Inge Scholl and Otl Aicher founded the Ulm Adult Education Centre in 1943 and sought to bring a progressive, wide-ranging and holistic curriculum to students in light of the strong militaristic and nationalistic zeitgeist of post-WWII Germany. On the arrival of Max Bill, the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm (HfG Ulm) was founded in 1953 and Bill was appointed rector until his departure in 1957. Despite the eventual closure of the HfG in 1968, “The Ulm Model” (the HfG teaching method where Development Groups are formed to work on real industry briefs under instructor supervision) remains relevant now.
Bill, on his appointment as rector, focused the curriculum on design, and believed that good design is both beautiful and practical. The pragmatic and forward-thinking teaching at the HfG Ulm is seen in the many artefacts on display at Raven Row, both experiments or prototypes and actual products.
What made this exhibition highly successful for me was both the curation by Peter Kapos and the space used for the exhibition. Kapos was clever in considering how to display these objects from the HfG with dignity and purpose in mind. Students of the HfG probably never thought their products would be museum-worthy, nor was their education designed to encourage design solutions that were anything more than functional and practical.
Kapos placed objects in rooms that gave them a sense of place and emphasised their purpose. Suitcases, a bed frame, a sewing machine and a vacuum cleaner were put together in a room on the second floor, while another room adjacent had audio system modules, a desk fan, a coffee grinder and a chair and table placed side-by-side. Gallery-goers are led to think “bedroom, lounge” instead of simply “gallery”.
While it is well and good to appreciate the understated curves and modular structures the students applied in the products they worked on (Roericht’s TC 100 ‘Stacking Catering Service’ tableware set and Zeischegg’s Office Equipment are lovely examples), it is beneficial to consider the genius of Kapos in not only displaying Aicher’s and Conrad’s ‘D 55 Flexible Exhibition System’ deep in the ground floor gallery space, but also showing us what it was first designed for—to showcase Braun’s new product range at the 1955 Düsseldorf Radio Exhibition—by enclosing within it the Braun product range, seemingly to depict the actual exhibition in 1955. From this set-up, we understand the exhibition system, because the only way it would have made it inside the gallery space of Raven Row was for it to be taken apart and refitted inside—exactly what it was designed to do.
Seemingly minor curatorial decisions by Kapos added to the winning essence of the exhibition. One is the inclusion of the captions in the exhibition guidebook instead of on the walls next to the objects. Another is the placing of framed drawings of exercises and photographs of products in the first and second floor rooms.
These two touches made the gallery seem less like a gallery and more like a home, where these objects would naturally exist. As a result, Kapos was successful in allowing us to marvel at and understand both the beauty and functionality the HfG Ulm and their teaching methods brought to the design world in their short time as an institution.
Background: This is an exhibition review I did for the “The Ulm Model” exhibition showing at Raven Row, 5 October – 18 December.