Dr Robin Schuldenfrei
BA (Brown University), MA (Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art), PhD (Harvard University)
The Courtauld Institute of Art
London WC2R 0RN
Robin Schuldenfrei joins The Courtauld Institute of Art with a research and teaching focus on the history and theory of European and American modern architecture and design. She received her doctorate from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and previously held positions at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Schuldenfrei is interested in discursive questions—theoretical and practical—of how discourses and practices of design are shaped by a given period’s own cultural and theoretical critique of its media and objects. Her work asks broader questions about how architecture and its objects relate to other products of society’s design: to works of art, to the production of images, to media and technology. She focusses on objects’ subjectivity, materiality, political agency, and social impact and meaning, seeing them as deeply embedded in their period, culture, and intellectual/theoretical climate. To that end, she utilizes both objects and architecture as cultural indices of society at large in order to illustrate the conscious and unconscious perspectives and values of the society that generated them.
- MA Special Option:
Experiencing Modernism: Utopia, Functionalism, and Times of Turmoil
Luxury and Modern Architecture in Germany, 1900-1933.
This book project examines the status of the object within the context of Wilhelmine and Weimar architectural culture and theory. It argues that modernism responded to and reflected the norms and desires of a bourgeois elite—and that new and old forms of luxury are embedded accordingly in its materials, its showcasing of technology, and its discourses. This monograph looks specifically at such aspects as: the design and marketing of AEG electrical appliances by Peter Behrens and the notion of electricity as luxury in this period; the relationship between the design and materials of Bauhaus objects and failed efforts at affordable mass production of them; and notions of materiality and interiority in the domestic commissions of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Methodologically, this study reinterrogates key components of the canonical history of modernism using economic history, cultural studies, social history, sociology, and German history, to reveal new meanings in familiar objects of modernism.
Objects in Exile: World War II and the Displacement of Design.
A concurrent book project, Objects in Exile examines the outcomes of radically different contingencies war placed on design. It demonstrates various modalities by which the 20th-century phenomenon of exile impacted the design world—examining manifestations through such lenses as pedagogy, patronage, and assimilation. Topics include the formulation and codification of modern architecture’s exilic image via photography, the instrumentalisation of graphic design for the war effort, ‘total design’ put into praxis in exile, and the exigencies of designing for a society and future beyond war. A central portion of this book project examines British modernism—architecture, design, and photography—as a turning point in the work and discourse of key figures in exile. Overall, it looks at the ways in which designers, and their objects, forced into exile by circumstances beyond their control, necessarily changed unexpectedly to meet the new needs and contexts of a rapidly changing world.
Atomic Dwelling: Anxiety, Domesticity, and Postwar Architecture. Edited by Robin Schuldenfrei (London: Routledge / Taylor & Francis, 2012). “Introduction“ and essay “Assimilating Unease: Moholy-Nagy and the Wartime/Postwar Bauhaus in Chicago” therein.
Bauhaus Construct: Fashioning Identity, Discourse, and Modernism. Edited volume by Jeffrey Saletnik and Robin Schuldenfrei (London: Routledge / Taylor & Francis, 2009). “Introduction” and essay “The Irreproducibility of the Bauhaus Object” therein.
Articles, Chapters, Exhibition Catalogues, Book Reviews:
"Der Luxus der Objektivität: Schaufenster um 1914" (The Luxury of Objectivity: Display Windows around 1914) in 1914. Kunst und Architektur an der Schwelle der Jahrhunderte, edited by Martino Stierli (Basel: Schwabe Verlag, forthcoming 2014).
“Existenzminimum as Gesamtkunstwerk” in Henry van de Velde and the Total Work of Art, edited by Carsten Ruhl (Berlin: Jovis Verlag, forthcoming 2014).
“Contra the Großstadt: Mies van der Rohe’s Autonomy and Interiority” in Interiors and Interiority, edited by Ewa Lajer-Burcharth and Beate Soentgen (Berlin: De Gruyter, forthcoming 2014).
“Sober Ornament: Materiality and Luxury in German Modern Architecture and Design” in Ornament as Portable Culture: Between Globalism and Localism, edited by Alina Payne and Gülru Necipoğlu (Princeton: Princeton University Press, forthcoming 2016).
