German Design 1949–1989

Two Countries, One History

Driven by the Bauhaus and Werkbund movements, German design gained wide recognition in the early twentieth century. After 1949, its development followed a unique path as designers in the divided nation continued working under opposing political systems in East and West Germany. More than thirty years after the German reunification, the exhibition »German Design 1949–1989: Two Countries, One History« is the first to explore German design on both sides of the Iron Curtain. While giving insights into the differ ent design philosophies in the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, it also reveals the many parallels and interrelations linking design in East and West during the nation’s divide. 

Cheap plastic and shrill colours in the East, cool functionalism in the West: the notions of German post-war design are ruled by clichés. The exhibition breaks with simplistic stereotypes and presents a differentiated view, looking at protagonists like Dieter Rams or Hans Gugelot in the West and Rudolf Horn or Margarete Jahny in the East, leading institutions such as Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle or the Ulm School of Design, and tendencies such as the continuation of Bauhaus ideas in the post-war era or, in the 1980s, design as a medium of protest and subversion. 

The exhibits range from iconic furniture and lighting to graphic design, industrial design, and interior design as well as fashion, textiles, and jewellery. Set against the backdrop of German division, many of the exhibits offer surprising perspectives and illustrate design’s significant role as a tool of politics and propaganda during the Cold War period.

An exhibition by the Vitra Design Museum, the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden and the Wüstenrot Foundation

Supported by the Federal Foreign Office

600 – 1,200 m² / 6,000 – 12,000 sq ft

Erika Pinner 
Klara Němečková

Exhibition Design
Konstantin Grcic

Graphic Design

Detailed information
Illustrated Concept
Exhibition Film

Exhibition Tour
20.03.2021 – 05.09.2021, Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany  
15.10.2021 – 06.03.2022, Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Germany
10.01.2023 – 16.04.2023, Tsinghua University Art Museum, Peking, China
13.09.2023 – 14.01.2024, Vienna Furniture Museum, Austria 

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