The Viennese Style, Vienna 1900, Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna

Loos’ cultural modernism stood in stark contrast to the formal and stylistic Modernism of the Secession, and along with it, the School of Arts and Crafts and the Wiener Werkstätte, to whom this space is devoted. For Loos, Modernism was a question of one’s attitude and did not depend on the development of a modern style specified by artists. For him, the idea of bringing together art and functionality in a utilitarian object was a cultureless act.

Otto Wagner was the only individual whom Loos considered capable of the artistic realization of functionality, since Wagner did not place artistic expression before traditional craftsmanship. Loos was reacting to the Secessionists’ conviction, adopted by the English Arts and Crafts movement, according to which beauty—conveyed via artistic design—could improve people’s everyday lives.

The objects exhibited in this space are the result of the Secessionists’ intense efforts from 1897 onward to create a distinct Austrian style—which, in truth, is a Viennese style. It is based on Moser’s Japanese-influenced art of surface decoration, the classicist inheritance from the Biedermeier era, and domestic folk art.

This new style, first presented to the public at the 8th exhibition of the Secession in 1900, was disseminated artistically through Hoffmann’s and Moser’s teaching activities at the School of Arts and Crafts and its implementation by their students. The time period covered in this room begins with this striking stylistic break and ends with World War I. Nearly all of the exhibited objects are of artisanal origin and came into being via the patronage of a wealthy, largely Jewish haute bourgeois, from which the Wiener Werkstätte recruited its customers.

During this phase, which lasted somewhat longer than ten years, Viennese applied arts underwent a volatile process of aesthetic development. This ranged from the early, provocatively geometric and abstract forms of the Wiener Werkstätte to the design language dominated by classicist elements and a sophisticated culture of vegetal ornamentation that arose beginning in 1906/07, and on to the rococo-influenced, distinctively architectonic creations of Dagobert Peche.

With the initial battle against Historicism having been won, it was Peche who rose up to challenge the original credo of the Secession’s founding generation concerning the unity of the arts, propagating the emancipation from utility. His creations are mainly about artistic expression, with their functionality being a secondary concern. In this respect, they actually come close to doing justice to Loos’s strict demand that art and functionality be kept separate.

The period beginning in 1910 saw Peche joined by a new generation of architects (Josef Frank, Oskar Wlach, and Oskar Strnad), like him educated at the Technical College in Vienna (today’s University of Technology), who stepped up to deal with the changes in society’s requirements that had become evident since 1900, and whose stance toward the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk [total work of art], was nothing if not critical.

Vienna 1900
VIENNA 1900. Design / Arts and Crafts 1890–1938 adheres to a largely chronological structure: the first room is dedicated to the search for a modern style; the second room features a close look at the Viennese style; and the third room points the way to the International Style. Around 500 collection objects are shown in various thematic combinations that serve to shed light on art-historical and sociopolitical aspects relevant to Viennese modernism.

Vibrant And Manifold: Vienna 1900 In A New Light
The fascinatingly complex cultural epoch denoted by the term “Vienna 1900” has long been the stuff of legend. And the equally multifaceted and momentous output of this period’s artisans and designers is now the focus of a section of the MAK Permanent Collection. At this presentation’s thematic core is the multifarious struggle to arrive at an Austrian, modern, bourgeois, and democratic style. Today, this chapter of design and arts and crafts history—subsumed under the terms of Secessionism and Jugendstil—serves like no other to underpin Austrian identity. But around 1900, the search for a suitable style reflected an identity crisis of the bourgeois class. The entirely contradictory results of this search were tied together by a central characteristic of the modern era: a pioneering desire for expressive individuality.

The MAK invites visitors to engage in a multilayered examination of the “Vienna 1900” phenomenon that covers three rooms. This section of the Permanent Collection, which had gone unchanged since 1993, is the first to have been reconceived. The presentation’s content was developed by Christian Witt-Dörring together with the museums’ collection curators, and the Viennese designer Michael Embacher was responsible for the individual rooms’ design.

VIENNA 1900. Design / Arts and Crafts 1890–1938 adheres to a largely chronological structure: the first room is dedicated to the search for a modern style; the second room features a close look at the Viennese style; and the third room points the way to the International Style. Around 500 collection objects are shown in various thematic combinations that serve to shed light on art-historical and sociopolitical aspects relevant to Viennese modernism.

In several respects, the “Vienna 1900” section of the MAK Permanent Collection deals with Viennese modernism differently than did previous rooms devoted to the topic. Embedded chronologically between the late 19th century’s overcoming of Historicism and the National Socialists’ seizure of power in 1938, this new presentation facilitates a broader historical understanding of the era. It opens up a view on international relationships, illustrating both influences from abroad and developments elsewhere that emerged simultaneously. Furthermore, the presentation highlights formal and/or cultural fallbacks as well as continuities: some objects, for example, hark back to the Biedermeier era or make visible use of patterns from Moravian folk art.

“Traces” Of Central European Modernism
In fact, a great number of innovative designers—in addition to the well-known Moravian-born opponents Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos—came from the territory of today’s Czech Republic. So the era of Viennese modernism thus saw the longstanding reciprocal relationship between Vienna, Bohemia, and Moravia remain a fruitful one: many architects and designers who had come to Vienna for their professional training went on to play a significant role in the dissemination of modern design in their home regions. The Permanent Collection rooms on the “Vienna 1900” theme document these mutual effects, making an important contribution towards underpinning a broader understanding of Central European modernism’s development.

The MAK will also be conveying this approach outside its own walls: with support from the EU, the museum will be spending the next few years developing a Central European cultural route between Vienna and Brno entitled “Traces.” This route will link the region’s most influential modern-era buildings and also include locations of significance to Viennese intellectual life around 1900. In order to accomplish this, the MAK will be using its cooperative relationship with the Moravian Gallery at the Josef Hoffmann Museum (run jointly since 2006) in order to have the cultural region of Moravia–Lower Austria–Vienna once again be known as an influential source of modernist impulses.

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.