Now that I’ve been to the Kunsthauswien, I’m sure I’ll make my way there every time I’m lucky enough to be in my favorite city, Vienna. The medium-sized museum, dedicated to the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, is just a short and fun tram ride outside the center. The artist was born Friedrich Stowasser in Vienna in 1928. His mother was Jewish, and as he became a teenager the Nazis were coming to power. In order to be inconspicuous, the mother and son posed, as many people did, as Christians. The father had been Catholic, so this was dangerous but doable.
After the war, Hundertwasser spent several months at the Academy of FIne Arts (which had famously rejected aspiring painter Adolf Hitler–not once but twice). As he developed as an artist, Hundertwasser renamed himself: “Friedensreich” means something like “Peace-realm” and Hundertwasser means “Hundred Waters.” The name was perfect for the artistic career that he developed, with all his work aimed at peace, joy, organic forms, union of humanity with nature, and incredible diversity. He worked in just about every medium available to an artist, and threw in architecture, environmentalism, and social activism on top of it all.
Hundertwasser especially wanted to bring nature back into cities. One of his more radical ideas was the uneven floor surface, recreating the natural state of the outdoors. The Kunsthauswien has such floors. The floors are not only uneven, but cheerfully covered in bright mosaics. Walking on them is, in the very appropriate expression from the sixties, a real trip.
A caption quotes some of Hundertwasser’s ideas about the value of uneven floors: “If man is forced to walk on flat floors…estranged from man’s age-old relationship and contact to earth–a decisive part of man withers and dies…The uneven floor becomes a symphony, a melody for the feet and brings back natural vibrations to man.”
The nearby Hundertwasserhaus apartment building has such floors throughout. I wonder what the residents actually think of their floors. Do they get used to the waves and bumps, or do they sometimes stub their toes in the middle of the night? I glimpsed a couple of residents visiting on a park bench in their apartment courtyard, and was tempted to ask them what they thought. But the apartments are peoples’ private homes, so I left them in peace.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!