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"idealists" Tag

Bauhaus Tea

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

When I visited the Stedelijk Base, I looked at a very diverse range of objects. From colorful Kirchner paintings to the well-known Eams chair, but Christian Dell’s tea infuser from the Bauhaus collection particularly drew my attention for its small size and simplistic appearance. It is made from silver-plated brass and the part where you hold the object, the varnish is slightly worn off and damaged which gives it a precious look.

While I was looking for other objects to potentially  base my research on, I started noticing that while people walked around, the tea infuser was overlooked a lot by everyone, so I decided to stick with the object.

Christian Dell (1893 - 1974) tea infuser
Christian Dell (1893 - 1974) tea infuser (1924) at Stedelijk Base

I started by doing some initial research while I was still at the Stedelijk Museum. At the library archive I asked if they could tell me when and where the tea infuser was purchased by the museum, I found out it was purchased from Christie’s Amsterdam in 2003.

In their archive they also had a book called Metallwerkstatt und Bauhaus edited by Klaus Weber, published by Bauhaus-Archiv Berlin. A 332 page book that is specifically about the history of the metal workshop from the Bauhaus. Unfortunately it was in German, so I could not use any information this book was providing.

When I got to the Rietveld library I found several books regarding Bauhaus. The metal workshop was only mentioned in the bigger and general editions. But I did not find any specific information about this tea infuser nor was there much information about Christian Dell himself. So I started my research online.

Initially a lot of auction websites appeared where I could buy the tea infuser myself, but when I changed and added other keywords in my search I finally found a lot more information about Christian Dell.

Christian Dell worked as a foreman of the metal workshop at the Bauhaus in Weimar between 1922 to 1925. He was hired after Willy Schabbon and Alfred Kopka, who lasted there for a short time. When Christian Dell was hired, the metal workshop gained some needed stability. Still, not much is known about Christian Dell.  Only that Christian Dell was a very experienced silversmith and a skilled teacher.

Prior to the War he was at the Wiener Werkstätte in Vienna, producing metal tableware in an avant-garde and geometric style. At the Bauhaus metal workshop Dell’s work was completely absent of decoration and concentrated on the innovative use of geometric forms. He was mostly known for his highly innovative designs of lamps. So the tea infuser made me wonder how it came about that Christian Dell was the one who designed it. I fantasized about that his idea and goal were to give another light to the transparency of water.  But when I thought of the principles of Bauhaus I realized it probably meant much more than that.

Christian Dell, tea infuser at MoMa Christian Dell, tea infuser at MoMa

Many questions began to flood my head. At first, I contemplated about the fact that tea was normally something for aristocrats in the times of colonialism when it was imported and which resulted in it being partially westernized. The fact that it was meant for the upper class made me aware of the obvious contradiction with the Bauhaus ideals. Besides that, I also found it very interesting how this small tea infuser brought me to think of big historic moments and political affairs. Maybe more so than the paintings shown by Piet Mondriaan and such. This partially because it is so self-evident and quite easy to integrate the object into your own life. Unlike a painting where you are immediately confronted with aesthetic issues and has no real  useful function in daily life.


The island of Utopia

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A page of the 3rd publication from the first english version of Utopia, made in 1597 by Raphe Robinson

A page of the 3rd publication from the first english version of Utopia, made in 1597 by Raphe Robinson


The book Utopia was published in 1516 by Thomas More. The word itself means “nowhere”, from the ancient Greek language. As it is said, it was written to give an example of a better society rather than the one of  Europe in the sixteenth century could be like.

As I started reading it there was just one question that kept arousing into my mind: how could the Utopians be so willing to obey the rules? Was More making use of his famous black sense of humor when he designed them?

The Utopians are a group of devoted, placid people; they all dress with the same garments and eat in big cantines. Their sense of community is greatly strong. They agree with all the rules. But that sounds so atypical. More, as many other utopians have done, created a little society where human feelings as fear, hate, jealousy and rage almost didn’t exist.

In fact, many utopic authors created a world in which these feelings didn’t exist either. Like the dystopian work of Aldous Huxley, “A Brave New World”, in which humans take pills to be constantly happy. Most utopias are made to terminate all bad feelings. But why not learn to control them and coexist with them? The deeper the pain, the deeper the joy. A world without these feelings would be a passive world. And in a passive world, there’s little space for big strokes of imagination and self-thinking. How boring would that be…

An example of how the island of Utopia could have looked like Isola_di_Utopia_Moro
An example of how the island of Utopia could have looked ~ how it was illustrated in the first edition

That lead me to think that most utopias are dangerous. As they represent the most ideally perfect aspects of society/mankind, and perfection is a subjective concept, they are very susceptible to not to fit the personal needs of every human being. So they can easily set apart any person who doesn’t correspond the same ideal, and put her in a cage.

Hitler almost realized his own utopia, and drove many people to serve him in this savagery. Maybe the others could sympathize with him because they saw, too, the heaven in Hitler’s mind. However after the discovery of the Holocaust, utopias could never be the same.

I’m not sure if I could, as many people do, relate that much Thomas More to the humanists of the 15th century. They put for the first time men before God, seeked the ability of the human being to think by itself and break with traditions, and supported more the science rather than the superstition. Thomas More was a deeply religious person, and he even stated being God’s servant when he was executed. However, his book Utopia pursues the finest achievement of a human community in what regards society organization, behaviour and education. So to have gone gone so deep into the matter, shouldn’t More have had a real passion for humanism?

More’s book is not easy to read. Used as we are, “free” educated thinkers from the 21rst century, to judge and compare everything with our current times, I think it’s difficult to put yourself into the mindset of the 15th century. I believe it’s a truly visionary book to be written back in that time, when religion had a considerable place in the european population, taking big imporance in every act.
atenas Renaissance artists from the 15th century seeked, too, to find perfection and utopy in the human body

Renaissance artists from the 15th century seeked, too, to find perfection and utopy in the human body

And exactly 440 years after Utopia was published, Constant Nieuwenhuys started working in New Babylon. His structures were motivated by the devastated cities he saw after World War II; he started thinking about how architecture influences daily life, and how it creates a specific environment depending on its shape and interior organization. When I thought about Constant and More together, I couldn’t imagine such differents idealists. But as soon as I started going deeper into his ideals, and tried to understand them, I could see some resemblances. On one hand, I think they were united by the fact that they both had a fascination for anthropology. Constant and More put a great effort into imagining, each one their own way, ways to enhance culture and society. What would have happened if we combined the community of More with Constant’s architecture? Perhaps it would have been a total failure, as it is like combining two opposite worlds that scream for way divergent paragons of life. Constant architecture was made to play, whereas iddleness was totally forbidden in More’s book.


An example of one of Constant's scale models for New Babylon

I can also imagine that some art tendencies would have been banned in Utopia. As they hide, as well, butcher houses because it stimulates human violence, they would have probably limited art to just beautifully looking things that appeal to “nice acts”.

But what More, with his deeply religious faith (which maybe nowadays would have been translated into a deep love for mankind) would have designed for nowadays? Aren’t we almost living in a utopia right now, isn’t Amsterdam some sort of bubble? How would he would have felt in our current capitalist world? He was not an artist but I believe he had a deep love and understanding for humanity. Which doesn’t take him that far from art..


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