Wenzel Hablik – Expressionist Utopias
Paintings, Drawings, Architecture
Rediscovered Modern II
Utopian architectural designs, expressionist interiors, fantastic worlds of colour – all of this is only a fraction of the work of Wenzel Hablik (1881-1934), who dedicated himself to a synthesis of the arts as a universal artist. Hablik is considered one of the most important representatives of the German expressionist avant-garde in architecture and design. Even if the paths of modern art seem extensively researched his work still offers up surprises. The focus of the exhibition in Berlin is comprised of his architectural visions and his colourful 1923 masterpiece of spatial concept as reconstruction. These are complemented by the presentation of paintings and designs, as it is in combination that the basic idea of the synthesis of the arts as pursued by Hablik first becomes comprehensible. This is the first extensive solo exhibition of his work in Berlin.
Hablik enjoys a particularly deep connection with Berlin. Here he participated in exhibitions of the Berlin Secession, presented his first etchings in the “Creative Forces” Cycle in 1912 at Herwarth Walden’s gallery “Der Sturm” alongside works by Picasso, Kandinsky, Kokoschka and Gauguin. In 1919 he participated in the “Exhibition of Unknown Architects” by the Arbeitsrat für Kunst (Workers' Council for Art) at the invitation of Walter Gropius and became a member of it shortly thereafter. As part of the community of letters of the “Glass Chain”, Hablik held active discussions about Utopian architectural ideas with Walter Gropius, Bruno Taut as well as other architects and painters; amongst them Hermann Finsterlin, Hans and Wassili Luckhardt, Hans Scharoun und Max Taut. Together with them Hablik participated in the “New Building” exhibition in May 1920 at the Neumann Graphics Cabinet in Berlin.
It is something close to a minor sensation, that Wenzel Hablik’s colourful 1923 spatial concept design for a dining-room survived relatively unscathed for 80 years. He designed the dining-room of his villa in Itzehoe in multi-coloured and strict geometric forms from the floor to the ceiling. In 1933, he had it hidden under neutral wallpaper. The valuable paintings were uncovered in 2013. A reconstruction of this work of art can be seen at Martin-Gropius-Bau.
Influenced by his studies at the School for Applied Arts in Vienna and the Art Academy in Prague, his development can be traced from art nouveau through expressionism and 1920’s enthusiasm for colour right up to the New Objectivity movement. His works are defined by a design vocabulary whose modernism is surprising even today.
Born in 1881 in Bohemian Brüx, present-day Most in the Czech Republic, Hablik already learned the cabinetmaker's trade in his father’s workshop during his school days. During this period, he not only acquired a fundamental understanding of a craftsman’s work, but also laid the cornerstone of a crystal and natural history collection that accompanied his artistic creativity throughout his lifetime. It is the basis of his Utopian architectural concept developed over a period of 20 years, for which Hablik is internationally renowned until today. Since 1902 with the beginning of his study of painting at the Applied Arts in Vienna, Hablik drew groups of crystals, which in his fantasy formed fairy-tale castles on steep mountain slopes. These “crystal buildings”, as he called them, belong to the earliest known designs of crystalline architecture in European art history. They mark the beginning of Hablik’s later Utopian architectural designs.
Undoubtedly influenced by the art and literature of romanticism, Hablik revered nature as the highest creative force and saw the most important symbol of natural creativity in the crystal – for him crystal architecture would become a societal utopia on the path to a better living environment. Inspired by writers such as H. G. Wells, Paul Scheerbart, Kurd Laßwitz and Jules Verne, Hablik’s architectural designs featured an increasingly technical component. He designed flying machines and air colonies, furnished them with detailed comments on construction and usage, whereby he not only sought technical solutions, but also devised innovative machines. It was a matter of overcoming reality with modern technology and changing society. In relation to this, travel to space should also seem possible – a topic to which he turned his attention in large format oil paintings. This preoccupation also influenced Hablik’s formal language in the design of arts and crafts. Folded star-shaped or prismatic boxes and inkwells made of brass and rolled silver recall Utopian buildings, become small architectural elements or heavenly bodies. As a member of the German Werkbund, Hablik made a fundamental contribution to modernism in almost all fields of applied art – from designs of weaving patterns, furniture and wallpaper, jewelry and lighting right up to silverware designs.
With the help of art patrons, Hablik was able to devote himself intensively to his artistic creations in Schleswig-Holstein in Itzehoe starting in 1907. The experience of nature always remained the most important inspirational source for Hablik’s oeuvre. Impressed by the elemental power of fire and the sea, he implemented these topics with the most diverse techniques. Landscapes of his Bohemian homeland with their mountainous world as well as North German coastlines and heathlands were the subjects of his paintings time and again. Portraits and still-life paintings were also created next to these. Following the idea that artistic quality is valid for design in all spheres of life, Hablik also developed extravagant spatial concepts for multiple public and private interiors in North Germany.
As the funding organisation of the Wenzel Hablik Foundation, the Wenzel Hablik Museum in Itzehoe disposes of the most comprehensive collection of his works and accompanies this exhibition.
Organizer Berliner Festspiele / Martin-Gropius-Bau in cooperation with Wenzel-Hablik-Museum, Itzehoe.
Curator Katrin Maibaum