Evil Things

An Encyclopedia of Bad Taste

16 Jul 2009 – 11 Jan 2010

The exhibition “Evil things – An Encyclopedia of Bad Taste” uses a one hundred year-old system to categorise violations of taste, where things are not just submitted to a judgement of taste, but also to ethical valuation of their production, construction and appearance.
Today’s judgement is not just based on aesthetic but also on moral values, when categories of “good” and “bad” (or evil) are applied. The exhibition will juxtapose historic “home horrors” to contemporary design objects and mass production. Thus a situation will be created, that raises questions about our system of values of things.

“If we want to discern what good taste is, we must first eliminate bad taste.”

With this purpose in mind, the art historian and museum director Gustav E. Pazaurek opened his “Cabinet of Bad Taste” in the Stuttgart state crafts museum in 1909. Pazaurek developed a complex system to categorize all kinds of design mistakes, demonstrating them with actual examples.

In keeping with the philosophy of the Deutscher Werkbund, Pazaurek assumes that things have a great influence on people, both aesthetically and morally. Consequently, his catalogue of design mistakes presents a drastic nomenclature which we naturally find disconcerting today. The rubrics with which Pazaurek labelled the objects read like an aesthetic penal code, a vocabulary of evil. The evil nature of the objects derives not from their purpose — from acts that could be performed with them — nor from their symbolism, but from the evil or badness that is manifested in their production, design and functional quality.

The present exhibition is the first attempt to reconstruct Pazaurek’s “Cabinet of Bad Taste”, and presents more than 50 objects on loan from the original collection in the State Museum of Württemberg. Furthermore, the exhibition takes Pazaurek’s classification system as a point of reference for an examination of present-day design tendencies. To this end, the historic objects are juxtaposed with a selection of contemporary products — from mass commodities to designer objects.

In the age of stylistic pluralism, it seems impossible to establish definitive criteria of “good” or “bad” taste. But a closer look reveals, first, that Pazaurek’s categories are applicable without amendment to countless contemporary objects, bringing to light a design practice that is both ludicrous and ironic, and second, that moral criteria are becoming pertinent again in conjunction with a new consumer consciousness. The “crimes” of today’s objects, however, are not evident prima facie, because they are manifested not in the design, the material or the decoration, but in the social, economic and ecological context. For this reason, new categories must be added to Pazaurek’s catalogue of mistakes.

In the last part of the exhibition, the visitor is invited to add to the Encyclopaedia by classifying and situating his own “evil things” in the field of playful and moral dimensions.