German Modernism: Art, Architecture, Design
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Level: Undergraduate
Division: Parsons The New School for Design
School: School of Art and Design History and Theory
Department: Art and Design History
Course Number: PLAH 2145
Course Format: Lecture
Location: NYC campus
Permission Required: No
  • Art History, Theory & Criticism
  • Design History, Theory & Criticism
  • Visual Culture
What does it mean to be modern? For fifty years – between the 1890s and the1940s – artists, architects, and designers in Germany and Austria strove to answer this question by creating works that changed the course of history. From the revolutionary art and design of the Munich Secession in 1892, to the notoriously modern “degenerate art” exhibited by the Nazis in 1937, German and Austrian artists engaged with modern culture, modern politics, and the everyday experience of modern life in significant and startling ways. The result is an astonishingly rich and complex material “modernism” that includes eerie images of the occult; utopian visions of harmony and progress; practical reforms of “frivolous” fashions and “fussy” household objects; graphic art that wields political power; gritty images of poverty, vice, and war; and the “clean lines” of the glass-and-steel architecture made famous by the Bauhaus school. This course will survey major figures, movements, and objects of Germanic modernism with emphasis on questions of cultural identity and social modernity: What makes these objects specifically “German”? Why do we understand them – still today – as “modern”? What sort of cultural “climate” were these objects “born” into, and what was their effect on modern life as they were experienced or used? Lectures will explore topics including: Occultism and Abstraction; the Total Work of Art; Psychology and Dreams; Fashion and Dress Reform; Art and Spirituality; Expressionism, Nudism, and Nature-Worship; Responses to World War I; Urban Grit and Objectivity; Modern Architecture and Housing Reform; Nonsense, Insanity, and the Surreal; Modern Sexuality and The New Woman; Degenerate Art and Nazi Politics. Students will investigate works in a variety of formats such as paintings, prints, photography, designed objects, housing settlements, architecture and interiors, installations, mixed-media sculptures, dolls and puppets, and exhibitions. The course will feature guest lectures by local experts, as well as excursions to the Museum of Modern Art and the Neue Galerie. Students will read selections from period writings by artists, collectors, and culture figures, to gain a firsthand sense of the modern period. In addition to midterm and final examinations, students will write 3 short, object-focused papers that approach historical events and ideas from a creative perspective. Pathway: Art History, Design History, Criticism
Course Open to: Degree Students with Restrictions
Course Pre/Co-requisites:
Open to: University undergraduate degree students, freshman and sophomores only. Pre-requisite(s): first-year university writing course and at least one prior history or methods course in art, media, film, or visual culture


Open to Undergraduate students.