Vienna with San Franciscan Eyes (4 and 5/5) – art not quite so nouveau anymore


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‘Something unpractical can not be beautiful’

Otto Wagner

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My dear companion,

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today, let us walk the final miles of the Vienna with San Francsican Eyes series. This time, I have included two illustrations for visual support.

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We start our ramble at the University and make our way to Karlsplatz. One claim to fame of Karlsplatz is an art nouveau (‘Jugendstil’) entrance to its underground station – the orange arch structure in the drawing – built by architect Otto Wagner. He was a contemporary of Schiele and Klimt, the chaps we have met earlier, and designed at the beginning of the 20th century .

Wagner is remembered as the founder of modern Viennese architecture. He believed that ‘Something unpractical can not be beautiful’ with the underlying aesthetic credo that ‘form follows function’. Over time his famous entrance hall got moved and repurposed. It is still beautiful. Ironically however, as an example of function following form, it now hosts a cafe and an exhibition space. So, does form need to follow function ?

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Viennese hairdressers certainly don’t think so. They cherish their verbal ornaments. It is my experience that, if they can, they’ll use a pun to name their shop. Anytime. A pun! It might make you giggle the first time, but it will certain annoy you ever after. German speakers amongst you:  find yourself the kind of names I am talking about in the illustration.

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I am not going to write about  coffee houses at any great length today. They are a big part of your visual flaneur’s urban refuge and will get their fair share of treatment in the future.  It suffice to say that I entered Cafe Sperl in a state of utter exhaustion. 2 hours later I left invigorated thanks to a serving of coffee by the gentleman in black.

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A detour, so welcomingly taken by a flaneur, led me to the Wien River (which is not a misnamer for river Danube). Here, my  fingers took on the icy temperatures for a final battle to sketch the Urania. Yet another art nouveau building, it was designed by a student of Otto Wagner, Max Fabiani, and houses a public observatory. And a cinema.  In case you like what you stare at with a tad more plot.

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As the sun went down, I was still finishing my scribblings. I was freezing,  but what an impressive day it had been!  Cold and thirsty, one thing yet remained to round off this Austrian Winter’s day  – a hearty sip of mulled wine (‘Gluehwein’).

Cheers to art noveau and you!

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I invite you to check back regularly – more is coming soon…

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2 thoughts on “Vienna with San Franciscan Eyes (4 and 5/5) – art not quite so nouveau anymore

  1. This is my first visit to your site and what a delight it is! I will visit often. But I must comment on the quote here by Wagner. I do not agree! (in a very friendly manner:) Indeed, for me, the most UNpractical things seem to contain intense beauty. Perhaps it lies in what we, as individuals, deem to be practical. But, in general, much of ART: exquisite paintings, trips to the theatre, symphony, sculpture seem highly UNpractical in the sense that they are not food or shelter. Certainly they are food for the soul. Yet, so many people in our world live with the barest of the essential, practical things and nary a bit of the exquisitely beautiful. What do you think?

    • Hi Jennifer,
      thanks for stopping bye!
      You raise an interesting point – plenty of beautiful objects are not useful. At least not in the strictest sense. I think, underneath the surface, the quote refers to ‘simplicity’ . A simple way of achieving a goal can be superior to one employing ‘useless’ clutter…

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