“Die Utopie Des Designs”

Kunstverein München

During the ’60s and early ’70s, designers like Joe Colombo, Ettore Sottsass, Jr., Superstudio, Luigi Colani, or Verner Panton worked with and planned ideas with a universal, perhaps even utopian thrust. For this reason, “Die Utopie des Designs” (The utopia of design) not only exhibited furniture, stereos, or corporate programs, but also touched on urban planning, and architectural questions. The presentation was correspondingly complex and comprehensive.

The working group charged with organizing this exhibition determined that Munich had been an excellent example of that period. The Olympic Games of 1972 offered the opportunity, under favorable economic conditions, to commission prominent architects, designers, and artists—Hans Hollein, Otl Aicher, Frei Otto, Otto Piene among others—for new projects. Carl Andre and Walter de Maria were also consulted, but their projects were never realized. A new housing development was erected around the sports centers, and models for the discussion of general urban problems were developed that reflected a desire to erase the memory of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. This exhibition presented not only the results but also examples of criticism and resistance. In one piece, Wolf Vostell addressed the Vietnam War through running, boxing, swimming, and shooting competitions; in a pamphlet, the group LIDL, organized around Jörg Immendorff, demanded that the Olympic fire be buried in sand; and Timm Ulrichs built a bicycle cage for people, the Marathon Tread Mill, 1972.

The projects that were completed were not the focus of the exhibition, rather, those projects that remained unrealized seemed most relevant to contemporary issues. For example, Munich architect Richard J. Dietrich’s sketches and models, “Metacity,” proposed increasing the population density in the city so that the entire countryside could be left undeveloped.

How utopian really are the design concepts that under the name of progress hoped to join work and recreation? Art, philosophy, sociology, and psychology had a much more utopian thrust in the ’60s, and were often used as a marketing strategy by designers. On the other hand, these models of a future, everyday culture demonstrate how utopian ideas had taken hold even in consumer culture, had become signs of shifting cultural consciousness.

Justin Hoffmann

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.