On a recent trip to Berlin I visited the magnificient Museum der Dinge and Werkbundarchiv - this unique museum and archive is home to thousands of fascinating objects, examples of modern day 'things' as well as objects collected and curated with the intention of showcasing badly designed kitsch 'fancy goods', which are then displayed in parallel with the beautifully designed and expertly crafted objects of the Deutscher Werkbund.
The Deutscher Werkbund was founded in 1907 with the objective of balancing new industrial mass production methods with the craftmanship and quality that defines a well designed product. The ease and cheapness of mass production meant that many corners were being cut and reproductions being made. Wood veneer and faux tortoiseshell featured heavily in the museum to illustrate this point (as well as a memorably hideous reproduction-baroque wood veneer bench covered in cupids which, unfortunately, I can't find an image of).
In 1909, art historian and museum director Gustav E. Pazaurek opened up a “Cabinet of Bad Taste” in the Stuttgart State Crafts Museum. Pazaurek was a strong advocate of the Werkbund aesthetic, and he collected over 900 objects of such astounding ugliness that they highlighted the need for guidelines for what is "good" and what is "bad".
Although his Cabinet of Bad Taste was put into storage in 1933, the Museum der Dinge dug it all out and they now display what can only be described as a smorgasbord of tat. In Stephen Bayley's wonderful upcoming book for FIELL, "Ugly: The Aesthetics of Everything", he talks about Pazaurek's bad taste manifesto, on which he based his collection:
"Pazaurek had established a systematic checklist to describe aesthetic crimes. Although his views were inevitably formed by very different circumstances (in the Germany of 1909 the proto-Modernism of the Deustcher Werkbund was tussling, not always successfully, with a democratic preference for Jodelstil), officials at the Museum der Dinge found that the 1909 checklist remains curiously relevant as a test for taste.
Pazaurek determined that there were five categories of errors that could lead to ugliness: Material Mistakes, Design Mistakes, Decorative Mistakes, Kitsch Mistakes and Contemporary Mistakes.
Among all reformers of consumer consciousness and art education, Bauhaus included, Pazaurek’s Principles have never been surpassed for their detail and thoroughness."
Founders of the Werkbund included such design bigwigs as Peter Behrens, Bruno Paul, and Josef Maria Olbrich. Prioritising function over form, the members of the Werkbund wanted to promote a utilitarian aesthetic that they saw as beneficial to both designers and society, and which would ease the transition from small workshop-type craftmanship to mass production. After the First World War, there was a need for consumer products that had to be met cheaply and quickly. To reconcile this need with their principles of good design, and to simplify the process, the Werkbund set out to standardise design, to make it more utilitarian, and less decoratively frou-frou.
In 1924, the Werkbund published "Form ohne Ornament (Form Without Ornament)", a sort of guide to Functionalism, and the beauty of the undecorated surface. The Werkbund was fraught with tension between two factions, those who promoted the new Functionalism and mass production, and those (including Walter Gropius) who championed craftmanship and individualism.
In addition to Werkbund designs and Pazaurek's collection of horrors, the museum showcases examples of design up to the present day, including a marvellous collection of vintage Apple products. This museum is essentially a giant time capsule - if we are defined by the "things" of our time, then this collection gives us a series of defining snapshots of human taste over the past century.
Looking at this unique collection, and at the juxtaposition of kitsch and tasteful design, it is easy to see which is beautiful and which is ugly. But quite often, it's the ugly stuff that catches your eye.
Posted by Isabel