29 June 2013

Lebkuchen & Backerei: Selling The New Art In Vienna (Part Two)

"Gingerbread and baked goods."  Yes, this is a picture of a bake sale.  Not an ordinary bake sale.  A bake sale with sweets designed by Koloman Moser and Carl Otto Czeschka.  And these were not ordinary women in fin-de-siecle Vienna, but rather members of a new class that supported the new art.
The Wiener Werkstatte, chronically short of money, joined in the celebration of the 60th jubilee of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1908.   Although not an official invitee, the group joined in the festivities, using the occasion to open their new Kunstschau (Art House) as another way to promote the works of their members.  Ludwig Hevesi, commenting on the location of the Werkstatte's showroom, referred to it as gently as possible as "rather peripheral."
The new  Kunstschau wooden building was constructed quickly,  and included dozens of exhibition rooms, a cafe, and gardens, all designed in the new Jugendstil.  When it was finished, some one hundred seventy-nine artists displayed their works for the jubilee,  the most  notorious being Gustav Klimt's The Kiss.

Lili Waerndorfer was one of the first female drivers in Austria, and she even raced automobiles. Her husband, Fritz Waerndorfer, was the wealthy owner of a textile company and the Werkstatte's major financier.  The couple had married in 1895 and they commissioned Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser to supervise renovations to their existing home.  Fritz Waerndorfer commented later that when he walked through his front door he could imagine that the Werkstatte existed just for him.  It was Fritz Waerndorfer who opened the Kabaret Fledermaus in 1907, decorated by members of the Werkstatte.  Moser, Knips, and Zuckerkandl would each eventually live in Werkstatte-designed villas.

Edith von Mautner-Markopf, who stands in the center of the group, had studied painting with Carl Moll at the Kunstgewerbe.  She  married  Koloman Moser in 1902.  The black and white patterned reform dress she wears in the picture may have been designed by the Floge sisters.

Sonia Knips (1873-1959), also the Baroness Poitiers des Eschelles, spoke impeccable French.  She came from a family of officers in the Royal Cavalry that could its roots back to Belgium in1745.  She belonged to the minor nobility, a class that felt itself unfairly excluded from the royal court of the Habsburgs, a place that their accomplishments should have earned for them. This was the group from which the Wiener Werkstatte drew its greatest patrons.  Before her marriage she worked as a lady's companion to  wealthier families.   She married Anton Knips, an industrialist who owned a major ironworks, in 1896.  Two years later, she sat for her portrait by Gustav Klimt.  In 1903, she commissioned a summer home in the country from Josef Hoffmann.  Anton Knips shared neither his wife's social concerns nor her interest in modern art. Though they were known to be an unhappy couple,   their wealth, gave the Sonja the wherewithal to become a major patron of the Werkstatte and Josef Hoffmann, particularly.

Bertha Zuckerkandl was a journalist for the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung, a newspaper published by her brother Julius Szeps.  In her writing, she became an ardent supporter of the Werkstatte, calling its members " a new aristocracy" in an allusion to the hidebound members of the Habsburg court.  Her husband, Emil Zuckenkandl, was a professor of anatomy at the University of Vienna, and their home was for decades a slaon for the city's forward-thinkers  In her memoirs, Bertha Zuckerkandl wrote that it was at her salon that Hoffmann and Moser first discussed the idea of a Secession movement. The Purkersdorf Sanitorium was built at the instigation of Bertha's brother-in-law Viktor Zuckerkandl.

1. Josef Justh 1908 At the Kunstschau Wien, Schonbrunnertsrasse in Vienna, 1908 - in order from left to right: unknown woman, Lili Waerndorfer, unknown woman, unknown woman, Ditha Moser (at center in WW clothing), Sonia Knips, unknown woman, Berta Zuckerkandl, Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna.
2. unidentified photographer - Kunstschau Wien building, a courtyard, c.1908, Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna.

