Vienna – New Design for the Old City
From modernist masterpieces of Otto Wagner, Kolo Moser, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele to contemporary studios and workshops, Vienna holds immense treasures of art and design. New arrivals incorporate effortlessly into the creatively opulent ambience of the Imperial City, and can be seen everywhere.
The Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom opened in December 2010 in a trendy area of Danube Canal, and overlooks downtown and Stephansdom, a 14thcentury Gothic cathedral, at the very center of the city.
The hotel is a living artwork – glass walls provided enticing city views from every room and every public space. In the morning, I watched the sunrise from my floor-to-ceiling window. At bedtime, I contemplated the lights of the Wienerriesenrad, a giant Ferris wheel in the Green Zone of Leopoldstadt. My room was squeaky-clean white – floor, ceiling, walls, and all furniture, interspersed with shiny mirrors and matte glass doors. Pencil-doodle design above my royally plush bed made me feel like living a writer’s dream…
In the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom, French architect Jean Nouvel implemented the idea of non-color, so the guests would engage with the views outside. Every room in the hotel is white, grey, or black. By contrast, an abundance of color is found in the atrium and upper floor ceilings painted by Pipilotti Rist – bright and bursting with larger-than-life images of plant and animal life. The artist incorporated video installations among the images, so the ceiling comes “alive” over the heads of hotel guests dining at Le Loft or relaxing after a massage at So Spa.
Sofitel’s slanted roof repeats the diamond patterns of Stephansdom’s tiles, and along the back wall of the hotel landscape architect Patrick Blanc created a vertical garden of 20,000 plants.
A walk around the Danube Canal reveals little designer shops and galleries with their innumerable treasures. At Song, buy a one-of-a-kind outfit, a pair of shoes, a bottle of swanky perfume, a Balenciaga bag, or a multimedia piece by a contemporary artist.
At WUBET, I was tempted by colorful wool shawls handmade the old-fashioned way on an authentic loom delivered from Ethiopia.
At Lisabird’s Art Collective, I saw Deborah Sengl’s exhibition with startling sculptures of fox, mink, and ermine taxidermies wearing coats and accessories made of synthetic “human skin.”
At the Lust Gallery, preparations were underway for multimedia shows by Brian Goeltzenleuchter and Markus Hanakam/Roswitha Schuller.
It seemed easy to be creative in a city that’s open to new ideas and actively supporting them. Museums Quartier, or MQ is one of the world’s largest complexes for contemporary art and culture and includes MUMOK, the Leopold Museum, and Kunsthalle. MQ is implementing special programs that include Artist-in-Residence, open to international participants, and “quartier21,” which provides space and support to dozens of small companies focusing on digital art, fashion, and design.
Exploring the riches of MQ might be compared to a gallery-walking endurance test, so at lunchtime weary travelers flock to Café Milo at the Architekturzentrum Wien, designed with minimal resources and maximum creativity by French architects Anne Lacaton and Jean Philippe Vassal.
A diverse and bustling designer universe is developing in Vienna’s 7th district, formerly home to silk factories. At Art Point, Lena Kvadrat, originally from Moscow, creates women’s fashions out of men’s suits and shirts.
AM Betastore sells art on T-shirts (and has a cute dog on premises).
The Lena Hoschek shop offers feminine retro styles with lots of lace and roses and a BDSM twist. Even more BDSM stuff, including leather briefs, latex body suits, and riding crops can be found at Tiberius, “a place where taboos don’t exist.”
And if you are not fully satisfied with all the available fashion, you can create your own at Your Fashion, Our Job.
Local eateries in the 7th district emanate the same creative vibe. Schon Schön serves wonderful organic lunches at a communal table decorated with roses suspended in vials in one room, while two others are taken by hairstylist Claudio Studer and a dressmaker’s studio.
Das Möbel is a furniture gallery as well as a coffee shop where pastries and espresso drinks are served on showroom tables with dangling price tags.
In the city center, I admired a testament to the Viennese tradition of good taste. The J & L Lobmeyr Glass Shop, in business since 1823, now operated by the sixth generation of the crystal-making family. From its ties to Wiener Werkstätte to contemporary cutting-edge designs, Lobmeyr’s history of handmade chandeliers includes a 1963 commission of “Starburst” for the New York Metropolitan Opera.
I visited the museum of interior textile manufacturer Backhausen, which has been in operation for 150 years and currently produces accessories based on original designs of the Wiener Werkstätte artists.
Finally, in the atrium of Otto Wagner’s 1906 architectural gem, the Post Office Savings Bank, I saw the “Hagenauer: Viennese Modern and New Objects” exhibition of Art Deco brass and wooden figurines, now on display through July 30, 2011.
On Schwarzenbergplatz, across from the Russian Heroes’ Monument commemorating the Red Army fallen who fought against German-Fascist invaders of Vienna, I marveled at the latest addition to the city’s public art called the Morning Line. This interdisciplinary project was commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, founded by Francesca von Habsburg.
The Morning Line is a sonic pavilion, made of black-painted aluminum modules of various sizes with cut spiral patterns. The modules are combined into a multifaceted structure that can be built into various configurations reflecting the idea of pulsating universe.
Created by Matthew Ritchie with Aranda/Lasch and Arup AGU, the massive-yet-airy free-form pavilion, which contains 50 loudspeakers, was inaugurated in June at the music festival where contemporary composers presented nine new pieces specially designed for its sonic architecture.
The Morning Line will be on display in Vienna through November 20, 2011. More information on designer Vienna online.