The series of newspaper articles by Adolf Loos I’ve been excerpting were written on the occasion of the 1898 Vienna Jubilee Exposition. International expositions (which this one isn’t really listed as, it’s more of a national expo) are a central organizing locus to major changes in domestic design. Bill Bryson, for example, uses the Crystal Palace exhibition (usually marked as the first international one) as his initial point of departure in his book Home.
Loos’s first selected piece begins with his reminiscence of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Thanks to Loos, I find myself looking a bit further back to the Weltausstellung 1873 Wien [1873 World Exposition Vienna] as instrumental in the development of the movement toward arts and crafts education in the nineteenth century.
Its motto was Kultur und Erziehung [Culture and Education]. The movement across Europe was to tie the quality of industrial products to the morality and national identity of the individual countries. What I didn’t realize, which I found out via Loos, was that such concerns were institutionalized at that time. The attempt to codify Swedish Modern at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York wasn’t an isolated moment: it was the culmination of a long journey through crafts education—and crafts education proved central in many other countries as well.
The timeline on The Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Arts is informative. In 1867, the Wiener Kunstgewerbeschule [Vienna School of Arts and Crafts] was founded and a building was constructed for the museum. “Uniting the practical and theoretical” is a common theme, and central to this is the mission for education. The Österreichische Kunstgewerbeausstellung [Austrian Exhibition of Arts and Crafts] opens in 1871 with the completion of buildings for both the museum and the school. The international exposition follows closely in 1873.
Preceding the efforts to embrace craft in Sweden (1899), in 1884 the Austrians establish the Wiener Kunstgewerbeverein [Viennese Arts and Crafts Association]. The ties to industry are quite direct:
Numerous well-known companies and workshops (above all J. & L. Lobmeyr), personalities and professors at the School of Arts and Crafts join this organization. Its objective is to further expand all the powers of creativity and execution developed by the city’s arts and crafts industry since the 1860s. To this end, several temporary and publically accessible exhibitions are organized at the Imperial Royal Museum of Art and Industry. Objects on exhibit are available for purchase. With these novel and lavish exhibitions, the association manages to generate the domestic and international resonance necessary for the realization of its aims. (Austrian Museum)
This sets the stage, and establishes the precedents for Adolf Loos’s desire to reject of the efforts of the School of Arts and Crafts. Through successive leaders, various historical periods were nostalgically reenacted and rejected. Similar movements occurred in the US as well, with shoddy period furniture knock-offs changing from moment to moment with the fashions, before the final commercialization of Arts and Crafts as a movement, both social and commercial. As is typical, the US was far behind the rest of the world.
In fact, one of the major foreshadowings of arts and crafts is found in Jacob von Falke’s 1871 book Art in the House , which was translated and distributed in the US by 1879. Jacob von Falke was a deputy director of the Viennese School of Arts and Crafts, becoming full director from 1885-1895, and largely credited with initiating the period of historicism in design which both the Secession and Adolf Loos raged against. The school remained affiliated with the museum until 1909, until it was split off into a separate Ministry of Culture and Education.
I think that marks a more definite move to separate the cultural and the commercial in Austria, a move which did not occur in Sweden. In the US, there was never any cultural sponsorship to begin with; it was simply left to the few academics and private relief efforts, that is until the WPA (Federal Artists and Writers Project) in the 1930s. The most interesting thing about the Swedish model to me is the maintenance of a “homecraft” organization in concert with a separate industrial craft organization. The roles seem to be conflated in Austria.
In Germany, the Deutscher Werkbund [German Association of Craftsmen] wasn’t suggested until 1899 (roughly contemporaneous to Swedish efforts) and it represented another attempt to get art into industry. An early member of the Werkbund has been repeatedly cited here, Hermann Muthesius. It wasn’t formally organized until 1907, and lacked the emphasis on traditional craft found elsewhere. The Werkbund was the progenitor of the Bauhaus.
The story of all this is exceedingly complex, and these little narratives are an effort to scatter a few bread crumbs to contextualize the source materials I’m saving here.