21 June 2013

Selling The New Art in Vienna (Part One)

Gustav Klimt, Carl Moll, and Koloman Moser:  founders of the Vienna Secession in 1897 and also founders of the breakaway group the Wiener Werkstatte in 1905.  The trio came to be known as the Klimtgruppe (Klimt Group. 
I've alluded before to the erasure of Carl Moll from the story of fin-de-siecle Vienna.  As well as being one of its most admired artists, Carl Moll (1861-1945) was adept an organizing exhibitions and selling art.    Also the stepfather of Alma Schindler Mahler, Moll's prominence was like a series of overlapping circles, reaching ever outward.
Early in his career, Moll attracted the scorn of Karl Kraus, a journalist opposed to hypocrisy and corruption of Habsburg Vienna, who dissected Moll's avarice and lack of principle in his newspaper Die Fackel (The Torch).    Moll had used his position on the government's arts council to lobby for the creation of a gallery devoted to modern art in 1900, which the Secession also wanted and which he hoped to direct himself.
Failing that, Moll became the director of the Galerie Miethke in 1904, after it was sold by the original owner, H.O. Miethke.  Klimt and his supporters in the Secession wanted to but the Miethke Gallery, while another group wanted Moll to represent them, but out of the Secessiongebaude (Secession Building).  The ensuing arguments laid bare Moll's conflicts of interest and the Klimt group seceded from the Secession.  With Galerie Miethke, Moll the impresario was vindicated.  He arranged exhibitions that introduced Vienna to artists of international stature, including Giovanni Segantini and Vincent van Gogh.  To be sure, both were safely dead and could be appraised as known and vetted commodities.

In The Blood Of the Walsungs, published in 1905, Thomas Mann, also a critic of bourgeois society but from a conservative perspective, had written, "The trimming of life were so rich, so  varied, so overladen, that there was almost no room left for living itself."   That was precisely the condition that  Moser and Hoffmann hoped to change with their exemplary gallery installations of  elegant and functional art.    By 1912, the group was forced to liquidate itself and reorganize as a limited liability company.  Competing explanations for the failure of a business that is now regarded as an aesthetic triumph linger.  Was it a lack of financial acumen and repeated cost overruns?  Or was it the cautious nature of a public that bought piecemeal what was intended as a totality? 

Notes on the photos:
In the top photo, a symphony in black and white, Moser's white-lacqured plant stands bracket a  setting by Hoffmann of ebonized oak furniture.  In this counter intuitive process, light oak  is darkened by rubbing black paint into the grain of the wood.
In the photo below, the display case contains a model of the Palais Stoclet, designed in 1905 and under construction for a wealthy couple from Brussels. The two female figures were designed by Richard Luksch (1872-1936), who had contributed similar faience pieces for the Secession Building and the Purkersdorf Sanitorium.  The pair pictured here were eventually placed in the Stoclet garden.

1. Wiener Werkstatte exhibition at Galerie Miehtke deigned by Koloman Moser - Vienna, 1905, photograph from Deustche Kunst und Dekoration, Volume 19, October 1906 - March 1907.
2. Koloman Moser - Jardiniere, metal lacquered in white, c.1906, Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna.
3. Interior of Galerie Miethke - Vienna,  1905, interior designed by Joseph Hoffmann, photograph for The Studio magazine.
4.  Foto Bildarchiv - Marburg - View of the western pergola at Palais Stoclet, with statue by Richard Luksch, Marburg.

14 June 2013

Franz Werfel's Pale Blue Ink

"Between too early and too late there is never more than a moment." - Franz Werfel, 1944.

