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Hannes Meyer, "The New World" (1926)

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The constructivist principle runs through all domains of our contemporary culture of expression. That it more clearly and directly prevails wherever the Greeks and Louis XIV have left no trace is to be explained by the law of human inertia: in the advertising industry, mechanical typography, light shows, and photographic processes. The new poster displays in a striking organization poster text and goods or trademarks. It is not a poster-art work, but a visual-sensation work. In the new display window, lighting is used to exploit the tensions of modern materials to psychological ends. Display window organization instead of display window decoration. It appeals to the vast differentiation in the modern person’s feel for materials and exercises its effect across the range of expressive possibilities: FORTISSIMO = tennis shoes to Havana cigars to stain remover to chocolate with nuts! MEZZOFORTE = glass (as bottle) to wood (as crate) to paper (as wrapping) to tinplate (as box)! PIANISSIMO = silk pajama to batiste shirt to Valenciennes lace to “L’Origan de Coty”!

In Esperanto, following the law of least resistance, we are designing an international language in the standardized stenography of a traditionless script. The critical thing is the constructivist approach to city planning. As long as we fail to approach the city-planning problem with the lack of prejudice of a plant engineer, we suffocate the elegant life of the modern city in a cult of ruins and received notions of traffic axes and lines of sight. The city is the most manifold biological agglomeration that people have to master consciously and constructively form. The demands we make of modern life, either in general or by respective social standing, are of the same sort. The truest mark of community is the gratification of such needs by equivalent means. The result of such collective demands is the standard product. Typical standard wares of international origin and uniformity are: the folding chair, the rolltop desk, the light bulb, the bathtub, the portable gramophone. They are the instruments of mechanization in our daily life. Their standardized form is impersonal. Their manufacture proceeds serially. As serial item, serial equipment, serial component, serial house. The standardized cultural product is the hit tune. To the semi-nomad of contemporary economic life the standardization of residential, clothing, nutritional, and cultural requirements affords the vital quotient of mobility, economy, simplicity, and ease. The degree of standardization is the index of our collective economy.

Art’s right to exist is uncontested, to the extent that the speculative spirit of the individual retains a need for a graphic-colored, plastic-constructivist, musical-kinetic expression of his worldview. (Advisedly, we do not speak in this context of “isms,” of the specific attempts of individual artists; the best of whom, Piet Mondrian, recently termed what has already been achieved the surrogate of a yet-to-be-achieved better achievement.) New form can only come about on the ground of our time and with the tools of our time. Yesterday is dead: dead, the bohemian; dead, the mood and the value, the glaze and the brushstrokes of the accidental. Dead, the novel: we lack belief and time to read. Dead, painting and sculpture as a likeness of the empirical world: in the age of film and photography they seem to us a waste of effort, and the constant “embellishment” of our existing surroundings with interpretations by the “artist” is impudent. Dead, the artwork as a “thing in itself,” as “L’art pour l’art”: our collective consciousness tolerates no individualistic excess.

The artist’s atelier becomes a scientific laboratory, and the artist’s works are the product of mental acuity and the power of invention. The artwork of today, like every time-bound product, is subordinate to the conditions of life in our epoch, and the result of our speculative confrontation with the world can only be recorded in exact form. The new artwork is a totality, not a detail, not an impression. The new artwork is formed elementarily through the application of primary means. [ . . . ] The new artwork is a collective work and intended for all; it is neither a prize for the collector nor an individual’s private privilege.

Source of English translation: Hannes Meyer, “Die neue Welt,” Das Werk 13, no. 7 (1926), in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp.445-48. Reprinted with permission of the University of California Press.

Source of original German text: Hannes Meyer, “Die neue Welt,” Das Werk 13, no. 7 (1926), pp. 205-24.

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