On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair, the MAK sets out to explore a critical aspect of this prestigious international show: the “Orient” as a construct of 19th-century Orientalism.
MAK Central Room
Drawing on Egypt and Japan as examples, which in the contemporary worldview were often thought to be part of the region referred to as the “Orient,” the exhibition THE 1873 VIENNA WORLD’S FAIR REVISITED: Egypt and Japan as Europe’s “Orient” explores Orientalism from various angles.
The Vienna World’s Fair of 1873 had a considerable impact on the history of the MAK Collection. It marked the first time that Japan was formally invited to participate as a nation, and it seized the exhibition as an opportunity to present itself through a kaleidoscope of artworks. Many of these were subsequently given as presents by the Japanese government to European museums, including the Imperial Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry (today’s MAK). The MAK possesses a key collection on the Vienna World’s Fair, many of the objects selected for this exhibition are on display in Austria for the first time in over a century.
The exhibition explores a range of questions: Who were the actors that conceptualized and designed the country pavilions for the 1873 fair? What was the political, cultural, and discursive setting that informed aesthetic decisions? Through which aesthetic and symbolic practices and cultural policy approaches did participating countries negotiate their Orientalist worldviews, and how did these worldviews shift after 1873?

The exhibition opens with portraits of two key European figures: the Austrian Czech architect Franz (František) Schmoranz Jr. (1845–1892) and the German chemist Gottfried Wagener (1831–1892). Commissioned by the Khedive of Egypt, Schmoranz was tasked with designing the Khedivate’s pavilion, while Wagener was assigned to draft the Japanese complex.
At guide.MAK.at you can find free audios on highlights of the exhibition.
Available in the MAK Design Shop and at makdesignshop.at
One of the exhibition highlights is the presentation of the “Arab Room” designed by Schmoranz. It was permanently installed at the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry from 1883 to 1931 and has not been accessible to the public in its entirety since.
For its theoretical grounding, the exhibition draws on recent postcolonial critiques of Edward Said’s canonical research on Orientalism. While often reduced to a catch-all concept used to decry Western practices of othering, the MAK understands Orientalism as an intricate fabric of dynamic negotiation processes that also draw attention to “Oriental” practices of self-othering, resistance, or complicity. These added layers of Egyptian and Japanese experience enrich the context surrounding the Vienna World’s Fair and help to decipher inherent mechanisms as well as strategies in the fields of aesthetics and cultural policy.

Mio Wakita-Elis, Curator, MAK Asia Collection

Johannes Wieninger

Christine Schwaiger & Christa Stürzlinger

Büro Perndl

Kindly supported by Wien Holding