Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Grotesque

FROM GROTESQUERIE TO THE GROTESQUE: On the Topicality of Ornaments

This exhibition closes tomorrow at the MAK (Museum of Applied Arts) in Vienna. Oh if only it were just uptown, a subway ride away, I would be racing over there! It is intriguing that the curator describes the grotesque as “an attitude of mind.” These images are flights of fancy -- dancing and laughing in a most joyful way at, and in the face of, mortality.

As a consolation, the museum has collaborated with two other institutions to put their print collection online.

The MAK’s Works on Paper Collection comprises 17,413 folios and features holdings dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries, originating mostly from Germany, Italy, France and England. The library collection includes reference books; literature on art, the applied arts, graphic arts; and numerous pattern books, folios, and ornamental prints.

One notable collection of ornamental prints is the Neuw Grotte├čken Buch by Christoph Jamnitzer of Nuremburg, dating from around 1610. It is an exemplary example of the German grotesque, that includes “60 folios with panels, goldsmith ornaments, ornaments in the auricular style and scrollwork ornaments, putti, erotic drawings and monstrous forms. Because of the wide variety of designs it contains, the volume enjoyed great popularity among craftspersons of the time.”

As eloquently stated by Kathrin Pokorny-Nagel, Head of the MAK Library and Works on Paper Collection
There is no doubt that ornamental prints have lost none of their importance as a resource for cultural and artistic research: for rediscovering lost historical information about interior decoration, garden designs and the compilation of collections, for localizing the origins of applied arts objects, classifying their aesthetic development and dating them… and, not least, as an ideal image or embodiment of an attitude of mind.

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