GESAMTKUNSTWERK

(above and below) From the Architecture-Sculpture-Painting series, by LW, 1979.

The idea of Gesamtkunstwerk—a German word for “total art-work”—has long since gone the way of all 19th century Romantic ideals, into the trash-heap of history. It began with the belief that art really mattered in human society, morally and politically. This belief was rooted in the great value the ruling classes had always given to art as a symbol of their wealth and power, but also to its place in religions important to European history. It was only natural, therefore, that at the beginning of the modern age, many believed that newly emerging industrialized democracies, both capitalist and socialist, needed not only their own new forms of art, but also new forms of integrating the arts, as had been done in the great cultures of the past. Architecture, painting, sculpture had indeed been brought together in the important buildings of most ancient civilizations, such as Egyptian and Greek temples, as well as in Medieval cathedrals, Renaissance palaces, and Baroque churches, and were combined there with music and both religious and secular rituals and performances. Total art-works. The most notable modernist attempts to accomplish the same were at the Bauhaus and the Russian Constructivists, though were each defeated by political forces—but that is another story.

Today, art is a commodity separated from itself, so to speak, in order to break it down into salable units. Modernism never found its Gesamtkunstwerk.

At a certain stage of my life, I fervently believed that architecture could sponsor a reunification of the arts, in the service of both public and private life, even though it would have to do so very much against all tendencies and trends. Vestiges of this have remained throughout the succeeding years—in System Wien, for example—but never in such an ambitious and hopeful a form as these drawings. Auf wiedersehen, old friend!

LW

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(below) From the Houses series, by LW, 1979. Less radical examples than the above of an integration of architecture, art, and landscape:

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