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Marcel Breuer 1928

Marcel Breuer Design and Architecture

A Vitra Design Museum Travelling Exhibition


Considered the “inventor” of tubular steel furniture, the designer
and architect Marcel Breuer (1902–1981) is one of the most influential
designers of the 20th century. Born and raised in Hungary, he studied
at the Bauhaus where he went on to head the furniture workshop
from 1925 to 1928. During this period, he produced numerous tubular
steel furniture pieces, including the legendary Wassily club chair that
brought him international renown. With his furniture in aluminum and
molded plywood in the 1930s, he continued to make design history
until immigrating to the USA in 1937. First working as a professor at
Harvard University, Breuer began a second, highly successful career
as an architect. Owing a great deal to modernism, his buildings –
primarily single-family homes, university and office buildings as well
as museums – were internationally recognized in the 1950s and
1960s for their exemplary character.
The retrospective produced by the Vitra Design Museum pays tribute
to Breuer’s well-known contributions to 20th century design history.
Yet it also brings renewed attention to his architectural works, which
have fallen somewhat into oblivion in the past decades. In so doing,
it is the first exhibition to give proper attention to both areas of
Marcel Breuer’s work.
Marcel Breuer Design and Architecture

He was an artist. He was the best teacher I ever had.


All the others were Bauhaus ideologues.
Philip Johnson on Marcel Breuer

A Vitra Design Museum Travelling Exhibition


Contents
1. Introduction
2. Concept
3. Curator
4. Consultants
5. Objects / Installation
6. Catalogue
7. Accompanying sales products
8. Contacts

Club armchair; first version Standard-Möbel 1927


Whitney Museum of American Art, New York 1964-66
1. Introduction
The designer and architect Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) numbers
among the most important and prolific designers of the twentieth
century. Today he is best known for his furniture. The tubular steel
pieces created by Breuer during his tenure at the Bauhaus and during
the following years, which have enjoyed unflagging popularity for
decades, must be counted among the great classics of modernism.
When one thinks of Breuer, the Wassily armchair, the Bauhaus
stool or his famous cantilevered tubular steel chairs (Cesca, B35)
quickly come to mind. To a degree equaled only by Wagenfeld’s
legendary table lamp, these have become representative of the design
philosophy and domestic culture of an entire era. Yet it was not only
his tubular steel furniture that contributed to Breuer’s international
success. The aluminum and molded plywood pieces from the 1930s
also attained historical significance and had a lasting impact upon
succeeding generations of designers.

Although Breuer advanced in just a few years’ time from a Bauhaus


student to one of the leading furniture and interior designers of
the twentieth century, he regarded himself first and foremost as an
architect. As early as the mid-twenties, he considered building to
be the primary aim of his work. After halting attempts in Europe and
(beginning in 1937) the USA, which were largely attributable to the
Great Depression and World War II, his architectural career gained
considerable momentum toward the end of the 1940s. Breuer
succeeded in expanding and refining the architectural vocabulary of
modernism, first with the building of single-family homes and villas.
Beginning in the fifties, he was able to realize a number of prestigious
large-scale projects, such as the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, the
IBM research center La Gaude in southern France and the Whitney
Museum of American Art in New York. Until 1976, when he withdrew
from professional work for health reasons, Breuer was one of the
most successful and internationally renowned architects of his time.
Canteen Bauhaus Dessau 1926; stools and tables by Breuer
2. Concept
The Vitra Design Museum possesses one of the most extensive and
comprehensive collections of Marcel Breuer’s furniture designs world-
wide. In addition, the Museum owns the archive of Anton Lorenz, a
long-time business partner of Breuer who assembled an outstanding
collection of original documents on the history of tubular steel furniture
that includes important source material on the evolution of Breuer’s
furniture designs. Therefore, the Vitra collection and archive offer a
solid foundation for a comprehensive retrospective of the work of this
innovative master. Several American institutions (Archives of American
Art in Washington, Syracuse University Library in Syracuse, N.Y., MoMA
and the Whitney Museum in New York City) and previous co-workers
of Breuer have been consulted for the research and presentation of his
work in the USA.

