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Friedrich Kiesler. Infinite utopias for living in the finite

mumok insider

Friedrich Kiesler. Infinite utopias for living in the finite

Amid the grey basalt architecture of mumok, a presentation of the architect and multifaceted artist Friedrich Kiesler (1890–1965) can be found on the -1 floor. At its center is the model of his Endless House (1959): an organic-looking wire mesh and concrete architectural sculpture in a sonorous gray and an icon of twentieth-century visionary architecture. In 2017, this model, for a house that was never built, found its way alongside numerous sketches, drawings, and plans as well as other works by the artist into the mumok Collection by way of a donation by the collector couple Gertraud and Dieter Bogner. The museum’s bunker-like architecture thus houses a kind of centerpiece of architectural history, an organoid entity that still resonates spiritually to this day. It was originally conceived as a symbolic and de facto disruption to the straightjacket of a rationalized and geometricized living environment. We may recall Adolf Loos’s interconnecting spatial relationships in the model’s open structure with its flowing transitions between walls, floor, and ceiling, while the interweaving of all art forms in the interior might bring to mind Josef Hoffmann’s concept of the total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk). Yet Kiesler was not beholden simply to local tradition; he was an early global player.

As early as the nineteen-twenties, he was in close contact with the architecture and art scene in America. As a crosser of continents, he also ranked among the pioneers of an open concept of art, one in which painting together with architecture supported an expanded function that integrated ways of living. From 1947, he created multipartite pictorial objects with his so-called Galaxies, which were conceived as transmitters between painting, sculpture, and architecture and bespoke of his sensitivity to ways of presentation and spatial references. The inspiration and referential subject for Kiesler’s Galaxies was his theory of Correalism as an expression of his conviction regarding the interrelations between the arts as well as between urban structures, buildings, and their technical and artistic fitments. At the center of his Endless House vision lies not only Correalism but also the essence of the Galaxies, whose interaction of pictorial elements Kiesler compared to familial structures: “Each painting represents a definite unit in itself just as in one family each member is of distinct individuality. Yet, their firm cohesion (into one) is inborn no matter how heterogeneous the character of the members might be.”*

For Kiesler, organic abstraction and a proximity to life go hand in hand; for him, the houses in multi-family dwellings represent an expression of familial relationships between the arts. One need look no further than the mumok exhibition, which alongside the Endless House shows photographs of completed works, such as, for example, the 1928 display window for SAKS Fifth Avenue in New York. The nigh on infinite wealth of variations in Kiesler’s organic structures can be seen in the architectural drawing Endless House für Mary Sisler (1961), from the holdings of the Austrian Friedrich and Lillian Kiesler Private Foundation. His work was perfectly integrated in the functionalist architecture of the 20er Haus too, where a show featuring the artist was held in 1988. The film on this exhibition is also being shown at mumok, affording us a better understanding of Kielser’s social thinking, one that was intrinsic to his artistic work and oriented toward human needs—something also relevant in times such as these. 

Rainer Fuchs

*Dieter Bogner, ed., Friedrich Kiesler, 1890–1965: Inside the Endless House, exh. cat. 231st special exhibition of the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, 12.12.1997–1.3.199 (Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 1997).


16 mm film, digitized, b/w and color, sound, 19 min
Film: Wilhelm Gaube
© Wilhelm Gaube, estate administrator Joerg Burger