History of Art and Architecture: The Total Work of Art

Seminar History of the Art and Architecture (051-0320-12)
Organizer: Chair of Prof. Ursprung
Lecturers: Dr. Linda Schädler und Dr. Mechtild Widrich

The course deals with the concept of the "Total Work of Art" (Gesamtkunstwerk) in the 20th and 21st century. It is based on readings of theoretical texts, their discussion in class, as well as on presentations of individual case studies by the students.


The concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total art work entered the aesthetic discussion in the 19th century as a romantic utopia, signifying the interplay of architecture, music and dance. Already with its first great advocate, Richard Wagner, it underwent a shift towards the symbolic reconciliation of art and modern life. At the beginning of the 20th century, architecture took over the pioneering role: while in the Vienna Secession and Bruno Taut's expressionist architectural fantasies we still feel the afterglow of romanticism, the Bauhaus proposed the Gesamtkunstwerk as a radical means of reorganizing work. But two world wars and the loss of faith in progress have ended this optimism as well. Harald Szeemann's 1983 exhibition "Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk" could celebrate a worldwide tradition as it became a historical resource rather than a live option.

On the basis of manifestos, theoretical and historical writings, this course examines the concept of the total art work and its relevance. In addition to works by Gottfried Semper (design for Wagner's opera house), Charles Rennie Macintosh, Peter Behrens (Mathildenhöhe), Bruno Taut, Kurt Schwitters (Merzbau), De Stijl, Alvar Aalto, the Situationists, Friedrich Kiesler, Sejima / Nishizawa (Sanaa), "The World" in Dubai, we will also discuss the concept of intermedia, for example, the Happenings by Allan Kaprow, the designs of the Independent Group, performance, Robert Wilson's theater pieces, and the work of Olafur Eliasson and Ai Weiwei.

One short oral presentation and three short written responses to the literature are required.


Dr. Mechtild Widrich