The Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK):
Museum for Applied Art Vienna
The Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK) is essentially a museum of design and interiors not dissimilar from the London Victoria & Alberts, but with a distinct Austrian (or Viennese) touch to it. On contrast to the V&A, which was nourished by the leftovers of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the MAK did not have a collection when it was opened in 1863. The collection was gradually built up and developed through donations and inheritance, mostly things given by companies and corporations of Vienna. In my opinion, the MAK is one of Vienna's most overrated museums.
Many of the items on display, however, were purchased and ordered at design companies. The central pieces of today′s collection are the items of the "Wiener Werkstätte" or "Vienna Workshop" and its distinct style, but also the collection of oriental rugs and ornaments. Beyond that, the MAK has an extensive study collection that provided the inspiration and models for the "historicism", the neo-Somethingism that is responsible or the architectural crimes on the Ringstraße.
Speaking of these: The MAK itself is housed in one of these ugly things. Designed by the proliferate architect Heinrich von Ferstel, the building quotes Renaissance motives (not too dissimilar to the Staatsoper or the Palais Ferstel, the latter one nor surprisingly by the same architect). But let′s start with the origins of the museum. It was founded in 1863 as the "K.K. Österreichsiches Museum für Kunst und Industrie"( Austrian Museum for Art and Industries) and modelled after the previously mentioned "South Kensington Museum" (which later turned into the V&A) in London.
Applied Art & Industrial Design of Vienna
It was meant to be a source of inspiration to artists, industrial designers and craftsmen. The original museum was temporarily located in the Ballhaus of the Hofburg Palace, but moved into the current building in 1871. In 1867 - quite a crucial year in Austrian history, as Hungary got its administrative sovereignty - a college dedicated to industrial design was opened.
This "Kunstgewerbeschule" was more than a watered-down version of the Academy of Fine Arts, as many famous graduates later proved. The relationship between the museum and the college was very close from the beginning and still is. In 1877, the building was extended according to plans by Heinrich Ferstel. In the following years, some of Vienna′s most famous artists, architects and designers are either teachers or students at the Kunstgewerbeschule, making it a hot-bed for an artistic avant-garde that was standing in opposition to the more orthodox academic tradition lived by the Academy of Fine arts a few blocks up the Ringstraße.
Otto Wagner, Kolo Moser and other leading figures of the Viennese Jugendstil give rise to a community that later helped to seed the Secession movement. In 1919, the museum gained a large amount of items that were previously owned by the Habsburgs. In 1938, the museum was "lucky" again, receiving several private collections previously owned by Jews or politically persecuted Austrians. Other parts of the current exhibition were acquitted through an exchange with the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Rivalling the Academy of Fine Arts
Anyway, despite of many pieces being returned to the legitimate owners or their heirs in more recent years, the museum had grown significantly over the course of the second half of the 20th century. Sub-branches of the MAK are now located in the Geymüllerschlössl on the outskirts of Vienna and a former FLAK tower, a chunk of concrete put together by the Wehrmacht in haste and indestructible without damaging surrounding buildings.
The current exhibition is structured in a rather peculiar manner: All items are organised according to the material used for making them, and not according to their style or historic context. Exceptions to this rule are the legendary archive of the Wiener Werkstätten and the section on contemporary design as well as the Oriental collection.
The museum still maintains a "Studiensammlung" or "Study Collection" for educational purposes that is open to the public. Comments on the exhibition by the artists that arranged the objects will give you a good sense of the typically Viennese "aren′t we great" spirit. Do not miss out on Gustav Klimt′s Stoclet Frieze. Nearby attractions include the Postsparkasse by Otto Wagner, the former Ministry of War, and the Stadtpark with the World′s most tasteless memorial for Johann Strauss Jr as well as the Karlskirche Church, the Musikverein and the Secession.
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