The Ornament Museum

Wed, 27.04.2016–Sun, 02.04.2017

MAK Permanent Collection Contemporary Art

The Ornament Museum, Josiah McElheny’s installation—developed especially for the MAK—reinterprets the historical design language of Viennese Modernism, finding within it a set of new questions about art and psychology. The New York-based artist, well known for his use of glass with other materials, has created a museumwithin-a-museum—installed in relation to the MAK’s permanent collection of Viennese objects from around 1900.

The pavilion was designed in collaboration with Chicago architect and exhibition designer John Vinci. Its structure and proportion recall Josef Hoffmann’s design for the Austrian pavilion at the Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes (Paris, 1925), which helped to spark a new modernist vision. The overall aim of Hoffmann’s pavilion was to point towards his ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk [total work of art] a concept in strong opposition to the purely functional evolution of design.

In McElheny’s pavilion, we are invited to enter and look out through the landscapes created by the ornamental motifs on its windows. Produced in collaboration with a specialized glass school using a traditional silkscreen printing technique, these delicate black drawings attempt to translate a number of Koloman Moser’s studies for ornamental form, as in the edition Flächenschmuck [Ornament for flat surfaces], published in Die Quelle [The Source], in 1902. Their ornamental geometry achieves a unique quality by the interplay of graphic shapes and the virtually invisible, shimmering glass surfaces.

With his artistic interest in the use of glass in architecture, McElheny places himself in relation to historical narratives, but also in connection to our current obsession with transparency. In early 1920s avantgarde circles, glass was seen to offer a poetic ephemerality and inspired structures based on crystalline forms intended as utopian models of the future.

The title of the exhibition is borrowed from Paul Scheerbart’s poetic fable about an ornament museum, published in the magazine Die Gegenwart (Berlin, 1911). While inspired by the intensive debates on the aesthetics and meaning of ornament involving Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann, and Koloman Moser as well as the art historian Alois Riegl, the project’s dreams are about a different historical confluence as well.

McElheny also hopes to demonstrate a connection to the development of modern psychology in Vienna by Sigmund Freud and others. The ornament of Viennese Modernism was superimposed onto all types of surfaces and media, such as paper, textiles, jewelry, furniture, walls, and architectural elements. As such, it represented the psychology of the society at that time, but it also changed the psychological state of the people inhabiting these almost psychedelic rooms.

The exhibition speaks about the underlying psychology of modern ornament. This language is brought to life through performances in which the actress Susanne Sachsse, as the curator of ornament, offers individual tours of the pavilion, pointing out the hidden visceral meanings of the patterns. The performer wears a fantastical dress, a reconstruction of a 1908 design by Emilie Louise Flöge, the dress becoming an animated ornament itself, connecting the performer’s body, the architecture and multiple, overlapping forms of ornament. This performative approach reflects McElheny’s dynamic ideas about the body’s relationship to looking and to objects, as well as his notion that physical perception is a kind of narration.

Curator: Bärbel Vischer, Curator, MAK Contemporary Art Collection


with Susanne Sachsse, Actress, Berlin
Well-known for his use of glass with other materials, The Ornament Museum continues McElheny’s exploration of a material that can encourage the very act of looking. In McElheny’s pavilion, we are invited to enter and look out through the landscapes created by the ornamental motifs on its windows. The exhibition also stages performances in which the actress Susanne Sachsse wears a fantastical dress, a reconstruction of a 1908 design by Emilie Louise Flöge. The dress becomes an animated ornament itself, connecting the performer’s body, the architecture, and multiple, overlapping forms of ornament.
Tue, 17 May 2016, 7 p.m.
Tue, 13 Sept 2016, 7 p.m.
Tue, 18 Oct 2016, 6 p.m.
Sat, 19 Nov 2016, 5 p.m.
Tue, 24 Jan 2017, 7 p.m.

Curator-Guided Tours

with Bärbel Vischer
Tue, 10 May 2016, 6 p.m.
Tue, 7 Jun 2016, 6 p.m.
Tue, 18.10.2016, 5 p.m.
Tue, 24.1.2017, 6 p.m.


Opening Hours

Tue 10 a.m.–10 p.m.
Wed–Sun 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Mon closed


€ 12 / reduced € 9
Free admission for children and teens under 19

Tuesdays 6–10 p.m. admission € 5
Family ticket € 15
(two adults and at least one minor child up to 14)

Vienna 1900-Combined Ticket
€ 20 / reduced € 16
valid for MAK and Leopold Museum

Guided Tours

MAK TOURS – every Saturday at 11 a.m. a tour through the MAK in German; every Sunday at noon in English.

Attendance fee: € 3,50 per person (1 h),  € 5  per person (1,5 h), except children up to 6 and holders of  “Hunger auf Kunst und Kultur-Pass”

Special and Group Tours

by advance booking
Gabriele Fabiankowitsch, Head of Educational Program and Guided Tours
T +43 1 711 36-298
(Mon–Fri 10 a.m.–4 p.m.),


Multimedia Guide

for Vienna 1900, Asia, Carpets: € 2

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Barrier Free Access

Lift at the entrance at Weiskirchnerstraße 3, accessible toilets for disabled visitors.

MAK Collection

Contemporary Art Collection

Curator: Bärbel Vischer
The circa 1,500 works, work groups and bundles of documentation contained in this collection encompass the areas of fine art and architecture: from avant-garde movements of the 1920s to current artistic stances, the holdings encompass works in various media such as drawing, painting, photography video and film, as well as objects, sculptures, installations, environments and architecture-related contributions including designs, models and animations.
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