Journal Article

Art to the Worker! National Socialist Fabrikausstellungen, Slippery Household Goods and Volksgemeinschaft

Michael Tymkiw

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 26, issue 4, pages 362-380
Published in print November 2013 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online January 2013 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jdh/eps060
Art to the Worker! National Socialist Fabrikausstellungen, Slippery Household Goods and Volksgemeinschaft

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The Nazi leisure organization Kraft durch Freude organized roughly 4,000 exhibitions of artworks, crafts, and consumer objects in factories across Germany. This paper explores the ideological function of mass-produced housewares and decorative objects within these shows—in particular, how these objects reinforced the notion that National Socialism would bring individual Germans together as members of a Volksgemeinschaft, or ‘people’s community’. By analysing how individual objects entered into dialogue with the exhibition site, with each other, and with spectators, I argue that factory exhibitions gave traction to the concept of ‘people’s community’ in three ways. First, the exhibitions used the interplay between displayed objects and their immediate environment to metaphorically re-shift the factory from a paradigmatic site of Gesellschaft (‘society’) to one of Gemeinschaft (‘community’). Second, although exhibited objects were frequently governed by different formal vocabularies, these differences created slippages between objects with explicitly political or racial references and those whose ideological charge was less overt. Third, regardless of the seeming innocuousness of the exhibited mass-produced housewares and decorative objects, the inclusion of these goods directed workers’ demand, as consumers, toward products made by ideologically compliant, ‘racially pure’ manufacturers—a process that companies hosting the exhibitions facilitated largely out of self-interest.

Keywords: 1930s; decorative arts; exhibition design; Germany; home decoration; ideology; propaganda

Journal Article.  10171 words.  Illustrated.

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

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