Openings Museums Austria

Face lift for fin de siècle Vienna design

Makeover of MAK, Vienna's innovative museum of applied art, continues

Josef Hoffmann tea set, 1903, copyright MAK/Georg Mayer

The Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna (MAK) will unveil “Vienna 1900” next week, on 17 September, the latest instalment in a rolling programme to redisplay galleries that were co-designed by leading international artists 20 years ago.

Three galleries featuring Viennese design from 1890 to 1938 have now been completed. Organised by Christian Witt-Dörring, the curator of decorative arts at the Neue Galerie in New York, and designed by the Viennese-based studio of Michael Embacher, the first room deals with the emergence of Austrian Modernism out of Historicism at the end of the 19th century. The display continues with the rise of a distinct Viennese style and concludes with the style's influence beyond Austria after the First World War. The rooms are painted in colours that are characteristic of their respective eras: the first is dark red, the second is silver and the third is orange.

In the 1990s, the MAK's former director, Peter Noever, invited leading contemporary artists including Donald Judd and Jenny Holzer, to work with the museum's curators to rethink its displays. The strategy, which was highly innovative at the time, helped to transform the museum into an institution of international standing. But Noever's successor decided that after two decades a redisplay was due. “The Viennese public wasn't coming to the MAK for its permanent collection anymore,” Christoph Thun Hohenstein, the MAK's director, told The Art Newspaper. “A museum has to develop.” The museum continues to work with contemporary artists, such as the Los Angeles-based Pae White. Further galleries are due to be transformed in the next few years.

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