Founded as the Imperial Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry in 1863, the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna (MAK) with similar aims to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the MAK collection reflects the importance of modern and contemporary design in Vienna, including crafts from the Wiener Werkstätte founded in 1903 by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, bentwood furniture by Thonet, art nouveau works by Gustav Klimt and biedermeier sofas. It is an international collection and includes work by international designers such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh from Scotland. The collection shows the development of Viennese arts and crafts and acts as a study collection for today’s students of design and the MAK also houses Austria’s largest art library
The Collection is housed in an historic building designed by Heinrich von Ferstel with later additions by Ludwig Baumann in 1906 and 1909 and, in 1991, a new glass wing designed by Sepp Müller. There is humour on the outside with the Tor zum Ring (Gate to the Ring) constructed by James Wines/SITE in 1992, which moves a piece of the building’s outer wall into the street, providing a new entrance to the museum, and James Turrell’s light sculpture MAKlite with coloured pulsing lights enlivening the windows of the brick building.
With fine historic interiors, the exhibitions have to provide modern displays while respecting the historic interiors and the MAK does this well. The MAK has a long tradition of collecting Asian design and now has one of the largest collections in Europe of art and applied arts from Asia. A selection from the collection ASIA: China – Japan – Korea has now been installed under the painted ceiling of one of the historic rooms in an imaginative display created by the artist Tadashi Kawamata which acts as an artwork in its own right and breaks free of the traditional rectangular display cases by using wood, reminiscent of the timber used in crates in which the art would have been transported by ship to Europe.
In the arches of the basement is a more contemporary exhibition – the new MAK DESIGN LAB which reflects on art, design and modern life in the fast-changing digital 21st century.
Through its temporary exhibitions and programme of events, the museum seeks to act as “a forum of intercultural and artistic exchange as well as of fruitful dialog with designers, artists, and architects.” The MAK does not stand still – its next project is the refurbishment of the concrete Second World War MAK TOWER as an experimental centre for contemporary art, design and architecture.