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A special exhibition of the Museum of Decorative Arts

Alongside urban planning and architecture, design played a central role in shaping the socialist future. On both sides of the Iron Curtain, the housing issue in particular became the yardstick for the successful implementation of visions of a better world. 

Starting from Berlin and its early housing exhibitions in the field of tension between system competition and the pathos of progress, the exhibition focuses on the (post)socialist countries.

It questions the socio-political dimension of housing and the role of design between discourses of utopia, power and gender.

The exhibition is created in cooperation with international curators who present different design positions and interiors from the kitchen to outer space and back.

Retrotopia. Design for Socialist Spaces

"Retrotopia. Design for Socialist Spaces" is a collaborative exhibition project that explores the role and influence of design in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc and ex-Yugoslavia from the 1950s - to the 1980s.

An innovative network of curators and institutions provides new and surprising insights into the complex layers of the design landscape of a region that is still unknown to a broader and especially Western audience. With their extensive research and investigation, the actors of "Retrotopia" contribute decisively to an overdue reassessment of global and decolonial design history.

During the Cold War, design and architecture mutated into a mirror of the geopolitical showdown between the two superpowers, the USA and the USSR. But beyond all political differences, there was one thing in common: designers and architects of both systems were confronted with the same social challenges, worked on similar design issues and sustainable solutions for the environment, developed comparable ideas and designed visionary projects - which often did not get beyond the stage of experiments or prototypes.

In addition, there was a lively exchange across the "iron curtain," through a wide variety of platforms such as exhibitions, congresses, workshops and symposia, professional publications, and, last but not least, personal contacts established through a networked artistic practice.

Between Sputnik and the oil crisis, the 1950s to 1970s were marked by the boom of future orientation. The key word was planning. It was at the same time a synonym for the vision of thinking into the future with systematized innovations. In a "world as design," as designer Otl Aicher put it, the future seemed absolutely calculable thanks to technological progress, artificial intelligence, cybernetics and computerization. The associated narrative in post-war modernism, which is still valid today, was: technological progress equals social prosperity equals happiness for all.

Future concepts require a spatial-visual concretization so that they can unfold social effectiveness. Urban planning, architecture and design play a decisive role in the discourses and practices of shaping possible better worlds. Enthusiasm for technology and euphoria for planning have been drivers for "systems design" and the design of private and public spaces, even into outer space.

For the first time in a long time, numerous different design positions from post-socialist countries such as Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine come together in one exhibition.

"Retrotopia. Design For Socialist Spaces" unfolds a kaleidoscope of realized and visionary design concepts dedicated to public and private space. Whereby 'space' in the sense of Henri Lefebvre is to be understood as a mental, physical as well as symbolic construct. The spectrum of ideas ranges from futuristic interiors for hotels or a presidential lounge at the airport to visual communication for sporting competitions or festivals in public urban space, ideal furnishings for the new apartments, representative textiles or artistic glass installations for trade fairs, reconstructions of visionary architecture as well as cybernetic living spaces.

In the second part of the exhibition, extensive archival material, photographs, posters, magazines, books, films and design objects are used to create a three-dimensional mind map on the thematic clusters of design institutions, design education, design discourses, exhibitions, networks and design collections, which invites visitors to engage in a more in-depth discussion.

International cooperation project

"Retrotopia. Design for Socialist Spaces" is an initiative of the Museum of Decorative Arts - National Museums in Berlin in cooperation with: Museum of Utopia and Everyday Life (Beeskow/Eisenhüttenstadt), Slovak Design Center (Bratislava), Slovak National Gallery Bratislava, Moravian Gallery (Brno), Museum of Applied Arts (Budapest), M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art (Kaunas), Museum of Contemporary Art NGO (Kyiv), Stedley Art Foundation (Kyiv), Museum of Architecture and Design (Ljubljana), National Gallery Prague, Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design (Tallinn), NGO Imago of Culture (Uzhgorod), Lithuanian National Museum of Art (Vilnius), National Museum in Warsaw, Museum of Arts and Crafts (Zagreb), as well as Chernihiv Monumentalism Community and ARWM Cultural Heritage Conservation Fund.

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Additional information

Opening hours

Monday closed
Tue 10:00 - 18:00 
Wed 10:00 - 18:00 
Thur 10:00 - 18:00 
Fr 10:00 - 18:00 
Sat 11:00 - 18:00 
Son 11:00 - 18:00