History and educational assignment

From the Imperial Royal Arts and Crafts School to the "Angewandte" of Today

In the heart of Vienna, the capital of the Danube monarchy, the predecessor institution of the current University of Applied Arts, the Imperial Royal Arts and Crafts School, was founded in 1867. It was closely affiliated with the Imperial Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry (today the MAK), the first Arts and Crafts museum on the European continent. It was established in 1863 following the example of the South Kensington Museum in London, now the Victoria & Albert Museum, and was to serve as a collection of models for artists, industrialists, and the general public. At the time, early-industrialised England played a pioneer role in supporting a reformed Arts and Crafts movement in order to prevent its decline in the "Machine Age". In the spirit of Historicism, the aim was to make it possible, also in Vienna, to study the great styles of the past by example of Arts and Crafts objects in the museum and to set up a place of advanced education for designers and craftsmen with the Arts and Crafts School in Vienna. It should train artists and teachers in equal measure to serve the demands of the "art industry".

Heinrich von Ferstel, the architect of the museum building, was commissioned with the design for a separate building for the school. In 1877, the main building of our university, still in use to the day, was festively opened at its prominent location on the Ringstraße. In contrast to the Academy of Fine Arts, female students were allowed to study there from the very beginning. Gustav Klimt was but one of the numerous graduates from this era.

Along with the artistic development towards nature observation and free design, a break with work on the basis of historical precedents also took place at the Arts and Crafts School around the end of the nineteenth century. In 1899, Felician von Myrbach, a member of the newly-formed Viennese artists society Secession, was appointed as the director of the school, which was liberated from the administration of the museum in the following year. In Myrbach’s term as director, there were numerous reforms and teacher appointments that made the Arts and Crafts School into one of the birthplaces of Austrian Jugendstil and founded its reputation as an institution committed to the modern. As a member of the curatorial board, Otto Wagner played a significant role in the implementation of the reforms. The teaching staff at that time reads like a Who’s-Who of the today highly regarded "Vienna around 1900" with names such as Kolo Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Alfred Roller - who began his highly influential term as director in 1909 - and students with the like of Oskar Kokoschka.

The end of the monarchy also meant the end of the "Imperial Royal" Arts and Crafts School, although Roller’s long term in office (until 1934) ensured the continuity of the high standard of artistic quality. Franz Cizek realised an educational reform programme with his highly regarded youth art courses. From Cizek’s course for theories of ornamental form emerged "Viennese Kinetism", which only recently has (again) attained its international art historical recognition, where female artists - such as Erika Giovanna Klien - set the tone for the first time. Architects like Josef Frank, Oskar Strnad, and Oswald Haerdtl continued the tradition of "Wiener Raumkunst" (Viennese Spatial Art) and transformed it. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, graduate of the Arts and Crafts School, went on to invent the first serially-produced so-called "Frankfurt Kitchen", which had a sustainable effect in social housing.

During the National Socialist regime, the Vienna Arts and Crafts School was under the direct supervision of the "Reichskammer der bildenden Künste" (Reich Chamber of Visual Arts), numerous teachers and students were banned from studies, threatened and persecuted, the teaching activities brought into line. The graphics class, in particular, under the direction of Paul Kirnig, delivered visual propaganda for the purposes of the "Third Reich", which contributed to the Arts and Crafts School’s elevation to the "Reichshochschule für angewandte Kunst in Wien" (Reich College of Applied Arts in Vienna). After 1945, the now "College of Applied Arts" had a difficult start under the direction of Maximilian Fellerer. Its orientation along the lines of an art academy was also reflected in the name "Academy of Applied Arts" (between 1948 and 1971, thereafter "College" again). The broadened scope of the educational programme, the increasing number of students, and an extension to the school along the Vienna Canal following the plans of Karl Schwanzer (1965) were signs of expansion in a new age of economic upswing.

Between 1979 and 1995 the "Angewandte" transformed into a progressive institution under the direction of Oswald Oberhuber and Rudolf Burger, who (briefly) guided the academy from 1995 to 1999.

Amongst the teachers in the fields of architecture, design, fine art, and theory in these decades were personalities such as Friedrich Achleitner, Christian Ludwig Attersee, Carl Auböck, Wander Bertoni, Joseph Beuys (as guest lecturer), Rudolf Burger, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Tino Erben, Adolf Frohner, Peter Gorsen, Hans Hollein, Wilhelm Holzbauer, Alfred Hrdlicka, Wolfgang Hutter, Karl Lagerfeld, Maria Lassnig, Bernhard Leitner, Walter Lürzer, Axel Manthey, Paolo Piva, Wolf D. Prix, Christian Reder, Jil Sander, Sigbert Schenk, Kurt Schwarz, Johannes Spalt, Mario Terzic, Peter Weibel, Manfred Wagner - to name but a few.

Rector Gerald Bast has been guiding the University of Applied Arts Vienna since 1999 - one year after a new legislative regulation transformed Austrian art colleges into universities. Gerald Bast’s ambitious plan for an art university with flourishing content and a growing number of students keeps stride with this age of globalisation, a fact reflected by new study programmes and changing professorships.

Patrick Werkner