullstein publishing empire, which also published more specialized illustrated journals such as Uhu, a sophisticated culture magazine, and Die Dame, a monthly magazine of women’s fashions. Other publications featuring diverse specialized interests included the short-lived sports magazine Arena, whose art director was John Heartfield.
During the 1920s, Kurt Korff (dates unconfirmed) was the editor of the Berliner Illustrirte. He sensed the potential of photo reportage early on and began to cultivate a cadre of talented photojournalists who roamed the world in search of human-interest stories. Korff was motivated to feature photo stories by his awareness that the accelerating pace of modern life made it necessary for the weekly magazines to create “a keener and more succinct form of pictorial representation that has an effect on readers even if they just skim through the pages.”
The photojournalists, who worked for Korff as well as other magazines, included Eric Salomon (1886–1944), Tim (1900–1996) and George Gidal (dates unconfirmed), Felix Man (1893–1985), Umbo (a.k.a. Otto Umbehr), and Wolfgang Weber (dates unconfirmed). Instead of the heavy plate cameras of their predecessors, they adopted the portable Leica, invented in 1913 by Oskar Barnack (1879–1936), and the Ermanox, which arrived on the market in 1925. Both cameras used 35mm roll film with multiple exposures, while the Ermanox had a light-sensitive lense that made indoor photography possible without a flash.
Korff’s chief rival as an editor was Stefan Lorant (1901–1997), who headed the Berlin office of the Münchner Illustrierte. Korff developed techniques to dramatize the photographs such as printing them as full pages, but Lorant, who worked previously as a film cameraman and director, invented the layout format that displayed the photographs to best advantage. This was the double-page spread with one key photograph shown larger than the others. Perhaps because his earlier background was in film, Lorant was particularly sensitive to the dramatic aspect of a story, which he enhanced by the organization, scale, and juxtaposition of the photographs. His approach stood out from the layouts of his rivals, which were based on more mundane combinations of text, captions, and photographs. More than any other editor in the late 1920s, Lorant became the model of a magazine art director who was skilled at organizing photographs into exciting visual narratives. The heyday of photo reportage in Germany began in 1928 and lasted until Hitler came to power in 1933. At that time, most of the photojournalists left Germany and emigrated to countries where they contributed to or helped found illustrated magazines on the German model such as Vu in France, Picture Post in Britain, and LIFE in the United States.
Left-wing graphics in the Weimar Republic were at first closely intertwined with the Dada movement. Early publications critical of the government were the newspapers Neue Jugend and Jederman sein eigener Fussball, both designed by John Heartfield and published by Wieland Herzfelde’s Malik-Verlag. During the years of Berlin Dada until 1923, the Malik-Verlag published several short-lived cultural-political journals, Die Pleite (The Failure), and Der Gegner (The Antagonist) as well as a portfolio of anti-war prints by George Grosz. Heartfield subsequently did considerable design work for the Communist Party.
Between 1922 and 1933, the Malik-Verlag published several series of fiction and non-fiction books. Some were by authors with broad left-wing views while others directly supported the politics of the Soviet Union. Heartfield was the art director for the press and designed all its book covers. A few were typographic or featured drawings, but most consisted of photomontages. Heartfield would use both the front and back covers as complementary images while applying bold typography to the spines. As part of his Rote Roman-Serie (Red Novel Series), Herzfelde published four novels by the left-wing American author Upton Sinclair. For the translation of Sinclair’s novel Oil of 1927, Heartfield juxtaposed portraits of a rich oil developer and a Hollywood film star on whose faces he superimposed oil wells and dollar signs (Fig. 21.26). Photomontage was particularly suited to the Malik-Verlag covers because the documentary quality of the photographic fragments emphasized the real-world social concerns of the authors. Heartfield’s photomontage covers were unique in the German publishing world during the 1920s, prompting the writer Kurt Tucholsky to exclaim, “if I weren’t Tucholsky, I’d like to be a book jacket for the Malik-Verlag.”
Several other left-oriented publishing groups sought to provide inexpensive books for a wide public. The Büchergilde Gutenberg and the Bücherkreis were both founded in 1924. Bruno Dressler, a member of the Bildungsverband der Deutschen Buchdrucker (Association of German Book Printers), established the first, while the second was linked to the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Jan Tschichold designed covers for both groups. He created a series of strong typographic covers for the Bücherkreis, each of which featured a logo on the spine depicting a male figure holding an open book. Just as Heartfield’s Malik-Verlag covers conveyed a documentary sense through the use of photomontage, so did Tschichold’s Bücherkreis designs suggest a sense of immediacy through bold typography and short explanatory texts that were integrated into the cover layouts. For these covers, Tschichold broadened his typographic repertoire to adopt unusual fonts such as Georg Trump’s City and Signum. The strategy behind his typographic choices was to establish a visual identity that distinguished the Bücherkreis volumes from the more classical look of earlier book series.
