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Peter Behrens, Bauhaus, Exhibition

An All-Rounder Rediscovered: Peter Behrens Exhibition in Oberhausen

Seating and commercial art, electrical devices and rugs – it is no secret that Peter Behrens, who trained as an artist and was a self-taught architect, left behind a distinctly multifaceted body of work. The inscription Dem Deutschen Volke on Berlin’s Reichstag is part of his oeuvre, as are early classics of industrial design, particularly those which he created from 1907 to 1914 as the artistic advisor for AEG in Berlin.

In the new permanent exhibition at the LVR Museum of Industry in Oberhausen, the artist and designer Peter Behrens is, however, more of a side issue. Rather, it is above all Behrens’ architectural work that takes centre stage. The venue is fitting: the attic of the central warehouse that Behrens created from 1920 to 1925 for the Gutehoffnungshütte company in Oberhausen, which now serves as a depot for the Museum of Industry. Historical and contemporary photographs as well as architectural models of wood from the Peter Behrens School of Arts at the Düsseldorf University of Applied Sciences can be reviewed here.

Along with familiar classics like the AEG turbine hall in Berlin, the exhibits include many new discoveries, such as the Jungbrunnen restaurant, which Behrens designed for the Düsseldorf horticultural show in 1904. No alcohol was served on that occasion, for the operator (as well as Behrens himself) belonged to the German Association for Tavern Reform, an assembly of teetotallers. There is also Behrens‘ Red Vienna apartment building, which he designed during his long tenure as professor of that city’s Academy of Arts from 1921 to 1937.

In particular, it is Behrens’ stylistic diversity and the significant influence he exerted on office and industrial architecture in the first quarter of the twentieth century that become clear in this exhibition.  He built not only for AEG and its subsidiaries in Berlin, but also created the headquarters of Continental in Hanover and Mannesmann in Düsseldorf between 1910 and 1914. When required by the client, Behrens worked in the style of true neo-Classicism. For the paint factories in Höchst, he worked with an expressionist design language (the colour concept was created by his student Hans Döllgast). For his tobacco factory in Linz (1928-1935), he then turned to the style of New Objectivity.  All of this and more can be experienced in Oberhausen in a good hour’s visit to the museum. For a first impression or a rediscovery of Peter Behrens’ work, the new permanent exhibition is perfectly suitable. However, there is not much to see of Behrens’ working methods as an architect, his teaching or his contribution to society. It is the projects, not Peter Behrens the man, that occupy the foreground in Oberhausen. An accompanying publication of 12 booklets produced by the LVR Museum of Industry in collaboration with Cologne’s Museum of Applied Art (MAKK) and the Krefeld Museum of Art provides more background information about Behrens’ creations. This year, these museums have hosted, or plan to host, Peter Behrens exhibitions.

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