Josef Frank – Architect & Designer
An exhibition at Design Museum
12 October 2018 – 17 March 2019
On the 12th of October 2018, Design Museum will open its new exhibition on the work of the Austrian-born architect and designer Josef Frank (1885 –1967) in architecture, urban planning and furniture and textile design. Frank is an iconic name whose oeuvre still defines our idea of post-war Nordic design.
At the beginning of his career, Frank was a modernist, but he took a critical view of this orientation and began to oppose it later. Frank’s design thinking underscored the importance of randomness, influences from history and different cultures and the adaptation of interior design to changes in life. Design Museum’s exhibition explores Frank’s flexible and free conception of design.
Produced by MAK – the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art – this exhibition is the largest overview that has ever been presented of Josef Frank’s oeuvre. It has been curated by Hermann Czech and Sebastian Hackenschmidt. It includes items from leading Austrian collections and a great deal of material from the archives of the Svenskt Tenn company of Sweden. The current exhibition at Design Museum has been curated by Curator Anna Vihma and the exhibition architecture is by interior architect Hanni Koroma.
Josef Frank – biographical details
Josef Frank was born in 1885 into a Jewish family at Baden bei Wien near Vienna. He studied architecture in Vienna at the Technische Hochschule (present-day TU Wien) and wrote his doctoral dissertation on the church architecture of the Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti. After graduating, he taught at the Kunstgewerbeschule (Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, later University of Applied Arts Vienna) and worked as an architect and interior designer. In 1925 he established the Haus & Garten interior design company together with his architect colleagues Oskar Wlach and Walther Sobotka.
In 1933, Frank fled emerging Austrian anti-Semitism to Sweden, where his wife Anna Sebenius had been born. In the following year, Estrid Ericson hired him as a designer for the renowned Svenskt Tenn interior design firm. Frank and Ericson collaborated closely at Svenskt Tenn for over 30 years, creating a style that combined Frank’s design thinking with Swedish functionalism. The furniture and printed fabrics that Frank designed for Svenskt Tenn, which are partly still being made, left a deep impression on Swedish post-war design. Josef Frank died in Stockholm in 1967.
Josef Frank, architect
Josef Frank has been regarded as one of the most significant Austrian architects of the 20th century. The exhibition at Design Museum presents several of Frank’s most important residential buildings and his contribution to socially oriented housing development in Vienna with scale models and photographs. Josef Frank’s design philosophy with its emphasis on randomness and diversity of forms is expressed in his architectural work with its unique spatial designs and complexity along with contradictions and tensions. Frank was opposed to the contemporary fashionable notion of the house as ‘machine for living’, emphasising instead comfortable habitation and the and the adaptation of the home to its residents’ changing lives. These ideals are present, for example, in Villa Beer designed by him in 1929 –1931, which is one of the most important private residences designed and built in Vienna in the 1920s.
While living in Austria, Frank focused already at an early stage on socially oriented housing development and the design of housing areas for workers. He supported the garden city ideology and would have wanted to solve the house shortage in Vienna at the time with low terraced houses with gardens. He went on, however, to design massive ‘people’s apartment palaces’ for the city that were based on the concept of the super block. The exhibition at Design Museum also contains sketches and scale models of ‘fantasy houses’ designed by Frank for imaginary clients.
Josef Frank, designer
The exhibition presents a wide range of Frank’s work as a designer of furniture, interiors and textiles. On display is a large selection of furniture along with their original drawn plans created by Frank for Haus & Garten and later for Svenskt Tenn. Visitors to the exhibition are introduced to Frank’s work in textile design by fabrics still being produced by Svenskt Tenn and original watercolour sketches for printed textiles.
Josef Frank was a highly prolific designer. During his career, he designed well over 1,000 items of furniture and some 200 printed fabric patterns, over 30 which are still being made by Svenskt Tenn. Frank’s design thinking emphasised diversity and freely adopted influences. As a textile designer, he aimed at free, organic fabric designs that kept the viewer’s eye in motion and created the illusion of an endless pattern. Frank maintained that the interior design of a home is never finished, being instead driven by the changing needs of its inhabitants. In his furniture designs, this attitude is reflected in light materials and graceful items of furniture that can be easily moved.
Viennese art history, interior design blogs and gardens in bloom
The Josef Frank exhibition includes are wide range of additional events offering highly interesting perspectives on the exhibition and the history of modern design and architecture. The additional programme will begin on Friday 12 with a Lunch Talk from 1 to 2 p.m. Per Ahldén, curator of the Svenskt Tenn. Discussion will be moderated by Curator Anna Vihma who has been responsible for realising the exhibition at Design Museum. The series of talks by international experts will be continued in the November Lunch Talk even by art historian Sabrina Rahman of the University of Exeter. She will speak from 1 to 2 p.m. on Friday 16 November about cultural life in Vienna in the background of Josef Frank’s work in design.
Design Evenings in the spirit of Josef Frank will be held on 27 November, 29 January and 26 February from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Their programme will address the fascinating themes of the exhibition in more detail. The theme of Design Evening in November is the garden, and the garden of Frank’s textile designs lives on in the comments of print designers and other experts. Speakers will include textile designer and artist Hanna-Kaisa Korolainen and garden researcher PhD Julia Donner. The later Design Evenings will focus on the themes of the home and interior design and speaker will include, among others, Kirsikka Simberg producer of the Musa blog, Enni Koistinen and Mia Frilander.
An Exhibition by the MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art
In association with the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation and the Austrian Embassy Helsinki.
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