Bentwood and Beyond

Thonet and Modern Furniture Design
MAK, Vienna, 18 December 2019 – 6 September 2020

To commemorate Thonet’s 200th anniversary, the MAK is presenting a major exhibition on modern furniture, in which the signature bentwood furniture of the world famous company is placed in the context of contemporary technological, typological, aesthetic, and historical developments. Thonet’s bentwood chairs are compared with chairs made of tubular steel and plastic as well as with classic office chairs and avant-garde furniture experiments.
In 1842, the German joiner Michael Thonet moved to Vienna to perfect the bentwood furniture he had developed and to found the largest furniture empire of the 19th century. With chair No. 14, produced from 1859, the company not only created one of the world’s best-selling pieces of furniture, but also an undisputed design classic. The exhibition at the MAK shows the central importance of the Thonet company for modern furniture design and, in addition to the company’s history, also tells about the stages in the development of bentwood technology, from artisan production to industrial series production.
The MAK holds one of the world’s most important collections of bentwood furniture, which is supplemented in the exhibition by excellent international loans. The approximately 240 exhibits are each placed in comparison groups, in which several objects face each other. In this way not only material technological steps in the development, but also typological parallels and iconographic affinities become visible.
The typical aesthetics and perfect shape of the Thonet furniture have repeatedly served as a source of inspiration for contemporary artists—for example, the exhibition includes works by Birgit Jürgenssen, Bruno Gironcoli, Ineke Hans, Rolf Sachs, Uta Belina Waeger, and Markus Wilfling, who deal with the bentwood furniture from an artistic perspective.