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January 07, 2007

Yet Another Vienna 1900

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Try it.

Link to, select Books and then the "advanced search" tool. Once there, type Vienna 1900 into the "Title" edit box and click the "Search now" button.

I got 37 hits a minute ago, the top one being this .

Vienna 1900 cover.jpg
Vienna 1900: Art, Life & Culture edited by Christian Brandstatter.
(German language purists should note that the second "a" in Brandstatter actually carries an umlaut. I didn't write it "Brandstaetter" because American search tools are likely to recognize only the simple "a.")

I bought a copy recently, even though I already have several books on the subject.

Why did I blow money on something similar to what I already have? Mostly because the book seemed well-illustrated, particularly by photographs I wasn't familiar with. It treated (briefly, admittedly) a spectrum of subjects, including: Jugendstil and Symbolism, The Secession, The Klimt Group, The Artist-Designed Dress, Furniture, The Wagner School, Theater and Cabaret, Music, Philosophy and Science, The Secret of Dreams (concerning Freud) and a number of other topics including individual artists such as Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka.

Clearly the "team of Austrian and German historians, critics, and writers" (so says the jacket blurb) assembled by the editor didn't have room to do more than hint at their subjects, given the amount of space devoted to illustrations. But those hints were useful starting points for unfamiliar topics.

I haven't read the entire book yet, but let me mention a couple of quibbles. One is that there was no obvious identification for the contributors aside from their names, none of which mean anything to me.

My second quibble is that Marian Bisanz-Prakken, in her article on Gustav Klimt, botched his birth date, calling it 1848 rather than 1863.

And why are there so many books dealing with Vienna and the period around 1900? Because there truly was a lot of important artistic and intellectual activity at that time and place.

This wasn't clear for a long time so far as painting was concerned, mostly because Klimt and the others didn't neatly fit the standard art history narrative developed by champions of Modernism. As a matter of fact, I hadn't even heard of Klimt until I read Carl Schorske's Fin-de-Siecle Vienna in the early 1980s. (My excuses are (1) Klimt wasn't mentioned in my college art history course and (2) I was focused on demography and computer programming for many years.)

The period centered near 1900 is pivotal for most major arts because Modernism in its various forms was emerging. True, folks tend to seize round-numbered years as focus points, but 1900 truly was one, provided that one really means the 10 or 20 years that straddle it -- one sees comparatively little about art in 1800 or 1700, for instance.

Unlike Friedrich von Blowhard, I feel uncomfortable with Grand Theory so far as art is concerned. I hesitate to relate artistic trends to, say, trends on economic or religious beliefs or practices. Nevertheless, I seem to write a lot about artists who were active during the transition period who failed to embrace Modernism for one reason or another. That's because I wonder how art might have evolved absent Modernism and, more tangibly, whether such a thread might be picked up again should Modernism and its spawn become more widely recognized as the artistic dead-ends I believe them to be.

So I keep researching 1900 Vienna, Paris, Moscow, Krakow, Helsinki, London and other places of interest. And buying books such as the one discussed above.



posted by Donald at January 7, 2007


Donald, come to NY - and to Neue Galerie, my absolutely favorite museum of absolutely favorite period. (Well, sometimes they have an exhibition of Expressionism, but I haven't seen there nothing later than 1935).

Do you know we used to have Fledermaus cafe, on Water Street next to the South Seaport?

I so love you for this post.

Posted by: Tatyana on January 7, 2007 11:37 PM

Vienna is the source of much of modern culture. This is sort of odd because Austria-Hungary was an anti-nation and a very peculiar state.

I've been working on the idea that Austria-Hungary will be a model for the global post-national post-democratic future when everybody is in a constant state of political grumpiness and powerlessness. A little bit is at the link.

James Joyce spent his best years in Austria-Hungary, BTW.

Posted by: John Emerson on January 8, 2007 4:34 PM

Modernism a dead end? Or was modernism - a heroic attempt to break out of the dessicated art of a moribund academy - deadended by the new academicians of what, for lack of a better word, is called postmodernism?

Posted by: ricpic on January 8, 2007 6:29 PM

Ah, come on, Donald...are you really going to deny the connection of High Baroque art to the domination of Hapsburg Spain (on top in Italy after 1560 and finally exhausted about a century later), and especially Hapsburg Spain's sponsorship of the Counter-Reformation, especially in Italy (Caravaggio) and in the Southern Netherlands (Rubens)?

Or, for that matter, the connection between the rise of Impressionism and the arrival of the Third Republic and the victory (partial and contested, granted) of the urban bourgeoisie over the rural magnates of post-Revolutionary France?

Or the collapse of the Hudson River School and its replacement by the American Renaissance that happened right along with the Civil War?

Or the sudden upsurge in Dutch art that came fairly soon after the revolt against Spain in 1577 (along with the arrival of hordes of highly trained artists from the South Netherlands who were among the exiles that enabled the Dutch to start dominating the 'rich trades' in the 1590s?)

I don't say all art history is political, but a great deal of it has some kind of fairly obvious political connection.

And yes, I think it isn't too hard to see the roots of late nineteenth-century Viennese culture in the politics of the time and place. Note the connection between the (politically) depressed middle classes of Vienna and the (emotionally) depressed and inward art of Klimt, Schiele, etc. The art, like the class that supported it, was all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Posted by: friedrich von Blowhard on January 9, 2007 12:57 AM

Donald, thanks for the heads-up on this book -- I collect poster stamps from the period and would love to have a look at it.

Posted by: missgrundy on January 9, 2007 2:43 PM

Friedrich -- I don't necessarily deny any of that. It's just that I'm cautious regarding sweeping linkages of that sort. Perhaps it's an irrational reaction to my grad school Sociology experience. Or maybe it's my intellectual style these days (I tended to be more "sweeping" when I was much younger).

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on January 9, 2007 4:55 PM

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