‘Eighties Design
The Pinnacle of Feeling

Andreas Brandolini, “Deutsches Wohnzimmer”, Ensemble für die Documenta 8 (1987), Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt und Andreas Brandolini
Andreas Brandolini, “Deutsches Wohnzimmer”, Ensemble für die Documenta 8 (1987), Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt und Andreas Brandolini | Photo: Martin Adam

The design decade, the ‘Eighties, brought forth a rebellious new generation that radically distanced itself from the functionalist tradition of German design history.

For decades, design from Germany was known for nothing else than classical industrial design: rational, functional, suited to the material used, ergonomic – and above all, industrially manufactured. In Germany, far more than in other countries, the concepts of good form and functionalism remained definitive into the Eighties. This was due on the one hand to the dominant line of tradition, from the Werkbund via the Bauhaus to the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm (Ulm School of Design), and on the other to the great industrial enterprises tasked with continually designing new cars, machines, steam irons and office chairs. There were no alternatives.

Gentle order of things

Herbert Jakob Weinand, Teppich “Berlin” (1985) Herbert Jakob Weinand, Teppich “Berlin” (1985) | Photo: Martin Adam Instead, Dieter Rams, Braun’s chief designer, determined the course of things with his concept of the gentle order of things (“die leise Ordnung der Dinge”). Each year, the supposedly best designs were chosen by the Gernan Design Council at the “Bundespreis Gute Form” by means of a point system to be checked off: at the time it was firmly believed that quality in design is measurable. Until then there had been no trace of the critique of functionalism that had begun in countries like Italy as early as the ‘Sixties. The late-comer liberation from industrial design, which was felt to be dogmatic and boring, was all the more vehement: In the ‘Eighties, designers formed groups in Hamburg, Berlin, Düsseldorf and Cologne, to abandon the industrial system with great fanfare and decisively expand the potentials of design and concepts of what it could be. The movement, taking its cue from New German Film and New German Wave, was soon called New German Design and was rebellious to the bone. What these designers created was primarily demonstration objects intended to provoke: strident, bizarre, in-your-face, ironic, sometimes kitschy.
  • Volker Albus, Lichtstele „A59“ (1983) Foto: Martin Adam
    Volker Albus, Lichtstele „A59“ (1983)
  • Axel Kufus/Ulrike Holthöfer, Tischleuchte „Lichterstrauß“ (1985) Foto: Martin Adam © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014 für das Werk von Ulrike Holthöfer
    Axel Kufus/Ulrike Holthöfer, Tischleuchte „Lichterstrauß“ (1985)
  • Kunstflug, „Bauernstuhl“(1983) Foto: Martin Adam
    Kunstflug, „Bauernstuhl“(1983)
  • Möbel perdu (Michel Feith) Leuchte „Tyranno“ (1984) Foto: Martin Adam
    Möbel perdu (Michel Feith) Leuchte „Tyranno“ (1984)
  • Heinz H. Landes FREISCHWINGER „SOLID“ 1986 Beton, Armierungseisen Privatbesitz Foto: Martin Adam, Berlin © VG Bild - Kunst, Bonn 2014
    Heinz H. Landes FREISCHWINGER „SOLID“ 1986 Beton, Armierungseisen Privatbesitz
Heinz Landes, for instance, stuck bent reinforcing rods in freshly-stirred concrete and the cantilever chair Solid was finished; Stiletto dubbed a shopping trolley with the front and sides folded out Consumer’s Rest Lounge Chair; subversively affirmative works arose such as Volker Albus’ A59 lamps that look like red-and-white traffic markers, or the Bauernstuhl (i.e. rustic chair) put together from logs – a parody of German Gemütlichkeit.

Strident, bizarre, in-your-face

Gerd Schulz-Pilath, “Tarantula” (1979) Gerd Schulz-Pilath, “Tarantula” (1979) | Photo: Martin Adam At first glance, the furniture and objects of New German Design seem quite heterogeneous, and yet they all added up to a distinct German approach. Unlike Italian designs, they looked distinctly rougher and more direct, were more strongly influenced by sub-cultural concepts. And also the political and social context of the Bundesrepublik found direct expression in them: the Cold War in Herbert Jakob Weinand’s Pershing tables, or forest die-back in Kunstflug’s Baumleuchten (i.e. tree lamps). Pieces of furniture could now also be conveyors of messages; call forth feelings or appear irritatingly ambiguous, they no longer needed to restrict themselves to use alone. In allusion to artistic strategies, collages, ready-mades and animisms – designs in animal form – arose. They were often only one-offs or small, limited editions that the designers also produced and marketed themselves. In the late Eighties they suddenly vanished from sight. Aside from this, in Volker Albus’ opinion, “We had run out of jokes.”

Stiletto Studios, “Consumer’s Rest” (1983) Stiletto Studios, “Consumer’s Rest” (1983) | Photo: Martin Adam, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014 This half-forgotten generation can now be rediscovered in the exhibition Schrill Bizarr Brachial. Das Neue Deutsche Design der 80er Jahre in the Bröhan Museum Berlin. The curators had to search a long time for some of the 80 objects to be seen here: many were thought to be downright lost; others had been stored untouched in cellars and museum depots for decades. At least no one had taken a closer look at them since the ‘Eighties, despite the fact that these designs, produced and marketed independently, are definitely of relevance to the current situation of design. The Maker Movement could learn a thing or two from New German Design.

“Schrill Bizarr Brachial. Das Neue Deutsche Design der 80er Jahre”
17 October 2014 – 1 February 2015, Bröhan-Museum Berlin
Catalogue edited by Tobias Hoffmann; Wienand Verlag 2014, 240 pages, 36 Euros