Richard Riemerschmid's Extraordinary Living Things
416 pp., 7 x 9 in, 92 color illus., 42 b&w illus.
- Published: November 1, 2022
How Richard Riemerschmid's designs of everyday—but “extraordinary”—objects recalibrate our understanding of modernism.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, German artist Richard Riemerschmid (1868–1957) was known as a symbolist painter and, by the advent of World War I, had become an important modern architect. This, however, the first English-language book on Riemerschmid, celebrates his understudied legacy as a designer of everyday objects—furniture, tableware, clothing—that were imbued with an extraordinary sense of vitality and even personality. Freyja Hartzell makes a case for the importance of Riemerschmid's designed objects in the development of modern design—and for the power of everyday things to change the way we live our lives, understand history, and design our future. Hartzell offers for the first time an interpretive history of Riemerschmid's design practice embedded in a fresh examination of modernism told by the objects themselves.
Hartzell explores Riemerschmid's early drawings, paintings, and prints; his interiors and housewares, which represent a modernist shift from exclusive image to accessible object; his designs for women's clothing; his immensely popular wooden furniture; his serially produced ceramics and their appeal to German nationalism of the period; and his complex and compelling pattern designs for textiles and wallpapers, the only part of his creative practice that spanned his entire career. Riemerschmid, Hartzell writes, was at his most inventive, playful, and free when designing things for everyday use. His uniquely designed forms allow us to recognize the utilitarian object not just as a tool but as an individual being—a thing with a soul.
“In her lyrical examination of Richard Riemerschmid's beautiful, lively, and prescient objects, Freyja Hartzell restores to history a titan of modern design.”
Elizabeth Otto, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History, The University at Buffalo, State University of New York; author of Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics
“Freyja Hartzell's book is a brilliant re-reading of the early years of German modernism, using Richard Riemerschmid's prewar designs to explore how changing ideas about objects themselves contributed to new ways of making and thinking. Hartzell offers us a novel, historically grounded history of modernism, at the same time challenging long-established beliefs about what it meant to be modern in late Wilhelmine Germany.”
Christopher A. Long, School of Architecture, University of Texas at Austin; author of The New Space: Movement and Experience in Viennese Modern Architecture
“Freyja Hartzell's pioneering study examines Richard Riemerschmid's uncanny, seemingly animated, designed objects in relation to empathy theory, emergent psychoanalytic concepts, and to biological and art historical discourses. By making visible the paradoxes of Riemerschmid–iconoclast and historicist; avant-gardist and commercial designer; progressive and nationalist–Hartzell offers a significant rethinking of modernism itself.”
Tim Barringer, Yale University Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art, Yale University; co-editor of On the Viewing Platform: The Panorama from Canvas to Screen, with Katie Trumpener
“By dissecting the design production of a single artist across scales—from beer mugs to chairs, dresses to furnished rooms—this erudite book retraces artifacts through theories of empathy, vitalism, and animation, while simultaneously proposing a radical understanding of Sachlichkeit as lively thingliness.”
Spyros Papapetros, Associate Professor, Princeton University; author of On the Animation of the Inorganic: Art, Architecture, and the Extension of Life