Fabricating Empire examines the relationship between the development of Central European folk costume and Austrian modern design, especially the textile department of the Wiener Werkstätte, or Vienna Workshops.
Taking a sociopolitical look at this rich story of design, the exhibition highlights the importance of visual traditions within Central Europe on the development and success of modern textile design in Austria and the impact of imperial Austro-Hungarian initiatives supporting the applied arts.
The exhibition considers new scholarship that suggests the imperial government was at the center of promoting and appropriating folk art across the empire as it attempted to create an all-embracing identity for its diverse subjects and fragmented territories. Exploring issues of appropriation, nationalism and colonization, Fabricating Empire presents a nuanced view of an enterprise that influenced generations of designers, from Paul Poiret and Josef Frank to Ettore Sottsass.
The exhibition will feature several recent acquisitions, including four never-exhibited printed textiles, as well as loans of primarily early 20th-century folk dress and a 1913 portfolio of modern pattern designs from the St. Louis Public Library’s Steedman Architectural Collection.