Anja Wolf: We both are fascinated by the Koloman Moser Vase – but thanks to different aspects. I love the diverseness of the glazing, the play of shadow and light on the surface, the trickling of the color…
Dr. Ernst Ploil: I like those vertical slits: they remind me of the works of Lucio Fontana. It is as if Moser wanted to show the viewer that he is not deceiving him with just a décor on the Vase’s surface but wants to make him aware of space by graving into the material. Along the lines “look, I’m not only a planar artist, but I can show you space too!” This leads to three-dimensional effects.
AW: This makes the Vase the essence of Vienna around 1900 and paves the way into the Modern Art. Even if it does not look that important at first sight…
EP: Yes, it is often difficult to recognize revolutionary steps just by looking at the objects. But compared to any ceramics which had been produced until then, this Vase is unbelievable. It is a complete turnaround from anything done so far! Until Moser’s arrival at the School of Applied Arts, the education there consisted in redrawing artefacts; there were numerous pieces from the Renaissance and curlicues from the Baroque.
AW: However, the Vase originated just there…
EP: Right! Marking an incredibly important step in Viennese applied arts. This was noted by Frtz Wärndorfer: in 1900 he was a well-known art lover and patron, later also co-founder of the Wiener Werkstätte – but went bankrupt in 1912. He owned a large art collection from which he had to sell many pieces – but some favorites, among them “our” Vase, were taken to the US by him when he emigrated.
AW: Did Wärndorfer buy it in an exhibition at the School of Applied Arts? Or did his friendship with Moser play a role?
EP: At the time, there were no reservations between the museums and the commerce, on the contrary, the School of Applied Arts did sell objects done by its pupils and teachers, and it might have been during one of those events that Wärndorfer saw the Vase.
The School of Applied Arts did produce the ceramics at location. They installed a pottery in the lobby and had them burnt in the nearby 3rd district. The students could see for themselves how their ceramics turned out.
AW: Hereby, Moser introduced learning by doing! Under his stewardship they produced something that was very much their own, not just copies. This was a completely new way of teaching. Instead of just copying, the students worked to their own tune with their own materials.
EP: Moser’s idea was to rejoin what had been separated by the industrialization: the designer and the craftsman.
AW: And this was the big step into Modernism.
EP. Exactly! This is Vienna of 1900. It is all about the importance of the principles of the total work of art.
AW: There were also other companies supporting the production of the School of Applied Arts: Bakalowits and Sturm.
EP: Those companies produced the items and shouldered the costs. In exchange, they could use the designs; and the artists participated by way of money.
AW: A win win situation! The School of Applied Arts made money, the artists had their designs executed and also earned something.
EP: And, finally – the producing companies secured ultramodern designs – and achieved an according reputation.
AW: „Our“ Vase has in any case been designed by Moser himself – our catalogue shows its hand drawn draft. It is however difficult to gauge how much he worked on it himself, and how much his students did.
EP: I think – and it is just a hypothesis – that the teacher had the blank made by somebody else and then pressed the ornament into the object himself.
AW: This would mean that he worked with his students on the object.
EP: I am convinced it happened this way! Also, the age difference between Moser and his students was small, there must have been a lot of camaraderie.
AW: We have also debated whether the Vase is a unique copy…
EP: We can’t guarantee it. But all the information points this way. Nobody ever found another piece of this series of photographed ceramics.
AW: Because we have a picture, directly from the estate of Koloman Moser, that depicts the series of unglazed blanks.
EP: And this – to me – proves that Moser considered all the pieces in this picture as his own.