It’s a matter of taste

Front cover of Pazaurek's book (

Front cover of Pazaurek’s book (9009.c.1759)

I recently catalogued an interesting book published over 100 years ago: Guter und schlechter Geschmack im Kunstgewerbe by Gustav Pazaurek (a complete online version is available here).The cover is striking with its stylish lettering but it was the subject matter of good and bad taste in applied arts that drew me in and made me want to find out more. I discovered that in 1909 Pazaurek (1865-1935) had set up a “cabinet of bad taste” (Abteilung der Geschmacksverirrungen) within the Landesgewerbemuseum Stuttgart where he was director until 1932. He came up with a complex system for categorising bad taste and this system was fully outlined in the book under four broad headings:

  • Material mistakes: this included inferior or damaged materials, bizarre materials such as objects made from hair, fish scales etc
  • Design mistakes: this included objects that were unsuitable for their purpose, fantasy designs, frivolous inventions, forgeries etc
  • Decorative mistakes: this included odd proportions, extreme decoration etc
  • Kitsch: this included cheap mass-produced rubbish

Here are a few examples taken from the book (click on each image to see the full caption):

Over 20 years Pazaurek collected more than 900 objects for his “cabinet” but in 1933, when he was no longer director, the collection ceased to be a permanent exhibition and was moved into storage. It is believed that 700 objects are still kept by the Landesmuseum Württemberg; 50 of these were loaned in 2009 to the Museum der Dinge in Berlin for an exhibition entitled Böse Dinge: eine Enzyklopädie des Ungeschmacks (Evil things: an encyclopedia of bad taste) which was the first attempt to recreate the “cabinet” and to use it as a point of reference for examining 21st century design trends.

Thinking more broadly about Pazaurek’s last heading, kitsch, a word in common usage these days, I learnt that the word was probably first used in the art markets of Munich in the second half of the 19th century to describe cheap, popular artworks.  If you would like to explore more about the concept of kitsch the following books in the UL give good succinct explanations:

To see examples of kitsch illustrated in books I would recommend:

  • Kitsch: an anthology of bad taste by Gillo Dorfles (9400.c.2079)
  • Kitsch in sync: a consumer’s guide to bad taste by Peter Ward (1995.10.688)
  • Fantastic plastic: the collector’s guide to kitsch by Pete Ward (9000.a.3346)

The late 20th century plastic objects in this last book seem to be worthy successors to some of the objects Pazaurek identified for his original cabinet of bad taste.

Katharine Dicks

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