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Yesterday’s utopia, today’s reality

On view through Jan 14 in Berlin: expressionist visions of Wenzel Hablik.

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Wenzel-Hablik-Stiftung, Itzehoe

On view through Jan 14 in Berlin: expressionist visions of Wenzel Hablik.

Can one find utopia in interior design? At the centre of the Martin-Gropius-Bau’s new retrospective on the German expressionist Wenzel Hablik is a full-scale reproduction of his breathtakingly beautiful 1923 design for the dining room of his villa in Itzehoe, northern Germany. Covered up by Hablik a year before his death in 1934, it was only rediscovered in 2013, when the neutral wallpaper over it was removed to reveal multi-coloured geometric forms from floor to ceiling. Borrowing from Dutch De Stijl and Russian Constructivism, this “masterpiece” is shown alongside documentary images of Hablik’s home and custom-designed furniture, and is further complemented by a survey of his early artistic career.

A proponent of the Gesamtkunstwerk concept, Hablik was influenced by everything from his early training in cabinetry to his studies in painting at the School for Applied Arts in Vienna to his collection of crystals, which he saw as a symbol of natural creativity. By 1902, drawings of his crystals had become fairytale castles and he set out to develop a crystalline architecture to house a utopian society in tune with nature. Later works, influenced by the futuristic writings of H.G. Wells and the poet Paul Scheerbart, integrated technological solutions alongside more cosmic- oriented fantasies. He designed flying machines and air colonies while translating these elements into weaving patterns, furniture, wallpaper, jewellery, lighting and even silverware – many times in collaboration with his wife, master weaver Elisabeth Lindemann.

The retrospective highlights Hablik’s many connections to Berlin, including a presentation of the first etchings in his 1912 Creative Forces cycle, drawings from the “Exhibition of Unknown Architects” by the Workers’ Council for Art in 1919, for which he was included at the invitation of Walter Gropius, and concept designs for the short-lived group Gläserne Kette (Crystal Chain) gathered together by the architect Bruno Taut. These drawings and prints better represent Hablik’s skill and vision than most of the nature-inspired paintings also included in the exhibition – which literally spatially fall flat – but as a whole, Wenzel Hablik– Expressionist Utopias is a colourful, inspiring and certainly fantastical sight to behold until January 14.

Wenzel Hablik – Expressionist Utopias Through Jan 14 Martin-Gropius-Bau, Kreuzberg