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Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos, the two most important architects in turn-of-the-century Vienna, were born five days apart in 1870, a few dozen miles from each other in Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and now in the Czech Republic.
Their friendship, rivalry and divergent philosophies of Modernism are explored in a riveting new exhibit at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (MAK). “Ways to Modernism: Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos, and Their Impact,” on view until April 19, examines their contrasting attitudes toward individual expression, style, decoration and consumer culture. Through a dizzying array of furniture, textiles, household items, original sketches, paintings and architectural reconstructions—intelligently organized and arrayed by curators Christian Witt-Dörring and Matthais Boeckl—the exhibit of more than 600 objects brings to life the milieu of the early 20th-century Vienna whose celebrated look was largely shaped by these two men.
Much of show’s success has to do with how persuasively the architectural and design ideas of its two protagonists are presented as reactions to industrialization, democratization and emerging aesthetic practices. The wall texts in German and English are impressively thorough and well written, although visitors who want to take in the whole exhibit in under two hours are encouraged to selectively skim. ….