Journal Article

Visions of the Future and the Immediate Past: The Werkbund Exhibition, Paris 1930

Paul Overy

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 17, issue 4, pages 337-357
Published in print December 2004 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online December 2004 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI:
Visions of the Future and the Immediate Past: The Werkbund Exhibition, Paris 1930

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What has come to be known as the Werkbund Exhibition was shown as the ‘Section allemande’ of the twentieth annual Salon of the Société des Artistes décorateurs, held at the Grand Palais in Paris between 14 May and 13 July 1930.2 At the time many critics and commentators characterized this as a nationalistic confrontation between French luxury production and German standardization and efficiency, of French preoccupations with the past as opposed to a German determination to design for the future. Architectural and design historians have tended to confirm such a reading at the expense of other important issues relating to the manner in which this highly selective account of German design was presented in Paris in 1930.3 Essentially a Bauhaus rather than a Werkbund exhibition, the Section allemande helped to promote Walter Gropius's own account of the Bauhaus outside Germany, serving as a model for the better known ‘Bauhaus 1919–1928’ exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1938. Gropius and his co-organizers had left the school two years before. The 1930 Paris show was in effect an exhibition of a ‘Bauhaus idea’ that no longer existed at the Bauhaus itself, now under the directorship of Hannes Meyer who was to be dismissed from his post a month after the exhibition closed. The Section allemande was a partisan and self-promoting representation of a formalist and minimalist Bauhaus aesthetic dominating German design—a view strongly contested by many members of the Deutscher Werkbund, which nominally sponsored the exhibition. The central display by Gropius and Marcel Breuer of communal and individual rooms for an apartment building was a polemical demonstration of Gropius's controversial ideas about social housing. It represented an important intervention in the continuing debates of the late 1920s and early 1930s about the types of dwelling appropriate to social housing—debates that were to have major repercussions on European housing policies of the post-war decades, and which are still relevant today.

Keywords: 1930—Bauhaus—Breuer—Design—German—Gropius—Paris—Werkbund

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: History of Art ; Art Forms ; Industrial and Commercial Art ; Art Styles

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