Over the years Christoph Meier, Ute Müller, Robert Schwarz, and Lukas Stopczynski have been creating to-scale, site-specific variations on the legendary architectural icon the Loos American Bar (also known as the Kärntner Bar and the American Bar), in various locations and using a range of materials. The bar, designed by Adolf Loos in 1907/08, is located in Vienna’s 1st district, and measures only 27.36 m2. From episode to episode, the artists have broadened their repertoire of cross references and levels of abstraction pertaining to the Loos Bar’s interior, rendered almost infinitely expandable by its mirrored walls.
RELAX takes the Loos Bar’s façade as point of departure: three beverage vending machines replace the three doorways of the well-known entrance portal, quoting the original façade to scale.
The lively atmosphere of the bar as social site and temporary counter-universe has almost completely disappeared or has been moved outside since the pandemic. The portal is transformed into a transit zone conjuring up a dystopian scenario: a bar without barkeepers, without guests or music, and nowhere to sit down. The self-service machines are the final link to the bar’s original function. The architecture is that of a transit zone, and interaction is reduced to that between human and machine.
The automats’ acoustically cranked up refrigeration units form an omnipresent body of sound in the otherwise deserted interior, cited only by a ceiling illuminated by fluorescent tubes with infinite mirroring. Every time a visitor uses one of the vending machines, the sound and lighting effects are intensified throughout the space, recalling the atmosphere of bar life in pre-pandemic times. Besides takeaway cocktails, bottle miniatures, and a special brand of American beer, the machines also dispense limited artists’ editions: a RELAX cigarette lighter, bar souvenirs such as ashtrays made of melted beer cans, and mixtapes from earlier Loos Bar projects.
The RELAX intervention is the first project in the former MAK Director’s Office that is now reopened to the public for exhibitions and events.
Curators: Marlies Wirth, Curator, Digital Culture and MAK Design Collection; Antje Prisker, Assistant to the General Director/Special Projects
Historical Allusions—a Façade without a Bar?
The mirrored ceiling is a relic from the LAX BAR, that the artists created in 2019 as part of Wiener Festwochen in a former record store in the Laxenburger Straße. It corresponds exactly to the dimensions of the Loos Bar’s interior and was displayed as motif for the exhibition poster in the MAK Columned Main Hall.
A historical photograph inspired this whole concept: the striking entrance portal with its three glass doors and projecting glass prism with the American flag was reconstructed in the 1980s according to the original plan and displayed in the MAK Columned Main Hall before being reattached to the Loos Bar’s façade.
The RELAX installation complements the two architectural fragments, creating a dematerialized space, closing the conceptual circle between reconstruction, copy, and variation of the Loos Bar, culminating in its complete deconstruction.
Loos Bar—Los Angeles, Brussels, Vienna
Christoph Meier, Ute Müller, Robert Schwarz, and Lukas Stopczynski developed the idea for their project series on the Loos Bar in 2015 during their residency at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles as Schindler scholarship holders. For the LOS BAR, they built a smaller-scale version of the Vienna Loos Bar, using cheap DIY materials, in a garage of the Mackey Apartments of Rudolph M. Schindler, one of Adolf Loos’s pupils, and ran it as an artists’ bar.
In the 2017 STROOKOFFER project in Brussels, they reconstructed the interior of the Loos Bar out of straw mats and used it for performances—an allusion to the “Strohkoffer” [Straw Suitcase], an exhibition room that existed below the Loos Bar in the fifties.
In 2019, they developed the third version, titled LAX BAR. This was an even more abstract space: tiled in white from floor to ceiling and with a mirrored neon ceiling alluding to the infinite mirroring of the original bar, this version’s minimalistic patterning represented a negation not only of Loosian opulence but also of any connection whatsoever to the outside world.