The politics of the two book guilds were sharply differentiated from the hard-core ideology of the German communists and other dedicated believers in the Soviet Union. The major propagandist for the Soviets was Willi Münzenberg (1889–1940), a member of the German Communist Party, who founded a series of front organizations that had as their principal purpose to increase Soviet influence on the communist movement within Germany. In 1921, Lenin requested Münzenberg to organize an international support effort to aid victims of the famine that had spread across Russia. Münzenberg subsequently founded the Internationale Arbeiterhilfe (International Worker Relief), which rallied supporters from across the German left. This organization attracted large numbers of participants and built a cadre of supporters for Münzenberg’s other propaganda efforts, which included a publishing house, a film company, and various magazines and journals. Münzenberg’s publishing venture was the Neue Deutsche Verlag (New German Press), whose projects ranged from a leftist book club to the illustrated weekly Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ), which began publication in 1924 and was intended for a working-class audience just as the Berliner llustrirte Zeitung and the Münchner Illustrierte Presse served the middle class. The precursor of AIZ was Sowjetrussland im Bild (Soviet Russia in Pictures), a left-wing pictorial magazine that Münzenberg had founded three years earlier. For AIZ, Münzenberg copied the format of the bourgeois illustrated weeklies but filled his magazine with propaganda articles that were critical of capitalist society. To provide photographs, he organized classes to train working-class photographers and then created a Union of Working Class Photographers with its own journal, Der Arbeiterfotograpf (The Worker Photographer).
Münzenberg’s strategy as a propagandist was to establish a broad leftist front while at the same time supporting the policies of the Soviet Comintern and the German Communist Party. Heartfield, though he was art director of the Malik-Verlag, worked more directly with the communists. In 1923 he became the editor and designer of the KPD satirical magazine Der Knüppel (The Cudgel) and the party’s newspaper, Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag). He also designed photographic covers for a related magazine, Das Neue Russland (The New Russia). For these publications, Heartfield’s designs were more constrained than his iconoclastic Dada layouts and photomontages. This was most likely due to a more conservative KPD policy on visual propaganda. However, Heartfield’s ability to juxtapose images against a related text was evident in a cover for Die Rote Fahne related to the 1928 election. It displayed a grasping hand with an adjoining text that stated, “The hand has five fingers. Beat the enemy with five. Vote List 5,” the list of KPD candidates. The image then reached a wider audience as a political poster for the election itself.
In 1930, Heartfield started to work regularly for the AIZ, which at one point had a circulation of 450,000. He created photomontages with related texts that were used both as covers and as separate back-page features. By 1932, he was ridiculing Hitler and the Nazi Party with a regular series of pungent photomontages that made fun of the Nazi leader while also strongly criticizing the Nazi Party and its actions. In a photomontage entitled Adolf the Superman. Swallows gold and spouts tin, Heartfield depicted Hitler with a weak spine consisting of gold coins (Fig. 21.27). His text inverted the idea of the medieval alchemists who claimed the ability to turn cheap metals such as tin into gold, suggesting that Hitler accepted donations from rich benefactors and turned them into a program of little value. Once Hitler came to power, the AIZ moved to Prague and Heartfield continued to attack the Nazis with more topical photomontages. The magazines were smuggled into Germany where they contributed to an underground resistance to Hitler. However, the AIZ had ceased publication by 1939, the year the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia.
John Willett, Art and Politics in the Weimar Period: The New Sobriety, 1917–1933 is an overview of Weimar culture that draws together many of its facets including art, architecture, design, literature, theater, and music. Tilmann Buddensieg’s edited volume Berlin 1900–1933: Architecture and Design has a more limited focus. Gert Selle discusses product design specifically in Design – Geschichte in Deutschland: Produktkultur als Entwurf und Erfahrung. Twentieth-Century Furniture Design by Klaus Jürgen Sembach, Gabriele Leuthäuser, and Peter Gössel is a good reference for German furniture design during this period. Matilda McQuaid’s exhibition catalog Lilly Reich: Designer and Architect adds to the limited literature on German women as designers during the Weimar years. Heinz Hirdina, Neues Bauen, Neues Gestalten: Das Neue Frankfurt/Die Neue Stadt. Eine Zeitschrift zwischen 1926 und 1933 and Karin Kirsch, The Weissenhofsiedlung: Experimental Housing Built for the Deutscher Werkbund both look at the design of furniture and goods for domestic use within the context of the ambitious Weimar building program. The German interest in scientific management and efficiency is discussed in Judith A. Merkle, Management and Ideology: The Legacy of the International Scientific Management Movement. Joan Campbell, The German Werkbund: The Politics of Reform in the Applied Arts devotes considerable attention to the later activities of the organization in the Weimar period.
