Historicism Art Nouveau Collection, Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna

Although bentwood furniture was not a Viennese invention, the bentwood chair is still frequently referred to outside Austria as the “Viennese chair.” The technique of bending steamed wood was common as early as the Middle Ages.

Born in Boppard on the Rhine, Michael Thonet (1796-1871) was an innovative furniture-maker, and during the 1830s he attempted to develop a technically more economical version of curved, late Biedermeier furniture shapes. He succeeded, using bent and glued laminates. His move to Vienna in 1842 by arrangement with Prince Metternich opened up to him the much wider market of the Austrian Empire. He continued consistently to develop bentwood techniques further, and in 1852 succeeded in registering a patent for the bending of glued laminates into curvi-linear forms, and finally in 1856 a patent for the bending of solid wood.

In addition to the further development of bentwood techniques, Thonet’s immense achievement lay in his talent for applying these techniques for producing distinctive products whose natural form and timelessness appealed to a broad public. His aesthetic, which developed out of his fascination with a production technique, opened new perspectives in seating furniture.

From its furniture collection, the MAK presents an overview of over a hundred years of production by Thonet and competing firms, from the 1830s to the 1930s.

The movie synopsis would read something like this: Michael Thonet, a German chair designer, so impressed an Austrian prince with his elegant designs and innovative manufacturing techniques, that he was commissioned to design some woodworking for a palace in Vienna, and then encouraged by higher up to relocate his factory to Austria. There, his business flourished to become a late nineteenth-century international success story.

This is an exemplary case of an aesthetically sophisticated designer who was willing to experiment with production techniques. A man dedicated to reductive methods, in which (as a forerunner for the Modernist’s “Form Follows Function”) he allowed the intrinsic qualities of his material, wood, to dictate the form of his designs. He was a reductivist in terms of production as well, sparing materials and time with his economical assembly line; turning a handicraft into an international mass-produced industry. He mass-advertised and distributed his furniture by catalogue, indicating that Thonet was also a brilliant early capitalist. He understood the need to develop a consumer society whose needs were created and then met.

It’s a good docudrama with a clear linear narrative. I’d like to see the part of Thonet played by someone like Nick Nolte, accented, and convincingly depicting his long and eventful life. There would be International Trade Fair first prizes, certainly several Vienna café scenes, and perhaps a factory class conflict.

Barbara Bloom really look forward to a made-for-interactive video-docudrama, which might be made in the early or mid-twenty-first century, about the life of Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. This late twentieth-century prototype of business success needs no introduction. But in the future it will be remembered as a marketer of great appeal to a wide range of customers; from most European intellectuals who filed their libraries on “Billy” bookshelves, to young 1 1/2-kid families who were helped over the hurdle of spending money by IKEA’s clever tactic of giving every object in their catalogue a proper name.

So, imagine a double-bill of these two movies. Together they form a good paradigm of progress. What lives on? Is it the self-evident aesthetics and design finesse of Thonet? His dedication to experimental techniques? His reductivist methods? Or, some mutant late capitalism, some anthropomorphised form of supply and demand, in which the consumer need is created by “Bambi-fication”. I’m sure the IKEA movie will be produced by Disney.

Related Post

Study collection seating
Part of our material memory is in this room. Is it just a collection of any household items or does history manifest here as the totality of our consciousness? How far are we in direct contact with these things? Or has an archive of things been piled up here, the lowest common denominator of which is the quality characteristics “museum” or “second hand”? We have the choice between these two association possibilities, between the object or functional character of an object. Only the latter, however, makes the museum good part of our everyday consumer life again. Instead of a one-dimensional history of style, we experience a three-dimensional family tree of our own cultural history. Of course, this gives the opportunity to

This is attempted using visually sensual and not didactic communication. The visible juxtaposition of different or the same types, functions, stages of development and materials succeeds in evoking the multi-faceted world of experience of a piece of seating furniture and thus directly addressing the visitor and letting them feel values. Questions arise, decision-making processes are initiated and fundamental criteria are made aware. This stimulation can help turn an undifferentiated consumer into a responsible consumer by evoking thoughts buried in the daily amount of product.

Seating is the closest piece of furniture to people. Its proportions are closely related to the human body. The change in human body language can be seen in the changing formal training and type determination of the seating furniture. Between the two opposites of representation and comfort, this seems to be looking for means of expression that arise depending on the defined values ​​and priorities. A high and straight armchair requires different clothing and posture than one with a low, slanted back and rounded backrest.

Basically, the question arises whether the furniture forms the human body when sitting, or whether the opposite is sought. As an extreme example of the latter, the “Sacco” shown here, a typical seating model from the 68s generation, can be seen. The concept of seating, which only emerged in the 18th century and combines several types of seating furniture into a decorative unit, is an expression of the fact that there is no longer any need to distinguish between the status of individual users; it can only prevail when court law prescribes a less strict ranking between the individual types of seating furniture. However, this historical development lives on in our subconscious to this day. It still wrote in 1922Handbook of good sound and fine custom : “As a lady, you deserve the space on the sofa to the right of the woman of the house. As a young girl, you use an armchair. ”The seating furniture makes form and body language a readable cultural-historical unit ….

Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna
The MAK – Museum of Applied Arts is one of the most important museums of its kind worldwide. Founded as the Imperial Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry in 1863, today’s museum—with its unique collection of applied arts and as a first-class address for contemporary art—can boast an incomparable identity. Originally established as an exemplary source collection, today’s MAK Collection continues to stand for an extraordinary union of applied art, design, contemporary art and architecture.

The MAK is a museum and laboratory for applied art at the interface of design, architecture and contemporary art. His core competency is dealing with these areas in a contemporary way, in order to create new perspectives based on the tradition of the house and to explore border areas.

The spacious halls of the Permanent Collection in the magnificent Ringstraße building by Heinrich von Ferstel were later redesigned by contemporary artists in order to present selected highlights from the MAK Collection. The MAK DESIGN LAB expands our understanding of design—a term that is traditionally grounded in the 20th and 21st centuries—by including previous centuries, thereby enabling a better evaluation of the concept of design today. In temporary exhibitions, the MAK presents various artistic stances from the fields of applied arts, design, architecture, contemporary art, and new media, with the mutual relationships between them being a consistently emphasized theme.

It is particularly committed to the corresponding recognition and positioning of applied art. The MAK develops new perspectives on its rich collection, which spans different eras, materials and artistic disciplines, and develops them rigorously.