I’ve always been a fan of Jugendstil, the Austrian/German counterpart to art nouveau. Today at the Vienna Cafe Exhibition at the RCA, I got a good dose of it in a fascinating exhibition curated by our friend Dr. Charlotte Ashby.
Typical Jugendstil was exemplified by the Cafe Heinrichshof, with an interior designed by Otto Prutscher in 1911. Prutscher was one of the prominent members of the Wiener Werkstatte. Photos of other Viennese cafes around the turn of the century showed similar art nouveau style design. Other images charted the progression of the cafes from the 17th century to the 20th, and the role they played in Viennese cultural and social life.
One of the most interesting parts of the exhibition, though, moved away from the heyday of the Viennese cafes and into contemporary art and design, reimagining everyday objects influenced by cafe culture. A silver spoon that melted and left traces in a teacup gave a new outlook on the everyday action of stirring sugar and milk into a hot drink.
The exhibition included an actual cafe (with cakes imported from Austria), serving some of the same items as were listed on a cafe menu from a century or two before. The old menu, though, also listed prices for games or game pieces, such as dominoes, chess, and billiards, which patrons could play all day for the price of a cup of coffee.
The exhibition didn’t have a billiard table, but by all accounts the deliciousness of the strudel made up for it.