The dark finish of many Bakelite products seems irresistibly familiar, even though you rarely find this plastic in household items any more. The new Bakelite exhibition at the MAK museum explores the diversity and (design) history of this remarkable material.
- Around 300 Bakelite items from 1930-1970, covering a range of applications: from coffee grinders to cameras and car models
- Draws on the excellent Geog Kargl collection
- Curated by Rainald Franz and Gerson Lessa with display designs by Mladen Bizumic
- See the exhibition with a normal museum ticket
- Runs Jul 15 – Dec 13, 2020
- See also: MAK visitor & tickets info
The Georg Kargl collection
(Table lamps, 1945; Design: Yves Jujeau, André Mounique; Execution: Jumo Brevete, France; Bakelite, metal; 14.5 × 28 × 19 cm each; Kargl Collection 36.01.03.09.705, 36.01.05.09.718, 36.01.03.09.720; © Yves Jujeau, André Mounique; Photo: © MAK/Georg Mayer)
Sometimes, a technological development comes along that transforms design and industry. One such example is Bakelite, which most consider the very first real synthetic plastic.
For manufacturers, the appearance of Bakelite in the early 20th century seemed a gift from the Gods: robust, hard, easily moulded, heat resistant, acid resistant, and a poor conductor. And for designers, the smooth surface and flexible shaping opened up all sorts of artistic possibilities.
As a result, Bakelite appeared in everything from cars to costume jewelry, and Bakelite objects essentially document the rise of mechanisation and mass production (and the associated aesthetics) in the years leading up to WWII and beyond.
Now largely superseded by modern plastics, Bakelite remains the poster child for an industrial era and enjoys considerable interest from art collectors and modern history buffs.
One such collector was Georg Kargl (1955-2018) and the new MAK exhibition uses 300 works from his wonderful Bakelite collection to reveal the material’s versatility, trace its history, and illustrate its role in design.
The exhibition places the items into 14 different themed groups, with many pieces featuring the iconic dark brown lustre familiar from the time.
As an Englishman, I feel contractually obliged to mention one particular exhibit: the 1949 Bush TV 12, which was the first version of the iconic 9 inch Bush television set. The TV 12 came pre-tuned to receive a single BBC station in London. How times have changed.
Dates and tickets
Surround yourself in historical plastic from July 14th to December 13th, 2020.
Just get yourself a normal museum ticket* to see any of the exhibitions at the MAK. Or use a Vienna Pass for one-time free entry (my review). Depending when you go, you might encounter one of several other summer and autumn exhibitions at the museum. I’d particularly recommend the Thonet one.
How to get to the Bakelite exhibition
The MAK kindly sits alongside the big boulevard that flows around the historic old town. See the main MAK article for travel tips.
By the way, when you leave the MAK, consider dropping into Café Prückel on the other side of the road: it’s one of Vienna’s famous traditional coffee houses.
Address: Stubenring 5, 1010 Vienna