It’s been such a journey. I ended up doing a whole big time-travelling situation when I decided to see what they showed from Adolf Loos’ huge heritage in MAK. And there I had a chance not only to peek curiously into his wife’s bedroom, which was reconstructed along with a few other spaces, for this exhibition especially.
But what happened is that I did actually experience the smooth transition between late XVII century’s changes – those that affected the class system, gave birth to upper middle classes and little bourgeois, those that allowed increasingly massive but high-quality manufacturing, those that brought completely new techniques and solutions to creative production, introducing golden brass to regular dining rooms and great looking painted or silvered stoneware to the kitchens.
I lived a strange moment of transition between popular and egalitarian tastes, between what meant a very specific and limited right/ability to evaluate the beauty and taste, which belonged to aristocracy previously, and birth of individualism, which required a redefined and refined idea of what’s appropriate and aesthetic. It was no longer about a holistic concepts of beauty embedded in the class – people longed for unique, personal, for something with a particular twist.
From these shifts modernism slowly emerged, as a result of social diversity, production capacities, and newly born profession of designers who dealt only with sketches and drafts – a division initiated by the royal reforms in Vienna. Combination of these aspects had an impact on the way markets and tastes worked, which Jacob von Falke described to the point in his book “History of Modern Taste”: Taste became pure fashion. This overweening desire for the new, in a context of such rapid change, had to exhaust any reasonable inventive spirit.
A very well-known experience, right?
However, the walk at the point where we find this quotation on the wall just starts to drag us into late XIX century’s slow but sure introduction of modernism – simplicity of design was more and more present on the upholstery, replacing rococquesce gardens of flowers and golden-red patterns with simple gray geometric patterns, bombastic handles with modest shapes made of silver metals or wood, and so on, and so forth.
All of a sudden one enters the world of Otto Wagner, one of the heroes of architecture and bright minds of the era, who spent his life reshaping Vienna (at least on paper), setting new trends and leaving a footprint of brilliant buildings across the city and beyond it. From his works emerge the elements known for secession, later on introduced a little bit more with mandatory paintings of Klimt and Kokoschka.
And here come the two fantastic authors of modernism at its best – Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos, different and complimentary at the same time. A huge space is devoted to simultaneous presentation of their works – in a way that gives a comprehensive idea about the evolutionary and aesthetic aspects of design and architecture of late 19th and early 20th century, but also effectively deals with the subtle but important differences that made these two persons strive for a slightly different modernism. They turn out complimentary – Josef Hoffmann leaned more towards the decoration and ornament oriented groups, those who believed the contemporary individual needs a completely new ornament in order to express itself.
This was the way secession, art noveau and art deco worked – striving for revolutionary, sharp design. And so were his works – they gave an impression of genial pragmatism crowned with a bright twist. His chairs, houses, cutlery, hangings are marked with his detailed genius. On top of it, there is a reconstruction of Boudoir of a great star – his extreme and courageous vision of a space in which a newly born group of movie and music stars would feel best, blending cheap and pretentious with somehow naively bewitching, similar feeling to a dream of being a star.
To Adolf Loos ornament is completely unimportant – he criticized the ambition to create a new one by his contemporaries as deviated, and he sees Hoffmann as one of those “artistic” architects and designers from whom he wanted to be distinguished. Instead, his mission was pure pragmatism and modernism more as a mode of living, as something deeply injected in the society, which finds its expression in the ways spaces are shaped, in the ways human environment is manifested.
One of the most interesting (and representative) concepts was that he taught and practiced designing houses from the inside out. This way he made sure the space plays all essential functions, stressing the importance of ecological and economical thinking – while the transition is important just to the extent of providing with simple, pleasant package. This also ensured a three dimensional perspective on architectural creative process – something in a way rare in the modern practice, at least in this exact manner of thinking. Loos sought for the world that was accessible and affordable, with a great visionary stress on self-sustainability and efficiency. His project of one-wall-housing – little houses connected with walls in order to economize the investment – and provided with a garden space were impressively forward-looking.
This is just a little teaser of what awaits curious visitors who end up in MAK before 19th of April, the last day of the exhibition. Highly recommended.