Frnaz Werfel called it  an "intricate little tale of a marriage" and if that were all that Pale Blue Ink In A Lady's Hand was, that would be enough.  But, written  between February and April of 1940, Franz Werfel's brief novel was a unique Zeitroman, capturing the moment before Europe went into moral free fall.   Set  Vienna in 1936, the characters  are members of the haute-bourgeoisie and the Austrian civil service whose  easy accommodation to anti-semitism foreshadowed the Anschluss.    Werfel may have been drawn to write about acts of bad faith, having been conveniently out of Vienna on the island of Capri in 1938.   Critics accused him on occasion of being way too assimilated for their tastes.
In the event, Werfel finished the novel only a month before  Hitler's army invaded  France. The Werfels managed to flee to the United States where they settled in southern California, along with many other European exiles.  The  novel also became a casualty of war.   Too grim for American publishers, it first appeared in a German edition under the imprint of Editorial Estrellas in Buenos Aires.   An English translation was published in the U.S. in 1944 that altered the anti-semitic characters.  A restored version was published in  Europe in the 1970s and a new English translation appeared in 2012 from David R. Godine.  And about time, too.

The events of Pale Blue Ink In A Lady's Hand take place during the course of one day in the life of
 Leonidas Tachezy,  a self-made man and a darling of the gods.   Tall, blond, and powerful, Tachezy is a fifty year-old Austrian civil servant married to a younger woman.  Son of a high school teacher,  Tachezy earned the money for his university education by tutoring boys from wealthy families, boys he despised but envied.  Through the suicide of a Jewish friend, Tachezy secures his entree to Viennese society that enables him to meet Amelie Paradini, a beautiful heiress.  It is Amelie who chooses Leonidas over his rivals, elevating him through her love.

When we meet this couple, we recognize in her husband's attitude to Amelie,  familiar aspects of the 'trophy wife'.
 "...Amelie's bare shoulders and arms were immaculate, not one blemish, not one tiny hair.  The perfumed, marble white skin came not only from good breeding, it came from constant cosmetic care, which she took as seriously as divine duty.  Amelie wanted to remain  young and beautiful and thinfor Leonidas.  Thin above all else.  That required that she be hard on herself.  She strayed not from the sheer path of this virtue.    her small breasts showed pointed and firm under her black leotard.  They were the breasts of an eighteen year-old.

We pay for those virgin breasts with childlessness, the husband thinks now.  And this notion took him by surprise for as the determined defender of his undivided pleasure he had never entertained a desire for children. " Effectively, our escape is blocked from the safe perch of  autre temps, autre mores.

And Werfel allows his protagonist no escape.  Vera,  the writer of the  pale blue ink is not the great love of Tachezy's life.  She was fourteen years old when Tachezy tutored her brotherbut he remembered her.  Years later, while Amelie is away caring for a sick relative, Tachezy takes his first marital separation as the  opportunity to begin an affair with Vera,   which he terminates under false pretenses.     "He could see a handsome,seductive man, one who except for that passionate episode with Vera could only be blamed for nine, maybe as many as eleven gratuitous escapades outside of his marriage."   When he receives a letter in her hand after three years he thinks she has born his child and rips the letter up without reading it. "He had acted no differently than a god from antiquity who changes his form and bends down to a child of Man."  Fifteen years later, a second letter arrives.  This time he decides to open it and, read through the lens of his bad faith, he misinterprets her message.   What follows is a Nietzschean tale of 'recurrence of the same.' 

Born  to an assimilated Jewish family in Prague, the music-loving  Werfel (1890-1945) gravitated to Vienna where he became a successful playwright and fell in love with Alma Mahler, widow of the composer Gustav Mahler.  Alma resisted marriage with the Jewish Werfel for several years until the two were wed in 1929.   In his youth, Werfel had dabbled with the occult and Theosophy.

In his novels, Werfel often wrote about crises, spiritual and otherwise.  His masterpiece The Forty Days Of Musa Dagh (1933), a portrayal of  the Armenian genocide of 1915, is overdue for rediscovery.  Like Stefan Zweig, Robert Walser, and other Central European writers, Franz Werfel predated the Cold War and his work has been overlooked for that reason, especially in the U.S.  

