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Formal Collections

One of the core concepts in the early days of Museum Folkwang was for it to serve as a collection of inspirations for modern designers. Karl Ernst Osthaus exhibited part of his historical collection of textiles for the first time at Museum Folkwang Hagen in 1904; shortly thereafter a presentation of contemporary fabrics by Otto Behrens followed. Osthaus was not only associated with textile production by way of regional industry; he also considered textiles particularly suitable for combining arts and crafts.

As such Osthaus adopted a collection concept that plays an important role in the working process of many designers. Indeed, artists and designers often explore patterns and structures in study series or collections of inspirations. They collect drawings, graphics and motifs using a camera or video camera. Sometimes individual work complexes evolve from this process.

The endless repetition of industrialization
Production techniques place particular demands on the design of fabric patterns. Owing to the edges of the loom the patterns must be horizontally iterated and at the same time vertically repeatable. This produces what is known as the pattern repeat. The pattern repeat shows the endless reproduction of the same element and can thus paradigmatically stand for series production in industrialization, especially as weaving was the first industrialized branch of production. 

Painterly abstraction and ornament in the Modern Age
With Adolf Loos labelling ornament a crime and with the dogma of “pure form” as championed in New Objectivity, in the 1920s ornament seemed to have disappeared entirely from design. Yet it survived in the form of abstract paintings, namely in the abstraction of real motifs, in expansiveness and sequencing, in the use of simple patterns. Although the historical styles of ornamentation disappeared, ornament remained one of the principles of mass design. Ultimately it was through Pop Art that these trivial patterns resurfaced in art.

Nature-based and geometrical patterns
The image by Sigmar Polke represents the two possible creative principles for designing patterns in terms of motif, namely the mathematical geometric form and an abstraction of nature. The designers involved in the Reform movements around 1900 sought to design new patterns. To this end they turned to “forgotten” styles such as the Gothic style, foreign cultures or the study of natural forms. The basic principles like stripes, dot matrices and grids can be found in all human cultures, yet basic patterns can have all kinds of different meanings and contexts. The fourth-century Egyptian fabric on display, for example, is just one practice piece, whereas the abstract pattern on the tapa fabric connotes family membership in New Zealand.

There is currently great interest in complex patterns. Artist Terry Winters develops his paintings by overlapping patterns such as tile arrangements. This pattern is based on a mosaic with various basic elements, including stars and diamonds.
Patterns like these have been used in Islamic art since the 12th century. They adorn entire buildings, for instance in the form of ceramic tiles. It was architect and Bauhaus director Walter Gropius who collected the Moorish tiles at Museum Folkwang for Karl Ernst Osthaus.

Complex patterns of the present
Museum Folkwang’s collection of patterned textiles was not continued after the founder’s death. As such, the exhibition is supplemented by a selection of patterns by important contemporary designers thanks to a generous loan by designform, Essen. Designers such as Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec, Hella Jongerius or Patricia Urquiola work with patterns that play with interruptions of abstract orders or are generated on computer.

Basic patterns: stripes, zigzags, dots and grids
As fabrics consist of vertical and horizontal threads, the warp and weft, these patterns are particularly widespread in textile design. In painting basic patterns such as dot matrices, stripes and grids have repeatedly served as the starting point of abstract painting since the 1920s. Concrete and Kinetic artists used these patterns to realize purely intellectual, abstract ideas, without any reference to symbolism or objects. In the 1950s and 1960s they produced systematic studies on the optical effects of basic visual patterns and examined, among other things, the influence of movement, whether of the observer or within the image itself. This artistic exploration is particularly evident in the graphics series. Around the end of the 1960s artists such as Gerhard von Graevenitz started using the new possibilities of the computer for their series of graphics in order to capture and visualize the infinite possible versions of a process of Motion.


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Ägypten, Übungsstück mit Noppendekor, 4.–5. Jh., Wolle auf Leinengewebe
© Museum Folkwang (Abb. links)

Ludwig Windstosser, Ohne Titel (Struktur), aus: 11 Variationen zu einem Thema, 1949, Bromsilbergelatine, © Ludwig Windstosser / Museum Folkwang (Abb. rechts)

Sigmar Polke, Ohne Titel,1996, Dispersionsfarbe auf Stoff
© The Estate of Sigmar Polke, Cologne / VG Bild-Kunst, 2014 (Abb. links)

Spanien, Musterpaneel: 64 Wandfliesen , 15.–17. Jh., Gebrannter Ton, glasiert, Cuerda-seca- und Cuenca-Technik, © Museum Folkwang (Abb. rechts)

Terry Winters, Tessellations, 2010, Öl auf Leinwand, © Terry Winters

Ausstellungsansicht mit zeitgenössischen Stoffen in der Vitrine
© Museum Folkwang, Foto: Denis Bury

Japan, Wattiertes Schalenfutteral, 19.Jh., Kettatlas, Seide
© Museum Folkwang (Abb. links)

Gerhard von Graevenitz, Weiße Dreiecke auf Schwarz, 1963, Serigrafie
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2014 (Abb. rechts)