Guest curator Alice Stori Liechtenstein on the MAK exhibition GLITZ AND GLAMOUR: 200 Years of Lobmeyr
Twenty years ago, when I first moved to Austria, I used to walk daily from the Margaretenstraße to the Graben – to painstakingly learn the foundations of the German language at Berlitz. On the way back home, in true flaneur spirit, I would stop in front of one of the historical shops between Hoher Markt and the Opera and indulge in some window shopping. If the store was not too small or too intimidating, I would walk in and happily idle an hour away. It was a pilgrimage of sorts: Demel, Rozet & Fischmeister, Altman & Kuhne, Manz’sche Verlags, Knize, Meinl, Rothe & Neff, Braun & Co and of course, Lobmeyr.
Some of those shops are no longer there, so all the more admiration for those that have successfully kept abreast with the chains and mega brands. Lobmeyr has just finished a year-long facade restoration by Hubmann Vass Architects / Erich Hubmann und Andreas Vass. The three-storey high wooden portal has been returned to its original colour: a red tone. It was a brave choice that shows on the part of the company an understanding of its history and a healthy dose of self-confidence.
Any company that celebrates 200 years in business deserves praise and admiration, even more so if it has been led uninterruptedly by the same family. Lobmeyr, which over the course of two centuries, has collaborated with all the significant architects and designers of Vienna (and beyond) to produce exceptional examples of craft, is now being honored with an exhibition at the MAK; the story of the MAK and Lobmeyr has been intertwined from the beginning.
The anniversary exhibition at the MAK plays with the optical appeal of Lobmeyr glass and the way it catches the light, paying tribute to the exceptional continuity of the glassmaking dynasty’s endeavour to combine innovation with craft and to ensure that glass remains a contemporary material for applied art and design creations.
Some businesses constantly look to the future: they innovate and focus on delivering novelty and modernisation. In antithesis – and for a healthy balance – some businesses make it their duty to preserve the past and guard traditions. Very few businesses are like the Roman god Janus, able to see into the past with one face and into the future with the other. It is safe to say Lobmeyr – or better said, the family behind the company – can steer change and transitions, such as the progress of past to future, from one vision to another.
To underline this unique characteristic of Lobmeyr, it was necessary, in the MAK exhibition GLITZ AND GLAMOUR: 200 Years of Lobmeyr, to avoid a chronological narrative and instead create parallel narratives showing how past and traditions are inseparable from innovation and zeitgeist. The objects on display illustrate the wide range of techniques and forms developed by the company over the past two hundred years. Engraved and cut glass, bronzite and enamel decorations, delicate muslin glasses, chandeliers, and dinnerware sets span the historical and stylistic eras of modernity. Surprising connections come to light among this plethora of objects: the same forms and decorations reappear across the centuries, with the past inspiring the present and the present inspiring the future. Lobmeyr’s influence on fundamental aspects of life—from interior design to tableware—is tangible. Since the company’s collaboration with the Edison company, when the world’s first electric chandeliers were installed in Vienna in 1882, Lobmeyr has repeatedly succeeded in combining technical and artistic traditions with aesthetic innovations.
What is also unique in this company’s history is the involvement of its family members. Many family members were not merely businessmen but also worked as designers. From Josef Lobmeyr, founder of the company, in 1823, onwards, all six generations have had a go at designing products. The most prolific was probably Hans-Harald Rath, who created, among others, the Starburst chandelier for the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Alpha Service in Musseline glass. I was also happy to discover that some of my personal favourites in the MAK collection were the work of Hans-Harald’s twin sister, Marianne Rath. She was a designer who confidently experimented with forms and chemistry and stopped working for the family company when she married; one can only wonder what amazing work she would have brought to life had she lived in an age more favourable to creative women.
In addition to the company’s own designs, series developed in collaboration with architects, artists, and designers have always been one of Lobmeyr’s hallmarks. Over the decades, the continual, intensive contact between creatives and the glass manufacturer has ensured a constantly contemporary interpretation of glass. The list of architects and designers to have collaborated with Lobmeyr is considerable, both in length and achievement.
If I were to pick one thing that brings Lobmeyr and me together, it would be our shared understanding of Design; more specifically, the firm belief that a (competent) designer can bring a new understanding and added value to a product. Every product should be produced with a finely honed aesthetic, an intellectual message and a deep understanding of the materials and techniques needed for the production.
In my work as a guest curator, I aim to create juxtapositions that might bring the viewer to discover something new and to see the objects in a new light. By comparing similar artefacts, one sees the differences and appreciates the details best. With this in mind, I grouped the dozens of glasses, bowls, chandeliers and vases based on their traits and peculiarities. Sometimes matching the objects was an intuitive process, and sometimes it was very studied. I like to think of the objects as having conversations amongst themselves; the viewer is free to eavesdrop!
The MAK exhibition GLITZ AND GLAMOUR: 200 Years of Lobmeyr is on view until 24 September, 2023.
A contribution by Alice Stori Liechtenstein, guest curator