With its retrospective on the work of Marcel Breuer, the Vitra Design
Museum will focus on his seminal contribution to the development of
furniture and interior design in the twentieth century. At the same time,
the exhibition provides an opportunity to reintroduce Breuer’s long-
neglected architectural oeuvre to the public and to reassess its place
in modern architecture.

A pivotal contribution of this Bauhaus master to the history of design –


and one that can be designated without exaggeration as revolutionary –
was the “invention” of tubular steel furniture. A presentation of the
incremental development and perfection of Breuer’s tubular steel
furniture within the mere time of five years is, therefore, one of the main
aims of the exhibition. Of hardly less import, from today’s perspective,
are Breuer’s designs for aluminum and wood laminates from the thirties,
which also represent ground-breaking innovations. They will receive
deserved attention, as well as the legendary interiors by Breuer during
his early days at the Bauhaus. Examples that had a significant influence
upon twentieth century domestic culture include the interior of the
master house for Walter Gropius in Dessau and the home of the famous
theatre director Erwin Piscator in Berlin. Within the context of furniture
design, the exhibition will explore the periodically intensive and
consequential relationship between Breuer and Alvar Aalto. Breuer’s
design work will be documented with a large number of original furniture
pieces, as well as drawings and photographs.
Table B 12, 1928 Isokon long chair, 1935/36 Chair B33, 1927/8 Club armchair, version
Thonet B3, 1930/31

Armchair, 1922 Set of nesting tables B9, Lounge chair, 1932/33 Armchair B34, 1928 Side table B 12, 1928
1925/26

Isokon side chairs and table, 1936/37 Isokon nesting tables, Thonet stool B 8, 1930 Chair and desk;
1936 dormitory rhoads Hall,
Bryn Mawr College, 1938

Shelve, 1930 Reclining Chair, 1932/34 Stool B9, 1925/26 Armchair B64, 1928
Catalogue of Thonet tubular steel Thonet poster, 1931
furniture, 1930

B35 Lounge chair, 1928/29


Dining room, Piscator apartment, Berlin 1927

Wohnbedarf store,
Zurich 1932/33
In contrast to many other designers who have worked more or less
simultaneously in the areas of architecture and design, Breuer’s work
in these two fields falls into relatively distinct time periods. The most
important part of his design career was already completed when his
activity as an architect began in earnest. The few furniture pieces
designed after 1945 did not achieve the same success as the models
from the 1920s and ‘30s. Yet even in the case of Breuer, it would
be erroneous to consider his buildings and furnishings completely
independent from one another. The exhibition will strive to delineate
the many parallels between these spheres of his creative work, for
example, in the emphasis on construction, in the interaction of
individual components, or in the attention to detail.

The exhibition provides the opportunity to re-evaluate Breuer’s


architectural oeuvre. While it was held in disregard during the post-
modern period, such an assessment is fully unjustified. In contrast to his
one-time teacher and mentor, Walter Gropius, Breuer was not a stalwart
advocate of an ossified and dogmatic Moderne creed. Rather, his work
bears witness to the creative evolution of modern design principles.
Breuer was one of the first architects to use highly textured materials
such as wood and untreated stone, which have become main character-
istics of regionally influenced design in the postwar era. The expressive
forms of his large-scale projects, in particular, are both powerful and
original. His sculptural buildings with molded facades demonstrate a
masterful application of the effects of light and shadow, and stand up to
a comparison with Le Corbusier’s contemporary work. Finally, Breuer’s
influence on the development of the single-family home can hardly be
overestimated. With his own residences, with the model home presented
in the garden of the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1949, and with
villas constructed in Switzerland, Breuer repeatedly achieved exemplary
solutions and provided new impulses for one of the twentieth century’s
prominent building types.

