Current & Coming  |  By Katy Kiick

Moser: Designing Modern Vienna 1897-1907

May 23, 2013  |  The exhibition opening today at the Neue Galerie in New York City focuses on the decorative arts, furniture, and graphic design of Koloman Moser (1868-1918), beginning with his co-founding of the Vienna Secession in 1897 and culminating with his departure from the Wiener Werkstätte in 1907.

The three main galleries are set up chronologically, the first covering the end of the nineteenth century and focusing on Moser's development from painter to designer and teacher, and his subsequent graphic-design work and glass and ceramic creations. Highlights include a sample of an 1899 textile Schwämme (Mushrooms) and a large cigar cabinet with elaborate mahogany and maple-burl inverse marquetry from 1900. Thematically, the room introduces the Vienna Secession and its promotion of Gesamtkunstwerk-a notion reinforced by the design of the gallery which is itself a "total art work." The walls have been stenciled with the large-scale rose pattern often seen in Moser's work, and the roses are alternately gold or silver calling to mind the other dominant theme of the exhibition: the checkerboard. 

Gallery two demonstrates Moser's growth as a designer and brings together his early furniture. Large inlaid-wood case pieces (a vitrine, wardrobe, and desk made for different rooms of the Eisler von Terramare apartment in 1902-03) anchor each wall and remind visitors that Gesamtkunstwerk could, and often did, encompass an entire home. Moser's chairs are grouped around the space, tidy bands of gray and gold squares run along the gallery's baseboards, while silver- and gold-leaf checkerboards cap the pillars flanking each door and window.

The third and largest gallery holds an assortment of decorative objects, furniture, and jewelry from Kolmon Moser's last years associated with the Weiner Werkstätte-from necklaces and bonbon baskets to sideboards and wallpaper. The latter, a yellow and gray grid design made for a 1905 Berlin apartment, literally takes over the room. By the end of Moser's involvement with the group, it had grown to include workshops for metal, furniture, ceramics, and more, represented here by leather embossing stamps with the Moser-designed WW monogram and a guide to the organization's long list of maker's marks. Nearby is a 1906 folding screen covered in gold paper which was made for the group's fashion and textile workshops-part of the Werkstätte's effort to extend their designs to the human form.

A small anteroom displays photographs and ephemera from Moser's life: a cheeky Moser alongside his design compatriots, playing with his children, his wife, Ditha, in a Moser-designed dress. As you progress through the galleries, you begin to understand the Secessionist movement as a whole, and the particular point of view of Kolomon Moser. The objects are not only beautiful, but illustrative of the changing nature of the home and domestic design in early twentieth century Vienna. By combining these objects in three highly-stylized gallery interiors, the curator, Christian Witt-Dörring, and exhibition designer, John Vinci, created a Gesamtkunstwerk of their own.

With its richly illustrated 399-page catalogue, the exhibition goes one step beyond the total art work of Moser's era: visitors are invited to make use of a twitter hashtag when they encounter instances of Moser-esque checkerboards in their daily lives. #Checkedout

 

Neue Galerie, New York, New York

May 23 to September 2

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas

September 29 to January 12, 2014

 

 

 

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