From Avantgarde to Industry
Vitra Schaudepot, Weil am Rhein
22 February – 19 May 2019
We might wonder why the Vitra Design Museum has treated Anton Lorenz’s estate so cautiously and clearly distanced itself from this designer, who has been included there since the founding phase of what is probably Germany’s best-known design museum. But we can also rejoice in the fact that now - Bauhaus celebrations are also taking place here – insights are being granted in the Weiler Schaudepot into this man’s work, albeit out of which Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, in line with product and propaganda requirements of the time created designs.
For the party leader, dictator and mass murderer enjoyed relaxing on Lorenz’s creations, because the National Socialist regime of terror was not as attached to the ideas of blood, earth, home and race, as the propaganda likes to emphasise, even if this is what the supporters of simple juxtapositions of modernism and traditionalism would like to believe. As early as 1935, the designer George Nelson, who was none other than Vitra’s most revered patron saint, alongside the Eames, wrote about tubular steel furniture in the stylistically ambivalent American architecture magazine Pencil Points:
There was, however, a rather amusing exception; tubular steel furniture [...] was on the list of prohibited articles compiled by the new rulers. In the first philanthropic frenzy of saving the German race from base temptation by foreign devils, many such articles were forbidden [...]. They were not-German”, and were described like this to highlight the influence of German steel tube industrialists on political decisions. Then suddenly “tubular steel furniture [...] was as German as the Nuremberg Iron Maiden, as Aryan as frankfurters with sauerkraut. Let all good Teutons come together in swarms to buy all sorts of tubular steel furniture.”
Lorenz, the designer, will now be presented and the image of the entrepreneur, who has so far been known primarily for his copyright claims and court cases, will be decisively redressed. Lorenz’s understanding of the market had a considerable influence on the development of design. For soon after radical beginnings of objects and graphics which are documented in the loose-leaf catalogue “Breuer Metallmöbel” (Breuer metal furniture), Lorenz moved tubular steel furniture towards less spartan designs, thus playing a considerable part in making this furniture, initially so revolutionary, more acceptable to the middle classes. He continued this approach of adapted design by creating adjustable armchairs in the USA, which blazed a trail for the reclining television armchair that is currently ubiquitous in American everyday life. Seeing this now can help to correct some of the illusions about modernism.