It was at the Cafe Arco, a favorite meeting place for writers in Prague, that Werfel likely met the writers Franz Kafka and Max Brod.  The three-way friendship was an emotional roller coaster.  Kafka was envious of Werfel's wealth and his early literary success. Werfel didn't care for Kafka's writing.  Werfel and Brod disagreed about music, with Werfel championing the lyricism of Verdi and Brod the new music drama of Richard Wagner.  The last novel that Kafka read was, reportedly,  Werfel's Verdi (1924).  Max Brod helped to arrange the posthumous publication of Kafka's novel Amerika.

As for the artist Franz Lerch (1895-1977), his life had parallel to Werfel's.  After graduating from the Vienna Academy, Lerch won several prizes and his paintings were snapped up by Austrian museums.  But his early  success could not protect him when the Nazis occupied Austria in 1938.  Because of his wife's Jewish origins the couple was forced to flee and Lerch destroyed many of his works.  Resettlement in New York provided safety but Lerch worked as a commercial designer, his painting confined to his off hours. 

Pale Blue Ink In A Lady's Hand by Franz Werfel, translated from the German by James Reidel. Jaffrey NH, David R. Godine, Published: 2012 (1940).
1. Franz Lerch -  Interieur mit lampe (Interior with Lamp), no date, Artothek of the Republic of Austria, on permanent loan to Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
2. Franz lerch - Frau im Spiegel (Woman In The Mirror). 1927, Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
3. Franz Lerch - Madchen mit Hut (Young Woman in A Hat), 1929, Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
4. Unidentified photographer - Interior of cafe Arco, 1907, Narodni Technike Muzeum, Prague.

08 June 2013

Koloman Moser: Designing Modern Vienna

“Of the artists who founded the Vienna Secession, Kolo Moser was unabashedly the boldest and one of those who caused Viennese philistines the most trouble in the early days of the Secession.  Wherever there was something to reform in Viennese arts and crafts – and where wasn’t that needed? – you could find Kolo Moser working away with persistence intrepidness,  taste, and astounding technical skill.” – Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration XXIII, 1913-14, translated from the German by Gabriele Fahr-Becker.

“We wish to establish intimate contact between public, designer and craftsman, and to produce good, simple domestic requisites. We start from the purpose in hand, usefulness is our first requirement, and our strength has to lie in good proportions and materials well handled . . . The work of the art craftsman is to be measured by the same yardstick as that of the painter and the sculptor . .  So long as our cities, our houses, our rooms, our furniture, our effects, our clothes and our jewelry, so long as our language and feelings fail to reflect the spirit of our times in a plain, simple and beautiful way, we shall be infinitely behind our ancestors.” - Koloman Moser & Josef Hoffmann,  1905.

When the Neue Galerie opened a decade ago in New York City, it seemed that the museum might offer an alternative to the dominant  art historical narrative of modernism as told by the Museum of Modern Art. The art dealer Serge Sabarsky and his friend, collector Ronald Lauder, were well prepared to take on the ghost of  Alfred Barr,   MOMA's first director and a confirmed Francophile.  What followed was  a series of firsts in North America, exhibitions devoted to Josef Hoffmann's Interiors (2006), the drawings of Alfred Kubin (2009), and the paintings of Otto Dix (2010), 

Koloman Moser (1868-1918) was one of the founders of the Vienna Secession in 1897, along with the painter Gustav Klimt and the architect Josef Hoffmann.   Today Moser's name is less familiar than theirs but, with Koloman Moser: Designing Modern Vienna 1897-1907, on view at the Neue Galerie from May 23 to September 2, 2013, that will change, along with the idea that Hoffmann was the group's dominant creative force.

Moser, who began his career as an illustrator, was the obvious choice to design the Secession's journal Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring).  Published for only five years in an unusual large square format, it is a touchstone among magazines. 
 Members of the Secession were united by their iconoclasm, not by a common style. As early as 1904, the journalist Bertha Zuckerkandl writing in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration,  noted Moser moving away from the curvilinear Art Nouveau style to a new idiom of lines and geometric shapes, one more suited to incorporating interior design into architecture.  She also identified Moser as the group's leader in developing a new vocabulary of forms.

