DE interview with the designer Rolf Sachs

“Typically German?” – this exhibition created by the designer Rolf Sachs at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Cologne plays with clichés.

picture-alliance/dpa - Rolf  Sachs
picture-alliance/dpa - Rolf Sachs picture-alliance/dpa - Rolf Sachs

A garden gnome has taken up residence in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAKK) in Cologne, the city’s museum of applied art. This symbol of the German petit bourgeoisie – artistically distorted – is part of the “Typically German?” exhibition created by the designer Rolf Sachs. The son of art collector and industrialist heir Gunter Sachs, he views Germany from a special perspective:

Mr Sachs, the works featured in your exhibition have titles such as “Punctuality”, “Diligence” and “Cleanliness”. The question mark in the exhibition’s name gives us some reason to hope that this is not meant entirely seriously.

Essentially, I see these characteristics in a positive light, though obviously they are meant somewhat tongue-in-cheek. They may be clichés, but for the most part they ring true – which to some extent is why the country functions so well. I have lived most of my life abroad and have noticed how Germany’s reputation has become more and more positive. Germany has one of the most stable educational foundations, and has achieved a great deal in the fields of art and science. Its economic strength provides key support for Europe.

Is the exhibition an attempt on your part to explore your own origins?

Perhaps. I am half-French and half-German, I grew up in Switzerland and nowadays live in London. I feel European, but my creative language is German – as of course is my surname.

You spent part of your childhood in Germany. How “German” was your upbringing?

I have a strong German basis because my mother died young and I went to live with my grandmother, who was very German. Warm-hearted but strict and disciplined.

If you had remained in Germany, would you have been able to give equally free rein to your creativity as you have done in London?

I think so. What is important is the urban environment. London attracted me when I moved there and still holds great appeal for me, but Berlin of course also has a creative and international scene – not that creativity depends solely on a particular place, however.

Your exhibition also features an object entitled “Yearning”...

That’s all about the head versus the heart. Without doubt the ratio is somewhat more pronounced in Germany, but it’s the mix that is of interest and the fact that we have both elements within us.

Head and heart, creativity, nation of education – are these really the attributes that for instance a Londoner would be most likely to associate with Germany these days?

No, of course not. In staging the exhibition I want to do my bit to help change this.

Would it not then be better to show the exhibition in England?

I still hope that it will come to England. That would be very important for me.

Exhibition “Typically German?” at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAKK) in Cologne, 14 January to 20 April 2014