Neue Galerie serves up a Viennese treat

There’s a renewed appreciation for superior craftsmanship, an ever-growing celebration of both “the maker” and his or her work.

For evidence, look no further than the artists and artisans featured at the wealth of holiday markets offered throughout the region.

And then, there’s the popularity of recent exhibitions devoted to the enduring artistry and craftsmanship of legacy brands. Shows this year have already recognized Patek Philippe, Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, with a Louis Vuitton exhibition now underway.

Dagobert Peche (1887-1923), Bird-shaped candy box, 1920. Execution: Wiener Werkstätte. Silver; coral. Neue Galerie New York. Image courtesy Neue Galerie New York.

So, it seems a case of perfect timing, then, for Neue Galerie New York to train a spotlight on the Wiener Werkstätte, or Vienna Workshops. 

In “Wiener Werkstätte 1903-1932: The Luxury of Beauty,” the museum devoted to German and Austrian art offers a dazzling tour through the progressive collective of artists and craftsmen who lived in the Austrian capital in the early 20th century.

In introducing the show, Renée Price, director of Neue Galerie New York, writes, “The Wiener Werkstätte began as a movement to champion the role of the craftsperson alongside that of the artist and patron and to elevate the quality of goods produced.”

From ceramics to fashion, furniture to jewelry, textiles to wallpaper and so much more, the works today stand as vivid testament to a singular goal.

“All these diverse forms were expressions of a single intention, one that is very dear to us at the Neue Galerie New York — the beautification of everyday life,” Price adds.

The sweeping decorative-arts show, designed as a major retrospective of the collective founded by Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser and Fritz Waerndorfer, has drawn together some 450 objects, with loans representing public and private collections in the United States and Europe. Visitors will delight in the whimsy of a bird-shaped candy box or the intricacy of a semiprecious stone-ornamented brooch, the sleek lines of a deceptively straightforward armchair or the simple beauty of a streamlined teapot.

The exhibition features a true depth in jewelry and furniture, ceramics and graphic design, home goods and drawings, paintings and ceramics, fashions and textiles, showcasing the collective’s aesthetic and spotlighting its leading lights, including Hoffmann, Moser and Dagobert Peche, all featured through iconic examples.

Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956), Tobacco case for Otto Primavesi, 1912. Execution: Wiener Werkstätte. Gold; lapis lazuli, pearl, turquoise, coral, opal, carnelian and other semi-precious stones. Private Collection.

It’s an immersive exhibition, aided by period wall treatments and other evocative details that carry visitors through the museum’s third floor and its chapters, “Founding Years, 1903-05,” “Harvesting Years, 1906-14” and “Years of Reinvention, 1915-32.” A “concluding” room, an inviting space with a vibrant pink hue, explores the Wiener Werkstätte of America, on Fifth Avenue in New York, as well as Austrian-American architect, illustrator and scenic designer Joseph Urban’s involvement with William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Productions, depicted through photographs, movie stills and set designs. In addition, the second-floor galleries have been borrowed to showcase major pieces of furniture, works on paper and decorative objects, along with their design drawings.

The show is curated by Christian Witt-Dörring, curator of decorative arts for Neue Galerie New York, with Janis Staggs, Neue’s director for curatorial and manager of publications, the co-curator for the exhibition. They have also teamed up to edit the impressively comprehensive companion catalog published by Prestel, a hefty 400-page hardcover book. It’s a worthy reference that’s priced at a most attractive $65, with every purchase supporting the Neue Galerie.

“Wiener Werkstätte 1903-1932: The Luxury of Beauty” continues through Jan. 29 at the Neue Galerie New York, at 1048 Fifth Ave. in Manhattan. For more, visit neuegalerie.org.

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