“Introduction” to Lilly Reich, “Questions of Fashion” (1922) in West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History and Material Culture, volume 21, no. 1 (Spring-Summer 2014): 102-120.
"Capital Dwelling: Industrial Capitalism, Financial Crisis and the Bauhaus's Haus am Horn" in Architecture and Capitalism: 1845 to the Present, edited by Peggy Deamer (London: Routledge, 2013), p. 71-95.
"Images in Exile: Lucia Moholy's Bauhaus Negatives and the Construction of the Bauhaus Legacy" in History of
“Bilder im Exil: Lucia Moholys Bauhausfotografien und die Konstruktion des Bauhaus-Erbes” (Images in Exile: Lucia Moholy’s Bauhaus Photographs and the Making of the Bauhaus Legacy) in Entfernt: Frauen des Bauhauses während der NS-Zeit – Verfolgung und Exil, edited by Inge Hansen-Schaberg, Wolfgang Thöner, and Adriane Feustel (München: Richard Boorberg Verlag, Edition Text + Kritik, 2012), p. 251-273.
“Luxus, Produktion, Reproduktion” (Luxury, Production, Reproduction) in Mythos Bauhaus: Zwischen Selbsterfindung und Enthistorisierung. Edited by Anja Baumhoff and Magdalena Droste (Berlin: Reimer Verlag, 2009), p. 70-89.
Review of Jill Pearlman, American Modernism: Joseph Hudnut, Walter Gropius, and the Bauhaus Legacy at Harvard (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007) for Design & Culture, Volume 1, Issue 3 (November 2009), p. 387-389.
Design~Recline: Modern Architecture and the Mid-Century Chaise Longue. Exhibition Catalogue, Harvard University Art Museums Gallery Series, Number 40, 2004.
Conferences and Sessions organized
Session co-chair (with Alina Payne, Harvard University), Materiality and Modernism. Society of Architectural Historians, 68th Annual Conference, Chicago, IL, April 15-19, 2015.
Session chair, Anxious Dwelling / Postwar Spaces. Association of Art Historians, 36th AAH Annual Conference, University of Glasgow, April 15-17, 2010.
Session chair, Benjamin’s Objects. College Art Association, Design Studies Forum Special Session, Los Angeles, CA, February 25-28, 2009.
Conference co-organizer, Bauhaus Palimpsest: The Object of Discourse. Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, March 14-15, 2008.
Conference Papers, Symposium Papers, and Public Lectures
“László Moholy-Nagy, Herbert Bayer and the Social Usefulness of Art.” From Vienna’s Ringstrasse to the Global Turn: Émigré Culture and the Origins of Social Design, 2015 Papanek Symposium, Papanek Foundation, University of Applied Arts Vienna, May 27-28, 2015 (invited participant).
“Modernism, Materiality, and the Embedded Object.” Reassessing Modernism in the 21st Century. Towards a Multifaceted Understanding, University of Aarhus and ARoS Aarhus Art Museum, Aarhus, Denmark, April 24-25, 2014 (invited participant).
“The Luxury of Objectivity: Display Windows around 1914” 1914. Kunst und Architektur an der Schwelle der Jahrhunderte, Institutskolloquium des Kunsthistorischen Instituts, organized by Martino Stierli, Institute of Art History, University of Zurich, February 26, 2014 (invited participant).
“Small Monuments: Urban Materiality and Artifacts of Place.” Keynote Lecture, New Monuments, KAM Workshops 2013, Center of Mediterranean Architecture, Chania, Greece, August 22, 2013 (invited participant).
“Existenzminimum as Gesamtkunstwerk.” Conference paper, 12th International Bauhaus Colloquium, Henry van de Velde and the Total Work of Art, Bauhaus University, Weimar, Germany, April 4-7, 2013 (invited participant).
“Isokon and Existenzminimum in Exile.” Paper for V&A/RCA History of Design Open Research Seminar, Royal College of Art, London, February 21, 2013 (invited participant).