The Bauhaus literature is vast and I only used a few general surveys. Hans Wingler, Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago is encyclopedic in its inclusion of photographs and documents, while Frank Whitford, Bauhaus is a good short summary although its emphasis on the Weimar period as opposed to Dessau is somewhat out of balance. Bauhaus and Bauhaus People, edited by Eckhard Neumann, has first-hand accounts by Bauhaus professors and others related to one or another incarnation of the Bauhaus. See also, Winfried Nerdinger, Bauhaus-Moderne im Nationalsozialismus: Zwischen Anbiederung und Verfolgung. Much more research is needed on other design schools in the Weimar Republic. Two excellent studies are Wilhelm Nauhaus, Die Burg Giebichenstein: Geschichte einer Deutschen Kunstschule, 1915–1933 and Albert Reimann, Die Reimann-Schule in Berlin.
For the study of graphic design in the Weimar Republic, the pioneering book on this topic is Eckhard Neumann, Functional Graphic Design in the 20’s. Jeremy Aynsley, Graphic Design in Germany, 1890–1945 provides a broad overview, while Leslie Cabarga, Progressive German Graphics 1900–1937 and Steven Heller and Louise Fili, German Modern: Graphic Design from Wilhelm to Weimar are most valuable as visual compilations of German advertising graphics. Both H. K. Frenzel, Ludwig Hohlwein and the volume edited by Christian Schneegass, Ludwig Hohlwein: Plakate der Jahre 1906–1940 document primarily the many advertising posters that Hohlwein did for his commercial clients. Jaroslav Andel, Avant-Garde Page Design, 1900–1950 and Steven Heller, Merz to Emigre and Beyond: Avant-Garde Magazine Design of the Twentieth Century are both excellent references for avant-garde design in Weimar. On Berlin Dada and design, see Stephen Foster and Rudolf Kuenzli, eds., Dada Spectrum: The Dialectics of Revolt and Sherwin Simmons’ excellent article, “Advertising Seizes Control of Life: Berlin Dada and the Power of Advertising,” Oxford Art Journal 22, no. 1 (1999). Simmons has also written about the contentiousness of Weimar political graphics in two important articles, “Grimaces on the Walls: Anti-Bolshevist Posters and the Debate about Kitsch,’ Design Issues 14, no. 2 (Summer 1998) and “‘Hand to the Friend, Fist to the Foe’: The Struggle of Signs in the Weimar Republic,” Journal of Design History 13, no. 4 (2000). I discuss German Constructivism, especially the involvement of Moholy-Nagy and Lissitzky, and its contribution to avant-garde design in The Struggle for Utopia: Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy, 1917–1946. Werner Schmalenbach makes some mention of Kurt Schwitters’ graphic design within the larger context of his art activity but one volume of the exhaustive four-volume exhibition catalog, “Typographie kann unter Umständen Kunst sein,” edited by Volker Rattmeyer, Dietrich Helms, and Konrad Matschke, is dedicated solely to Schwitters’ graphic design, while two others focus on the ring neue werbegestalter of which Schwitters was a central figure.
Sebastian Carter includes chapters on typographers Rudolf Koch, Georg Trump, and Jan Tschichold in Twentieth Century Type Designers, while Christopher Burke, Paul Renner: The Art of Typography; Gerald Cinamon, Rudolf Koch: Letterer, Type Designer, Teacher; Ruari McLean, Jan Tschichold: Typographer; and Werner Klemke’s edited volume, Leben und Werk des Typographen Jan Tschichold discuss their subjects in greater depth. Left-wing political design, especially the work of John Heartfield, is covered in Peter Pachnicke and Klaus Honef, eds, John Heartfield and in the small catalog of an exhibit on the Malik-Verlag edited by James Fraser, Malik-Verlag, 1916–1947: Berlin, Prague, New York. Gisèle Freund, Photography and Society and Tim N. Gidal, Modern Photojournalism: Origin and Evolution, 1910–1933 are excellent sources of material on popular illustrated magazines and photojournalism in the Weimar period.
Neumann, Eckhard, ed. Bauhaus and Bauhaus People; Personal Opinions and Recollections of Former Bauhaus Members and their Contemporaries . Translation by Eva Richter and Alba Lorman. New York: Van Nostrand Publishing, 1970.
Rattmeyer, Volker, Dietrich Helms, and Konrad Matschke, eds. “Typographie kann unter Umständen Kunst sein,” 4 vols.: Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart: Typographie und Werbegestaltung; Kurt Schwitters: Typographie und Werbegestaltung; Ring ‘neue werbegestalter’ 1928–1933: Ein Überblick; and Ring ‘neue werbegestalter’: Amsterdamer Ausstelling von 1931 .