What his contemporaries discerned, historians have overlooked.  Five years before  Gustav Klimt "discovered" the gold painted  mosaics  at Ravenna, Moser had used both in his design for the large planters that bracket the main entrance to the Secession Building in Vienna.  It was Moser who designed the  iconic black and white checkerboard chairs for Hoffmann's Purkersdorf Sanitorium.  Subtract Moser's contributions and influence to the book of 20th century design and it would be thin indeed. Creators of upscale crafts today, such as Mackenzie-Childs,  have mined the designs of  Moser, Hoffmann, and particularly the pastiche style of Dagogbert Peche.

With financial assistance from the  banker Fritz Warndorfer, Moser and Hoffmann founded the Wiener Werkstatte in 1903 to bring the Secession's vision of the total artwork or Gesamtkunstwerk to production. They shared a belief that social ills could be cured  by  example  and that good design was a harbinger of social progress.  We may regard their ideas as naive but  their decorative discipline achieved incomparable results, albeit exorbitantly expensive ones.  The way was prepared by Moser's 1902 interior design for the physician Dr. Hans Eisiler von Terramare and his wife Gerta Loew (who sat for her portrait by Klimt). The wallpaper used for the current exhibition was originally  designed by Moser for the master bedroom at Villa Terramare.

As it turned out, the Werkstatte's masterpiece of total design was created not  in Vienna but in Brussels.  The Palais Stoclet, which took six years to complete (1905-11,) is the closest the Werkstatte  ever came realizing the ideal put forth by Peter Berhens: a feast of life and art.  Adolphe Stoclet, a wealthy banker and his wife Suzanne Stevens Stoclet, daughter of a Parisian art dealer, were living in Vienna when they happened to meet the painter Carl Moll  in his garden.    The Stoclets were so taken with Moll's villa that they commissioned its architect, Josef Hoffmann, to design a house for them when they returned to Brussels. 

When the Palais Stoclet was completed, Josef Hoffman exulted that "this is only the beginning."   But there had been casualties along the way.  Moser  resigned from the Werkstatte in 1908.  Mismanagement of the group's finances and demanding clients had taken their toll.   Moser's final  decade was filled with painting,  theatrical productions, and postage stamp designs, a variety that points to his nickname of  tausendkunstler, the thousand-artist. 

Although the Wiener Werkstatte continued to operate until 1932, the year 1918 marked an end.   Klimt died in June of pneumonia after suffering a stroke at age forty-nine.  Moser died  in October from cancer of the larynx; he was fifty.  Ditha Moser (1883-1969) survived her husband by fifty-one years.  Josef Hoffmann died in 1956 at the age of eight-five. 

For further reading:
Carl E. Schorske's magisterial  Fin-de-siecle Vienna (New York, Alfred Knopf: 1979) is the ideal introduction.
Wiener Werkstatte by Gabriele Fahr-Becker, Cologne, Taschen:  2008.

1. unidentified photographer - Koloman Moser, c. 1903, Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna.
2. Koloman Moser - blue and white kitchen sideboard with installation for Designing Modern Vienna, 2013, Neue Galerie, NYC.
3. Koloman Moser - Silver-plated centerpiece, 1903, Galerie Yves Macaux, Brussels.
4. unidentified photographer - Koloman Moser, gold leaf and blue marble mosaic for Vienna Secessiongebaude, 1898, Worldartistshowcase.
5. Koloman Moser - Purkersdorg Armchair, c. 1904, Neue Galerie, NYC.
6.. Palais Stoclet Interior - Instituut Agnetendal, Peer, Belgium.
7.  Koloman Moser -draft of decoration for the Terramare bedroom, 1902, Leopold Museum, Vienna.
8.  Koloman Moser - shaded green dot glassware, c.1899, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.