The Museum für Angewandte Kunst (Museum of Applied Arts) was a recommendation from a friend because of the beautiful interior very similar to the Akademie der Bildenden Künste (my school while I’m here). I noticed as soon as I walked in that the ceilings were hand-painted with the same intricate alcove designs. As is the same for all of the historic buildings around Vienna, the entrance leads into a large hall which was full of random half-constructed designs. However, I was really eager to visit the current exhibition called Erotic Art of Japan (Shunga), held downstairs, so I bypassed the doorways on either side and the grand double-staircase to make my way down to the lower level.
Shunga: Erotic Art of Japan
This exhibition was perfect for anyone who loves the Japanese printing style, story-telling, caricature and the history of erotic (or explicit) imagery, or just fancies a chuckle. It started off with a brief history of Shunga (in both German and English). Then the collection can be read in chronological order, starting with hilarious caricature-style printed books showing exaggerated depictions of genitalia, and ending with a series of photographs by the modern artist Nobuyoshi Araki. The collection of prints is vast and ranges from the use of innocent symbology all the way through to explicit sex acts paired alongside humorous texts. Fascinatingly, the depictions were not only focussed on straight couplings or male pleasure, and there were recurring “fetish” trends that were popular at the time. I really loved seeing this old yet familiar form of pornography as it proves that the “porn industry” is not a modern invention but rather our demonisation of it is. The traditional artistic medium merely showed a different perspective from a different time that was just as hungry for erotic imagery as society is today. I think that a really interesting conversation could happen from one of these prints being placed side-by-side with a modern day screen-shot of a porn film.
Design and Applied Arts
Just to be clear, the Japanese exhibition is not permanent and was completely unlike the rest of the work on show in the museum. In fact, I found that it made a stark contrast to the Design Lab which was also held downstairs. Both the Design Lab and the handiCRAFT exhibitions were full of functional pieces, while the rest of the building displayed historical objects of artistic value. The ground floor rooms are permanently curated to suit separate time periods including a Baroque Rococo sitting room. Upstairs, on the first floor, is a curious surface-design installation called the Ornament Museum which you can enter like a room though the walls are entirely glass.
Overall, I enjoyed my time at the MAK. The curation style is quirky and has an entirely different focus to the other institutions I have visited during my time in Vienna. The varying and seemingly un-related exhibitions make it a good place for groups to visit as it has something for everyone.