Exhibition presents highlights of the University of Applied Arts Vienna's 150-year history

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Exhibition presents highlights of the University of Applied Arts Vienna's 150-year history
Coop Himmelb(l)au, Vodöl, design, Vienna, 1989. Execution: Vitra. Stainless steel, steel, Nirosta®, leather © MAK/Georg Mayer.

VIENNA.- On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the University of Applied Arts Vienna, the major exhibition Aesthetics of Change: 150 Years of the University of Applied Arts Vienna (15 December 2017 – 15 April 2018) delves into the cosmos of an Austrian cultural university that is at once one of the richest in tradition and among the most visionary. In two parts, the jubilee exhibition, a cooperation between the University of Applied Arts Vienna and the MAK, converges on the Angewandte’s historically evolved position as the leading competence center for artistic and scientific education and research. In the lower MAK Exhibition Hall, around 400 exhibition objects reveal insights into the numerous highlights of its 150-year history. Speculative and occasionally provocative contemporary positions in the upper MAK Exhibition Hall sketch the future of art and education in front of a backdrop of social and technological upheavals.

A Multiperspectival Approach to 150 Years of “The Angewandte” On 21 September 1867, in an informal letter, Emperor Franz Joseph I laid the cornerstone for a new educational institution affiliated with the erstwhile Imperial Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry (today’s MAK). On 1 October 1868, instruction had already begun at the (as it was then known) Imperial Royal School of Arts and Crafts, initially still in a courtyard wing of the Palais Brenner on Währinger Straße. In 1877 the school relocated to the new Heinrich von Ferstel-designed building on Stubenring, directly next to the museum. In 2018 the Angewandte will further expand into two large, newly adapted buildings in close proximity to the Ringstraße.

Thousands of biographies from the realms of art, architecture, and design meanwhile have become associated with the Angewandte through teaching or studies. The graduates represent an amalgam of “stars” of art, architecture, and design history—from Gustav Klimt to Oskar Kokoschka and Maria Lassnig, from Josef Frank to Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky and Hans Hollein—and names heretofore unknown to the public at large. Many of the antecedent artists have scarcely been illuminated up to now—because they either did not pursue a market-oriented artistic career or switched to teaching or other functions.

In the part of the exhibition shown in the lower MAK Exhibition Hall and curated by Elisabeth Schmuttermeier (Curator, MAK Metal Collection and Wiener Werkstätte Archive) and Patrick Werkner (Professor and Head, Art Collection and Archive, University of Applied Arts Vienna), over 400 exhibition objects from the University’s own collection and the MAK’s collection, as well as items on loan, enable a multiperspectival view of the Angewandte’s enormous output. The art and design collection of the University with its clear mission statement of documenting the work of teachers and graduates is contributing a broad cross-section of 300 objects. The MAK is supplementing this selection with numerous works by professors and graduates that were taken up into the MAK collection through the mid-1930s.

The visionary exhibition design by BWM Architects, in particular Johann Moser and Sanja Utech, yields a type of encyclopedia of the Angewandte. The alphabetical sequence of objects and themes allows exhibition visitors to forge their own connections in terms of the content.

A synthesis of history and present is provided by the heart of the presentation: The “genealogies” of courses across 150 years demonstrate the enormous differentiation in the educational offering from its origins through today. At the same time, at President Gerald Bast’s invitation, all Angewandte departments are presenting themselves in short videos. Audio stations, videos, web stations, and a generous book table that provides glimpses into the Angewandte’s extensive publishing activity complete the vista of the Angewandte’s vital story, inextricably linked to political and social developments.

Scenarios for the Future
In the second part of the exhibition Aesthetics of Change: 150 Years of the University of Applied Arts Vienna, in the upper MAK Exhibition Hall, the curatorial team of Peter Weibel (Professor emeritus, University of Applied Arts Vienna; Chairman, ZKM | Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe) and Gerald Bast (President, University of Applied Arts Vienna) sketch theses for the future and advocate for a reorientation of education, art, and society.

From its inception—in keeping with its founding vision—the Angewandte was a locus of innovation, change, and critical reflection of one’s own thought and action. Accordingly, the future-oriented part of the exhibition Aesthetics of Change starts with the historical expansion of the arts into new media, materials, and methods, and their fusion. On display are works by Joseph Beuys, Hans Hollein, Peter Weibel, Alfons Schilling, Ruth Schnell, Anab Jain, and other personages, who from the 1960s on turned the Angewandte itself into a pioneer of decisive developments in the abovementioned broadening of the arts.

Three modern trends—the social turn, the technological turn, and the cultural turn— constitute the framework for the exhibition setting. These trends are bundled into three chapters of thematic complexes. Positions of Austrian and international artists explore how these turns—i.e., change processes and future trends—are influencing education, art, and society.

Inter alia, with Liquid Democracy (2017), Angewandte graduate Monika Piorkowska questions the stability of Western democracy. The work 10.000 Moving Cities (2010/2017) by Swiss media artist Marc Lee memorably visualizes global interconnectedness, while the installation Lights Contacts (2009) by artistic duo Scenocosme points out that change can only be initiated collectively.

The exhibition examines current and futuristic scientific approaches by means of striking visualizations of research findings. Topics include CrispR technology by Emmanuelle Charpentier and her team, Geoffrey Ozin’s nanotechnology research, and findings from the migration and demographic research being done by the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU).

The exhibition eventually culminates in the spectacular installation The Future Room, conceived by curators Weibel and Bast in collaboration with Ruth Schnell and Martin Kusch. A virtual knowledge space provides food for thought and shows visions of the future—simultaneously dystopian and utopian, a remarkable spatial experience is brought about by the latest technologies.

“The future is there, where we ourselves strive towards it,” says curator Peter Weibel. In accordance with this notion, visitors are offered the opportunity to contribute their own ideas, visions, and wishes. The intent is to make the change of knowledge production and transfer tangible. For example, a virtual guide takes the place of white walls and classical types of texts. In the guise of a chatbot, it leads visitors through the exhibition and enables them to look up additional content on their mobile devices. A lot of information only becomes visible if visitors themselves take action.

Virgil Widrich and Stefan Unger of checkpointmedia and Pia Scharler and Gerhard Jordan of getusedtoit reinforce this aim with a design concept that deconstructs the exhibition space and transforms it through an interplay of light and dark. The focus of the staging is on decampment and upheaval. The spotlight is on the new; old structures dissolve in the darkness.

“Thus, while we are speculating about the future, we want to create an environment that comes into focus in the future through experimentation with creative competencies, novel approaches, and new technologies. The exhibition will increase awareness that the 21st century not only is bringing a technological revolution of historically unique dimensions, but also will be a century of creativity,” is what curator Gerald Bast says about the exhibition Aesthetics of Change: 150 Years of the University of Applied Arts Vienna.

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