Cologne: 16.–20.11.2022

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Special exhibition at COLOGNE FINE ART & DESIGN 2021

Galerie bei der Albertina ▪ Zetter and W&K – Kunsthandel Wienerroither & Kohlbacher

The pioneering achievements of the artists of the Vienna fin de siècle, especially of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, consisted in an intensive involvement with the human body and the varied dimensions of physical and psychological experience, which they sounded out with undaunted curiosity and placed at the centre of their creative work.

The intellectual elite in Vienna in around 1900 had the fervent wish to look beneath the surface in all possible disciplines. Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis was omnipresent, medicine was advancing on new paths and autopsies were performed on corpses despite the protests of the Catholic Church. It is precisely these societal repressions and taboos in psychological and social life that were ruthlessly uncovered by the artists. Unconscious repressions were brought home to viewers. From the perspective of the artists, society had to change. Conflicts with bourgeois society and the law were unavoidable. The representation of the "naked truth", whether the reality of the body or physically, psychologically and societally tabooed needs, made the artist a pariah within the wider society.

Art as a medium of identification

Viennese Modernism was successful in becoming confessionless. At the same time, art developed into a medium of identification for a new, open-minded society, which now arose outside of the traditions of the nobility from the often Jewish, educated middle-class. Gustav Klimt became the most popular portraitist of the female Viennese society. Paintings like the 'Lady in Gold' resulted and ensured a new feeling of identity.

Egon Schiele and the elementary functions of life

In this atmosphere of upheaval, Egon Schiele examined the elementary functions of life and illuminated the broad spectrum of sexual desire, as well as of birth and death. Completely unperturbed by conventions and traditions of representation, he was especially active in self-portraits. He went beyond nudity itself, presented a self-analysis, with the aim of revealing his unconscious sexual desires through autoerotic art.

Oskar Kokoschka dealt with the erotic fantasy lives of adolescents, which Sigmund Freud derived from his clinical studies involving adult patients, and realised these in the famous illustrations of the 'Dreaming Boys'.

The "foundation stone" for Body Art is laid

Viennese Modernism of around 1900 is a unique European phenomenon without contemporary parallels. the cornerstone for today's internationally comprehended Body Art was laid in Vienna in around 1900. Following the censorship of the Second World War, this developed further in the Viennese Actionism of the 1960s as an extreme and specific manifestation and has led to the current international art scene evidenced in, for example, Marina Abramovic, Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelly.

Galerie bei der Albertina ▪ Zetter

The longing for a new language of form in keeping with the times can be seen as a reaction to the academic historicism and pluralism of styles of the late 19th century. In the generation following Otto Wagner, the influential professor at the special school for architecture of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, his pupil Josef Hoffmann in particular embodied the possibilities for fulfilling this contemporary artistic aspiration.

Josef Hoffmann postulated the idea of the "complete work of art", the aesthetic consolidation of arts and crafts, fine arts and architecture, which was accompanied by a call for the programmatic equality of applied and fine arts and became a synonym for the strived for mode of operation of the Wiener Werkstätte [Vienna Workshop] (WW). In 1903, Hoffmann, together with Koloman Moser and the industrialist Fritz Waerndorfer, founded the WW, which existed until 1932 and provided designs for all areas of the applied arts (metal, glass, ceramics, textiles, carpets, leather, books), as well as, of course, for furniture, for a small elite of wealthy patrons and artist colleagues and developed spatial concepts that were composed down to the smallest detail. The Sanatorium Purkersdorf near Vienna (1904-06) and the Stoclet Palace in Brussels (1905-11) are contemporary incunabula of this holistic artistic ambition. Josef Hoffmann was responsible not only for the architecture of both buildings. He also provided the entire interior design, which was congenially executed by the Wiener Werkstätte.

"Viennese Modernism" of around 1900

The furniture shown here from the apartment of Magda Mautner-Markhof is a special highlight and can be seen as a kind of contemporary testimony. Some ideas and thoughts were developed and conceived of in this Vienna apartment during the almost daily meetings of the Vienna art scene. "Viennese Modernism" of around 1900 propagated the design of furniture and interiors, whereby two aspects played a decisive role: contemporary, non-historicising design and the artist as the creator of this new language of form. Besides Josef Hoffmann, Otto Prutscher, Josef Urban, Marcel Kammerer, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Leopold Bauer and Dagobert Peche also seamlessly joined the ranks of this genealogy of "artist-architects".

In 1853, Michael Thonet, together with his five sons, founded the "Gebrüder Thonet" company, which expanded worldwide and established an international sales network. In 1867, a serious competitor to "Gebrüder Thonet" arose at the same production and procedural level in the newly founded Jacob & Josef Kohn company. Around 1900, both bentwood furniture producers produced furniture according to the designs of Josef Urban, Josef Hoffmann and his students Gustav Siegel and Otto Prutscher, or of the painter, graphic artist and craftsman Koloman Moser.

The development of ceramics into an highly expressive art form

The principle of the complete work of art is also reflected in smaller objects. On a freelance basis, as well as for the WW, artists like Michael Powolny, Eduard Klablena, Berthold Löffler and Dagobert Peche designed ceramics that have long since become classics of Viennese Art Nouveau. Artists like Vally Wieselthier, Gudrun Baudisch and Susi Singer were responsible for the development of ceramics of utility and applied arts into an autonomous, highly expressive art form. The comparison of the in some cases intensely stylised, strictly geometric or seemingly symbolist Art Nouveau ceramics with the expressive, colourful Wiener Werkstätte ceramics is charged with tension. The formal transformation from one artistic generation to the next could hardly have been more dramatic.

The timeless validity of the idea

Designs for bowls, vases and similar items of glass by artists like Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser, Franz Hofstötter or Marie Kirschner were produced by the famous Bohemian Johann Lötz Witwe manufacture in Klostermühle. The elegant, meandering forms harmonise congenially with the typically iridescent decor that made this glassworks famous the world over. Strictly geometric patterns, on the other hands, characterise most metal works of the time. Designs for vases, breadbaskets, articles, tea and coffee services, jardinieres, cutlery and many more items of silver, brass and alpaca originate from the drawing boards and desks of the universal artists named above.

The popularity of these collectibles, also far beyond the borders of Austria, demonstrates the timeless validity of the idea of the complete work of art, which was carried into all areas of life in Vienna around 1900.