Gesamtkunstwerk or Multimedial Distraction: Moholy-Nagy's and Dorner's Collaboration on the 'Room of the Present'

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Conference Proceeding
Fabulation: Proceedings of the XXVIXth International Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, 2012, pp. 619 - 631
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In 1930, László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Dorner collaborated on an exhibition space that they envisaged to become the most ground-breaking museum environment of contemporary art - 'ground-breaking' insofar th¬at the project questioned the fundamental concepts of art and museum per se: Moholy-Nagy saw his experiments with optical phenomena as a Gesamtkunstwerk without Kunst (total work of art without art) that could be applied to all areas of life 1, whilst Dorner envisaged the new type of art museum not as an art museum and not as a museum, but as a cultural Gesamtkunstwerk that educated and activated its visitors. Both men endeavoured to eradicate the boundaries between art and life and in their uncompromising embracement of new technologies and social ideals, they saw industrial design, advertising, and mass media as the logic direction for the development of both art and museum on their ways towards integration with reality. The common key concept that permitted a systematic integration of all creative efforts with reality was the term Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) that pointed to new, productive interrelations between objects, space and inhabitants through perceptual and psychological effects. This paper investigates Moholy-Nagy's and Dorner's interests in the relations between art, museum and mass culture through the lens of their understanding of the Gesamtkunstwerk concept and takes as a starting point their collaboration on the "Room of the Present" for the Provinzialmuseum Hanover - an adaptation of Moholy-Nagy's design for Salle 2 at Walter Gropius' "Section Allemande of the 20th annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes décorateurs" in Paris 1930. The "Room of the Present" was never realized, but the project draws attention to shared ideas and fundamental differences about the future direction of modern life, art and museums.
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