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German Design 1949–1989
Two Countries, One History

New Exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum

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More than thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Vitra Design Museum presents the first panoramic overview of post-war design in the two Germanies. From 20 March to 5 September 2021, the exhibition »German Design 1949–1989: Two Countries, One History« will offer a comparative selection of design from East and West Germany and explore ideological and aesthetic differences as well as parallels and interrelations between East and West.

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German design was put on the map in the 1920s by the Bauhaus school and the Werkbund association. After the division of Germany in 1949, design and everyday culture, too, went their separate ways on both sides of the border. In the West, design became a driving force in the »Wirtschaftswunder«, or economic miracle, while in the East it was absorbed into the socialist planned economy. More than thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Vitra Design Museum presents the first panoramic overview of post-war design in the two Germanies. From 20 March to 5 September 2021, the exhibition »German Design 1949–1989: Two Countries, One History« will offer a comparative selection of design from East and West Germany and explore ideological and aesthetic differences as well as parallels and interrelations between East and West. Exhibits range from iconic pieces of furniture and lamps to graphic, industrial, and interior design to fashions, textiles, and personal ornaments.

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Cheap plastic and shrill colours in the East, cool functionalism in the West – the exhibition breaks with simplistic stereotypes and presents a differentiated view. Legendary automobiles like the »Trabant« (1958) and coveted everyday items like the radio-phono-combo ironically nicknamed »Snow White’s Coffin« (1956) will be on display alongside new discoveries and rare objects such as Luigi Colani’s sculptural loop chair »Poly-COR« (1968). The exhibition introduces important figures including Dieter Rams, Egon Eiermann, Rudolf Horn, and Margarete Jahny while also highlighting the role of design schools and the Bauhaus legacy. Its broad panorama of design from the two Germanies illustrates how closely intertwined design and history, everyday culture and world politics were in Germany during the Cold War period.

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The exhibition will open with an Online Opening on 19 March 2021.
The Online Opening Days will take place from 19 March to 8 April 2021.

Duration: 20 March to 5 September 2021

Curators: Erika Pinner, Vitra Design Museum. Klára Němečková, Kunstgewerbemuseum. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.
Assistant curators: Mea Hoffmann, Isabelle Schorer, Vitra Design Museum.


Publication date: 18.3.2021
Images: 1. Daniel Streat, Visual Fields; 2. © Tim Wegner / laif; 3, 5, 6. Jürgen Hans; 4. © Rosenthal GmbH und Historisches Fotoarchiv des Rat für Formgebung, Frankfurt am Main; 7. Ewald Gnilka; 8. Gunter Binsack