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7/9
Birgit Jooss

Applied art and design — the first three documenta exhibitions and their relation to Bauhaus ideas

From the very outset, Arnold Bode wanted to document the unity of the fine and applied arts at the documenta exhibitions, as the Bauhaus had already done in the prewar period. But for the time being, documenta was limited to paintings and sculptures.

His feeling for good design, however, was revealed in his widely acclaimed stagings. The fact that he had worked intensively as a furniture designer, a surface designer for wallpaper and plastic sheets, and a scenographer for trade fairs and design exhibitions in the 1950s had a positive effect on documenta.

From the very outset, Arnold Bode had expressed the desire to document the unity of the fine and applied arts at the documenta exhibitions, as the Bauhaus had already done in the prewar period. His affinity for the artistic results and productive practices there arose from his understanding of art, which coincided with the Bauhaus's idea that art must unfold a social impact. He shared with the Bauhaus the vision of a better, more humane, fairer society, to which a comprehensive environmental design could make a decisive contribution.

But contrary to his wishes, it was not possible to integrate exhibits from the fields of applied art and design at the first documenta 1/9. Still, the exhibition staging achieved remarkable results. Bode demonstrated an unusual, deliberately reduced aesthetic with the legendary "göppinger plastics" as light-filtering curtains and room dividers, metal frames that served as picture holders, Heraklith panels, unplastered, white-painted masonry, and a reduction to black and white. This stood in contrast to the aesthetics during the time of the so-called economic miracle and he perhaps drew on the simplicity of the prewar period

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In the exhibits, on the other hand, only the traditional academic arts were featured: painting and sculpture 2/9. Although Bode and his companions may have envisioned the Bauhaus as a reference model, the selection of exhibits did not offer any concrete examples of a modern "shaping" of life. The fundamental concern of the Bauhaus, to unite art and crafts or, from 1922-23, art and technology, was not at the center of the first documenta. Manifestations in the form of product and graphic design, film, photography, and the stage were missing. Bode and his employees did not create unity in the sense of a Gesamtkunstwerk nor of a parity of the arts, nor did they penetrate or even abolish art in order to transfer it to life.

In the 1950s, Bode had worked particularly intensively as a furniture designer, as a designer of wallpaper and plastic sheets, as a scenographer for trade fair and design exhibitions, as a teacher at the Werkakademie in Kassel, and as a design critic and member of important design associations#i. Bode only met the ideal of the penetration of art and design with one "plaything" parallel to the first documenta: In his activity as curator for the "göppinger galerie" in Frankfurt#g.


For the second documenta, Arnold Bode again endeavored to expand the arts. But again without result. Only one non-academic genre was added, which, however, received a very prominent place. In the central staircase of the rotunda of the Fridericianum, a small group of large-format knitted carpets was shown, including one created by Bauhaus student Fritz Winter.

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#g
Die göppinger galerie in Frankfurt

Ground floor of the Museum Fridericianum, front left the sculpture "Negertrompeter" (1950) by Gerhard Marcks, first documenta, 1955
© documenta archiv / Photo: Hilmar Deist / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

Max Bill: Konstruktion, 1937, first documenta, 1955
© documenta archiv / Photo: Erich Müller / Bildarchiv Foto Marburg / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

Paintings by Oskar Kokoschka and a sculpture by Ernesto de Firori with göppinger plastics as a material for spatial design at the first documenta, 1955
© documenta archiv / Photo: Günther Becker / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

Chagall-Saal, göppinger plastics as a material for spatial design at the first documenta, 1955
© documenta archiv / Photo: Günther Becker / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

Beckmann-Saal, göppinger plastics as a material for spatial design at the first documenta, 1955
© documenta archiv / Photo: Günther Becker / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019

It was not until 1964 that documenta 3 positioned itself within the debates on design with a special exhibition. It opened late on August 22, 1964 at the Staatliche Werkkunstschule and received its own exhibition publication: in addition to "Volume 1: Painting and Sculpture" and "Volume 2: Drawings,” there was "Volume 3: Industrial Design, Graphics.” In the accompanying catalog, Bode spoke of "penetrating peripheral areas," which documenta was now getting involved in.


The special show was the responsibility of the graphic artist Jupp Ernst, director of the Staatliche Werkkunstschule Kassel. Already during his directorship at the Werkkunstschule Wuppertal, he had endeavored to integrate fine art into design education and, at the same time, from 1951, established one of the first institutes for industrial design. Ernst had been a member of the documenta Council since 1963 and in this function was also active in the Industrial Design and Graphic Design Working Committee. It was in this function that he set up the special show.


The Industrial Design department showed works from the field of technical industrial design, such as capital goods and office machines, flanked by large-format photographs of bridges, machines, trains, etc. Ernst thus reached the level of the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, which had changed direction at the end of the 1950s and was planning an expansion of the Bauhaus concept into current design areas. At the same time, he took up discussions that were a focus of Werkbund circles as well as many design institutions that were newly created in the postwar period. Former Bauhaus teacher Wilhelm Wagenfeld and Bauhaus student Herbert Hirche, whose works were exhibited in Kassel in 1964, also had a decisive influence on post-1945 design and its updated discourses8/9#m.


The handling of applied art and design is therefore a vivid indicator of how the Bauhaus was negotiated as a model by the makers of the first documenta exhibitions. The autonomy of painting and sculpture guaranteed in artistic abstraction seemed to Bode—like many protagonists of postwar modernism—to ensure a higher-quality spirituality beyond everyday political events. One of the main opportunities that the Bauhaus identification model offered its followers, the ability to shape life itself, was missing in the early documenta exhibitions with the restriction to visual art.


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