The beauty of Beauty

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Illustration of different ways of sitting, human beings

Do we sit on chairs and eat on tables for its proper function or is there also an aesthetic motivation behind it? And what is created to be functional should leave aesthetics out to maximize and focus on the function only? How do our senses work and why do they tend to conglomerate in the same idea of beauty? These are just few of the questions answered or simply addressed by Stefan Sagmeister and Jessica Walsh, creators of the exhibition Beauty, on show until the end of March in the MAK Museum, the Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna.

The location itself is an architectural masterpiece in the style of the Neo-Renaissance, offering a permanent collection from different artistic periods: Viennese design from the 20th century, a Baroque, Rococo and Classicism section, Art Nouveau, Empire Style, Asian art. Currently it is possible to visit a commemorative and comprehensive solo exhibition of the works from Koloman Moser, an eclectic Austrian artist died one century ago; and Chinese Whispers, an exhibition taking Chinese contemporary art to Vienna. But let’s go back to our (my) focus.

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The main hall of MAK; art installation “Two hundred and Seventy”, artist Nils Voelker

Beauty is an interactive, informative journey into the concept itself, how we define and perceive things. This topic links as well to my last post where I talked about the difficulty – even impossibility – to identify parameters in art and, therefore, quantify the value of an artwork. “Beauty is a combination of shape, color, form, composition, material and texture to please the aesthetic senses, especially the sight”: this blue neon sign welcomes you in the majestic entrance of the museum, where a huge installation made with Two Hundred and Seventy (that is its title too) plastic bags following a programmed choreography, giving the idea of a huge sailing ship floating upon everyone’s head.

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“For Plato beauty is a moral value. What is good is beautiful, and what is beautiful is good.”

I love the arrangement of the exhibition, which spreads all over the museum: in different rooms, up the stairs, even in the toilets. One area is dedicated to the exploration of our senses, how we tend to have the same unconscious parameters to identify beauty. A consistent part of Beauty is inevitably, referring to the background of the authors, about design, being architecture or interior, facing the relative importance of aesthetics, functionality and environmental sustainability.

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The evolution of the drinking glass, ca.1500 – 2000

In the past, aesthetic was the driving force when designing something new, getting less and less importance with the development of technology and market needs. During the 21st century in particular it almost disappeared  – and this is nicely shown right in front of the entrance, with representative piles of books showing the trend of the use of the word itself  in literature throughout the centuries – to get recognition back in the last decades.

Few experiments and considerations are proposed on the concept of beauty, leaving the clear evidence that beauty is unnecessary, yet we need it. We search for it, we recognize it spontaneously. Sometimes it is everywhere, sometimes, hard to find; still I think it needs to be educated, and put in the right context. We can as well think about the different ways to interpret it among times, cultures, society. Said all this, let’s leave some space to personal taste and sensibility. And when we have different opinions, still we will get the same feelings and pleasure. Then we can talk about it: but in the end, emotions are what brings us to the same point. Enjoy (and bring) beauty, enjoy this Beauty if you can!

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Can we overlook the aspect for the benefit of our environment? Different examples of ecological and fair trade items: the book Small is beautiful from the research economist Ernst Friedrich Schumacher, the Mango Wooden Radio, the DIY Cellphone, a simple refrigerator (Terracooler) and water purification system (Watercone, Wadi and Life Straw)

Why beauty matters? This is the contest Sagmeister and Walsh launched within the exhibition. Have a look at their Instagram page to take part in, send the most beautiful thing you’ve ever made or seen.

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