NEW YORK (September 12, 2003)—On October 17, the Neue Galerie opens "Viennese Silver: Modern Design, 1780-1918," an exhibition of more than 180 extraordinary objects of daily use. Many of these pieces are being shown in the United States for the first time. The exhibition will remain on view at the Neue Galerie through February 16, 2004. It will then travel to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, where it will open in November 2004. The curator of the exhibition is Christian Witt-Dörring.
"Viennese Silver" includes objects that, through their refined functionalism and abstracted geometric form, anticipated the breakthroughs of Modernism. It begins with pieces commissioned by Hapsburg royalty, including the first American presentation of the outstanding breakfast service commissioned by Empress Maria Theresa. The exhibition proceeds to trace the development of the Biedermeier and Wiener Werkstätte traditions, and concludes with objects by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, who brought Viennese silvermaking to new aesthetic heights. Works associated with important Austrian individuals are also presented, such as a jewelry box given to Alma Mahler by the com-poser Gustav Mahler; a box belonging to Emilie Flöge, who served as a muse of the artist Gustav Klimt; and several pieces acquired by members of the prominent Wittgenstein family.
"This exhibition allows us to look further into the history of Austrian decorative arts and to locate some of the sources of its genius," said Ronald S. Lauder, president of the Neue Galerie. "It is an honor to have as our partner in this endeavor the venerable Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna."
"We are delighted to give viewers a chance to experience the sublime craftsmanship and sheer seductiveness of Viennese silver," said Renée Price, Director of the Neue Galerie. "Yet it is not just the pieces themselves, but the ideas they represent, that make them so extraordinary. One can see in these objects their makers' search for truth as it is expressed through essential, distilled form."
The years chosen for the title of this exhibition mark the beginning and endpoint of a social and cultural evolution. In 1780, Emperor Joseph II succeeded to the throne. During his reign, the effects of the Enlightenment, which had already begun to blossom in other parts of Europe, came to be felt in Austria. The basis was laid for an intellectual and social revision of values. Sachlichkeit (objectivity) and spareness were raised up as virtues; the tomb of Joseph II, which is represented in the exhibition by a photomural, plainly symbolizes this.
In the period from 1780 to 1918, Vienna's population increased tenfold. As the capital and imperial residence of the Hapsburgs, the city had always attracted craftsmen and artists. With the Vienna Congress of 1814-15 and city expansion in 1858, emigration continued to increase, creating a fertile environment for new impulses.
The Vienna 1900 movement was a short but intense outpouring in all genres and remains a high point of Austrian culture. Viennese artists, architects, and designers of the day took important steps toward the creation of twentieth-century Modernism. This exhibition, by drawing connections between work of the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries, demonstrates the flaring brilliance of Viennese design at its height.
The Neue Galerie will host three lectures in connection with the exhibition. On Monday, October 20, Murray Moss, owner of the influential design store moss, will speak on "Viennese Silver: Impressions and Inspirations." On Monday, October 27, Michael Huey, the editor of the exhibition catalogue for "Viennese Silver," will speak on "Wiener Werkstätte Silver and its Patrons." And on Monday, February 2, Christian Witt-Dörring, curator of the exhibition, will speak on "Viennese Silver: The Anticipation of the Modern." All lectures take place at 6:30 p.m. in the Theater at the museum. Admission is free for members; regular admission is $8 (students and seniors, $5).
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