Congratulations to former CDH director, Jeremy Aynsley on the announcement of his Leverhulme Emeritus Fellowship 2023

Re-posted from the Leverhulme website:

Modernism and Design in Germany

Building on over forty years’ interest in the subject, Jeremy Aynsley’s research addresses the enduring question of modernism and design in Germany, as it became defined, promoted and contested

The significant impact and legacies of modernism remain an enduring problematic across multiple academic disciplines, and in this, design and its histories are no exception. Ever since the first published writings of Nikolaus Pevsner in 1936, modern design in Germany has held a prominent place. Today, however, many of the underlying principles on which this prominence was claimed have been tested and opened to more plural, diverse and complex understandings. The wider project to which this current research contributes argues that in the case of design, its history can be interpreted as a series of ruptures, false starts and discontinuities largely caused by Germany’s complex political history. My focus at this stage of the project will be on the implications of two momentous events for design, respectively, the nation’s political division into East and West in 1949 and, over forty years later, the reunification in 1990.

On the establishment of the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany, many designers from the pre-war years who shared both their training and visual language resumed practice. Finding themselves in ideologically opposed contexts, how did they navigate the different social and political expectations for design? Others have argued that it would be mistaken to understand design during the Cold War as straightforwardly reflecting political division. With further research into the careers of individual designers and close examination of their works – posters, book designs and graphic identity schemes – as well as an investigation into the structures and organisation of design, I will seek to understand the parallel and contrasting circumstances that faced designers.

The second aspect of my focus will be to consider the implications for legacies of design modernism following German reunification. For many, the country’s design is best epitomised by the word ‘Bauhaus’. Indeed in 2019, the centennial of the founding of this famous school of design prompted widespread media attention along with a significant body of new research. A programme of restoration and re-modelling of original Bauhaus sites accelerated during the last thirty years as well as the building of new museums. These led to many innovative curatorial initiatives across the principal design collections. On a broader front, in this new political world, the question became how should design modernism, a thing of the past, be interpreted and its relevance assessed? And could this be seen as another moment of a delayed or contested response to modernism?