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Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna
photo: Google Arts Project

Museum of Applied Arts Vienna: Viennese Design and More

Museum of Applied Arts Vienna. Quite Italian in appearance and British in spirit, the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna (MAK) stores hundreds of designs and objects, from Austria and around the world. Most importantly, the MAK showcases the story of Viennese design. To give you an idea what to expect I’ll share the MAK’s key highlights, along with practical information.

Museum of Applied Arts MAKExtending along the Ringstrasse, just opposite Stadtpark, the Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art conveniently shuns the limelight of Imperial Vienna’s grand buildings on the other side of Ringstrasse. Originally, the Neo-Renaissance building was to emulate London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which celebrated the English Arts and Crafts movement.

Therefore, unlike the Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum), Belvedere and Albertina, the Museum of Applied Arts doesn’t display Imperial grandeur but practical things: From 13th century Yuan dynasty vases to 21st century Austrian design chairs; from delicate Bohemian goblets made of etched glass to intricate textile pattern samples by Wiener Werkstätte.

What To See At The Museum Of Applied Arts In Vienna

Museum of Applied Arts, ViennaMuseum of Applied Arts Vienna. At the heart of the museum, a giant glass roof pours light across two rows of arcaded galleries down to the central courtyard. Like in a coffeehouse, groups of chairs gather around bistro tables in the middle. Underneath the arcades, wildly patterned sofas lean against the walls’ classicistic rectangles in pink, yellow and blue marble. If you look up from the sofas to the vaulted ceilings, colourful sphinxes, angels and fauns reach out for each other among delicate foliage and flowers. In the back of the hall, a female head spits water into a shell, reminding of a typical Viennese bassena. Thanks to Mediterranean-style glazed ceramics that one is much more playful.

What To See At The Permanent Collections

Dubsky room at MAKFive of the MAK’s eight permanent collections display a mix of European furniture, glass, porcelains and textiles: from the Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Classicistic Periods to the Empire, Biedermeier, Historicism and Art Nouveau. Because Asian art influenced European artists for centuries it makes sense to start from the Asian collection. Just glancing from the Asian ornaments on painted silks and the wood carvings up to the museum’s own painted ceilings teaches you about art history.

Likewise, watching European history of art through glass, for example, changes one’s perspectives: While the Renaissance Venetians blew fine glass in delicate shapes, the Bohemians and Silesians loved engravings and enamel decorations on harder glass. In the early 20th century, glass art became the new playground of architects and architecturally trained designers. As a consequence, many glass objects were made of colored glass and unusual shapes to blend in with the interior design of a certain building.

On the ground floor, the two remaining permanent collections cover carpets and paper: Going back to the Asian exhibition, you will find that the carpets collection weaves Asian and European patterns and craftsmanship even more closely together. If you like contemporary graphic design and architectural photography the Works on Paper room holds interesting finds. Among the highlights are the fun poster collection from Austria, Germany and Switzerland and the collection of book art.

Viennese Design

Biedermeier chairs at MAKMuseum of Applied Arts Vienna. Where did Viennese design make its first mark and what are the must-sees? If you are keen on exploring groundbreaking Viennese design, you will find prominent examples in the collection of Biedermeier chairs and the Vienna 1900 collection.

To begin with, the first major design objects from Vienna were furniture and porcelain. At the Permanent Collection Baroque, Rococo and Classicism on the ground floor you come across a delicate desk in marquetry with dainty legs from Viennese Franz von Hauslab. In an all-white 18th-century porcelain centerpiece from Vienna, a group of angels drink a toast to each other.

Just as the Austrian middle classes started to gain economic power in the early 19th century, Viennese Design starts to take centre stage: In the Permanent Collection Empire Style Biedermeier, a red sofa shows first signs of ‘Gemütlichkeit’. Desks and bureau cabinets from polished wood helped to sort bills, contracts and independent thoughts. In the middle of a vast showroom, about three dozen Biedermeier chairs in different shapes and upholsteries show off Austrian arts and crafts. Especially with dinner services and kitchenware, objects visibly turned from representational pomp to more practical designs: Take the red cup from Bohemian cut glass as an example, that would easily blend into a commercial design store of today’s Wien.

Thonet chairs at Museum of Applied Arts in ViennaFurther down the practical route, the rise of Viennese coffeehouses also spurred the need for cheap seating. Originally designed for Austrian nobility, the German Thonet chairs eventually furnished hundreds of Kaffeehäuser and private residences, thanks to simple design and mass production technique. At the Permanent Collection Historicism Art Nouveau, two vast lit canvas screens project the elegantly curved shapes of dozens of different Thonet chairs placed behind them. Before you continue straight along the screens, take a look at the back (photo).

The Vienna 1900 Collection

Vienna 1900 collection at MAK, ViennaMuseum of Applied Arts Vienna. Upstairs, the Vienna 1900 collection unfolds the most exciting developments of Viennese Design: Following the Vienna Secession‘s founding members Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser and Josef Maria Olbrich you learn how they cut out their own styles from European Art Nouveau. Although the Museum of Applied Arts showcases the Secessionists’ style and the works of Wiener Werkstätte, modernistic opponents like Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos get space as well. Therefore, expect intricate geometric ornaments and rich floral patterns alongside clean shapes and minimalist decor. As for furniture, Josef Hoffmann’s and Kolo Moser’s sleek cabinets and chairs still shock and inspire through revolutionary simplicity. Perhaps the stunning glass and silverware best reflects the wide spectrum of Viennese design.

Alongside objects of everyday use, the museum exhibits world renown Art Nouveau drawings and paintings Specifically, fans of Gustav Klimt artwork will love Klimt’s masterpieces The Fulfillment and The Tree of Life.

Wiener Werkstätte Archive

Museum of Applied Arts Vienna. Few visitors to Vienna know that the MAK hosts the largest archive of Wiener Werkstätte designs. Rooted in the museum’s basement, the archive hosts thousands of ground breaking design sketches and pattern samples. These roots enabled the growth of Viennese design, and today keep nurturing artists and designers. Josef Hoffmann’s drafts of brooches and a cigarette tin look like carefully structured doodles. Whereas Dagobert Peche’s bold fabric prints aren’t that far from African graphic prints. In addition to fabric samples you also find sample books for wallpapers, colour samples for fabrics, as well as letters from members of Wiener Werkstätte.

Apart from sketches and fabrics, the Wiener Werkstätte Archive also hosts furniture and other objects, such as a geometric silver tea set by Josef Hoffmann and jewelry by Kolo Moser. At times, some of the objects move up to the exhibition rooms of the Vienna 1900 collection.

When Is The MAK Open And How Much Do Tickets Cost?

Address: Museum für Angewandte/Zeitgenössische Kunst, Stubenring 5, 1010 Vienna

Opening Times: Tuesday 10.00 am to 9.00 pm; Wednesday to Sunday 10.00 am to 6.00 pm; open on public holidays, including on Mondays; if in doubt, check website;

Ticket prices: EUR 14 (adults); EUR 11 (with Vienna City Card; for students under 27, visitors aged 65 or older); On Tuesday evenings between 6.00 pm and 9.00 pm adults pay only EUR 6; children and teens under the age of 19 go free;

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