Breuer’s extensive architectural work will be documented in the


exhibition with drawings, floor plans, photographs, models and video
projections. Due to the fact that only a few projects can be described
in detail, additional buildings will be presented with the aid of inter-
active computer terminals.
Entrance Whitney Museum of Breuer I House in Lincoln Single family house, originally planed for an
American Art in New York, 1964-66 (Massachusetts), 1938/39 exhibition in the MoMA garden, 1948/49

Pack House in Scarsdale (New York), 1950-51 Courtyard of Pack House

Apartment houses Doldertal in Zurich UNESCO Headquaters in Paris (with B. Nervi and B. Zehrfuss), 1952-58
(with Alfred and Emil Roth), 1934

IBM Research Center in


La Gaude (France), 1960-62
Hooper II House in Baltimore County (Maryland), 1956-59
Church at Saint John’s Abbey and University Complex in Collegeville (Minnesota), 1954-68

Atlanta Central Public Library


in Atlanta (Georgia), 1977-80
3. Curator + 4. Consultants
Curator

Mathias Remmele works as a publicist, curator and docent.


He writes for scholarly journals and national daily newspapers
(Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Bauwelt, Archithese, Design Report, Form)
as an architecture and design critic. Remmele organised the retro-
spective exhibition on Verner Panton in 1999/2000 for the Vitra
Design Museum and edited the accompanying catalogue entitled
“Verner Panton – The Complete Oeuvre.” Since 2000, he is a
lecturer at the University of Art and Design in Basle, Switzerland.

Consultans

Barry Bergdoll teaches art history at Columbia University in New


York. In 2001, he co-curated the MoMA (NYC) exhibition on Mies van
der Rohe. He is presently working on a book about the architecture
of Marcel Breuer.

Joachim Driller is an art historian who teaches in the Department of


Architecture at the University of Wuppertal. He has published a highly
regarded monograph on Marcel Breuer’s single-family houses.

Ulrich Fiedler, is a gallery owner in cologne and expert in Bauhaus


furniture and objects.

Isabelle Hyman teaches art and architectural history at New York


University. She published the first comprehensive monograph on the
Marcel Breuer’s architectural oeuvre in 2001.

Otakar Màčel is an art historian and teaches at the Technical


University in Delft. With numerous publications he has established
a reputation as an expert on tubular steel furniture.

Alexander von Vegesack, collector and founding Director of the Vitra


Design Museum in Weil am Rhein and Berlin. Author of “Deutsche
Stahlrohrmöbel”, “Das Thonet Buch” and various publications on
tubular steel furniture.
5. Objects / Installation + 6. Catalogue + 7. Sales products
Furniture (approx. 60-70)
Photos (approx. 150-200)
Books, brochures, detail catalogues (approx. 25)
Drawings (approx. 25)
Architectural models (approx. 8-10)
Interactive computer terminals (approx. 6)
Video projections (approx. 2)

Exhibition floor space: approx. 600 – 1000 square meters


Transport volume: approx. Four 40-feet high-cube containers
(prospective estimate)

Catalogue

Marcel Breuer - Design and Architecture


Edited by Alexander von Vegesack and Mathias Remmele
Approx. 300 pages with numerous illustrations

In addition to essays by Barry Bergdoll, Joachim Driller, Isabelle


Hyman, Otakar Màčel, Mathias Remmele and others, the catalogue
includes texts by Marcel Breuer and personal accounts by his
contemporaries. Also projected is a catalogue raisonné of Marcel
Breuer’s furniture designs.

Accompanying sales products

The Vitra Design Museum will offer an assortment of exhibition-related


retail products to partner venues.
8. Contacts
Questions about the exhibition concept or content should be directed to:

Vitra Design Museum


Mathias Remmele
Guest curator
Charles-Eames Strasse 1
D-79576 Weil am Rhein
gastkurator@design-museum.de
Tel. +49 (0)7621 702 3728, Fax. +49 (0)7621 702 4728

For booking arrangements or questions regarding the exhibition itinerary,


please contact :

Vitra Design Museum


Reiner Packeiser
Head of Exhibition Department
Charles-Eames-Strasse 1
D-79576 Weil am Rhein
reiner.packeiser@design-museum.de
Tel. +49(0)7621 702 3729, Fax. +49 (0)7621 702 4729