Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity

The same day we went to see "The Illusionist," we had been to see the exhibition "Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity" at the Milwaukee Art Museum. We knew in advance that this facinating travelling show had been assembled with the help of the Albertina Museum in Vienna, but the fact that this show happened this season was another entertaining coincidence.

This exhibition focuses on the Biedermeier period in Central Europe from 1815 to 1830. It brings together almost 300 examples of German, Austrian and Czechoslovakian paintings, furniture, related decorative arts and works on paper that document character of the period and demonstrate how it was a precursor to modernism. The term "Biedermeier" is actually the name of a fictional character-Gottlieb Biedermaier-who came to life in the 1840s in a Munich weekly satirical magazine. This "everyman" represented the typical German citizen, more interested in a comfortable home than political activism. The tendency was to pare forms to their essentials, merging the useful with the beautiful. This exhibition examines Biedermeier painting, furniture and the related decorative arts as a style and a cultural attitude.

We found the exhibition fascinating on its own and also a useful warm-up to Vienna exhibit galleries, particularly the Modern Collection at the Upper Belvedere which covers the Biedermair period also. We found a lot of items, such as the tower clocks, tables and tea sets to have a lot in common with examples from the splendid "Arts and Crafts" exhibit, although separated by almost a century in time and great deal of political and artistic water under the bridge. A lot of the furniture was strikingly modern looking even by modern standards, and all of it beautiful by any standard. (On the other hand, I'd have a hard time living with some of the wallpaper designs--.)

The period is well documented by the exhibit. It is interesting to see how a style can grow just on its own merits, without the overarching manifestos that tend to accompany modern artistic movements. (Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the author, played a part in the later times due to his fascination with color theory, but he did not play the same role in the Biedermaier era that William Morris, for example, did in the Arts and Crafts movement.)

The show is well worth seeing if you are interested in the evolution of Modern art and design, and not just if you are planning a trip to Austria. The exhibition continues through January 1, 2007.

Milwaukee Art Museum Exhibit page:
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