Marianne Brandt, design hero

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy – 2. When Laszlo Moholy-Nagy arrived at the Bauhaus in 1923, its mission was defined by the opening lines of its founding manifesto: “Architects, sculptors, painters. we must all turn to the crafts…” Moholy changed the focus from craft to industrial design and technology under a new slogan “Art and Technology: A New Unity”. One of the main beneficiaries was a German student Marianne Brandt, who enrolled at the Bauhaus in the same year as Moholy. Had she arrived earlier, Brandt would have been forced to study ceramics or weaving, like other women students, but Moholy encouraged her to join the metal workshop, where she led the experiments to develop a practical, appealing industrial design aesthetic, which would be suitable for mass production. When Moholy left the Bauhaus in 1928, Brandt took over as head of the metalwork course, and soon secured contracts for the school to design lighting for Industry. The royalties subsidised the Bauhaus’s precarious finances for several years. Brandt quit in 1929 and became head of metal design for a German manufacturer, one of the first woman to assume such a role. In letters to Moholy, she described how her sexist and conservative colleagues were blocking her efforts to modernise the company’s products. After losing her job in the 1930s depression, she eked out a living from freelance design and teaching, while continuing the photographic experiments she had begun under Moholy tutelage at the Bauhaus. When World War II ended, Brandt found herself cut off from most of her Bauhaus colleagues in East Germany. After a bold, but short lived attempt to create a radical successor to the Bauhaus in Dresden in the late 1940s with the Dutch designer Mart Stam, who had defected to East Germany, Brandt lived quietly, focussing on teaching, curation and photography, until her death in 1989.

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