“Selling Objects and Objectivity: The Architecture and Theory of the Werkbund Display Window.” The Challenge of the Object / Die Herausforderung des Objekts, CIHA 2012 (Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art), Paper for section: Architecture as Object, Nuremberg, Germany, July 15-20, 2012.
“Sober Ornament: Materiality and Luxury in German Modern Architecture and Design.” Ornament as Portable Culture: Between Globalism and Localism, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 12-14, 2012.
“Images in Exile: Lucia Moholy’s Bauhaus Photographs and the Making of the Bauhaus Legacy.” (Bilder im Exil: Lucia Moholys Bauhausfotografien und die Konstruktion des Bauhaus-Erbes.)Conference paper, Frauen des Bauhauses während der NS-Zeit – Verfolgung und Exil, Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau and Gesellschaft für Exilforschung e.V., Dessau, Germany, October 28-30, 2011 (invited participant).
“Contra the Großstadt: Mies van der Rohe’s Interiority.” Interiors and Interiority, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, April 28-29, 2011 (invited participant); “Contra the Großstadt: Mies van der Rohe’s Interiority / Kontra die Großstadt: Mies van der Rohes Interiorität.” Paper for section: Das Interieur—Kunstorte, Wissensräume, Lebeswelten, Erster Schweizerischer Kongress für Kunstgeschichte (First Swiss Congress for Art History), Bern, Switzerland, September 2-4, 2010.
“Assimilating Unease: Moholy-Nagy and the Wartime-Postwar Bauhaus in Chicago.” Dessauer Gespräche / Dessau Talks, invited public lecture, Dessau Institute of Architecture, Dessau, Germany, January 13, 2011.
“The Metropolis and the Modern Dweller: Luxury, Interiority and the Architecture of Mies van der Rohe.” Dessauer Gespräche / Dessau Talks, invited public lecture, Dessau Institute of Architecture, Dessau, Germany, October 28, 2010; Invited public lecture, Art History Division, School of Art, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, February 4, 2009.
“Luxury and Modern Architecture in Germany, 1900-1933.” PhD Talks: Perspectives and Methods of Architectural Research, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland, October 4, 2010 (invited participant).
“Researching the Bauhaus.” Lecture and seminar, School of Architecture, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, November 20, 2009.
“Walter Benjamin, the Bauhaus and its Objects.” Lecture, Department of Fine Arts, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, November 19, 2009.
“Bauhaus at War.” Conference paper, Global Bauhaus, (held in conjunction with the exhibition Modell Bauhaus / Bauhaus: A Conceptual Model), Berlin and Dessau, September 21-26, 2009 (invited participant).
“The Werkbund and the Display Window: Visual Cultures of Luxury and Modernism.” Paper for session: Changing Visual Economies in German Culture and Theory during the Early Twentieth Century, German Studies Association, St. Paul, MN, October 2-5, 2008.
Commentator for session: Cultural Appropriation in the Visual Arts, German Studies Association.
“Mies van der Rohe and Weimar Interiority.” Paper for session: “The Limits of Community” — Bourgeois and Middle-Class Modernism in German Architecture from c.1900 to 1940,Annual Meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians, Cincinnati, OH, April 23-27, 2008.
“Luxury, Production, Reproduction.” Conference paper, Die Bauhaus-Moderne und ihre Mythen (Bauhaus Modernism and its Myths), Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung, University of Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany, November 15-17, 2007 (invited participant).
“Industry, Kauflust and the AEG.” Paper for session: Factory-Made: Historic Intersections of Architecture and Industry, Annual Meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians, Pittsburgh, PA, April 13, 2007.
“The Harmonious Impress of the Dwellers Within: Domestic Architecture and the Rise of the Bourgeoisie in New York City, 1880-1900.” Invited public lecture, Morse Museum of American Art, Winter Park, FL, February 21, 2007.
“Incremental Modernism in the American Home: Russel Wright’s American Modern.” Conference paper, Locating Design 2005, The Design History Society Annual Conference, London, England, September 7, 2005.
European 20th Century Architecture, Interior Architecture and Design; German Modernism; Architectural Theory; History and Theory of the Object.