cover image DAGOBERT PECHE and the Wiener Werksttte

DAGOBERT PECHE and the Wiener Werksttte

, . . Yale, $75 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-300-09628-6

"Decadent" is the first word that comes to mind when confronted with the decorative arts of this intense art-for-art's-sake modernist, who stripped belle époque Art Nouveau down to clean modernist lines while often playfully relegating function to afterthought. Austria designer Peche was born in 1887, just as Art Nouveau was taking off, and died of cancer at 36, in 1923, as post-WWI modernism hit its apogee. Through his association with the "Vienna Workshops," a design company, he left behind hauntingly clean-lined frivolities that still have the power to shock. Seen here in 360 color and 140 b&w illustrations are Peche's 1921 square-with-exploding-diamond-shaped gold gilt Frame for an Enamel Picture, which would easily overpower whatever enamel work one cared to put in it; the double-heart-shaped back and striped velour seat of Side Chair for the Dining Room in the Apartment of Wolko Gartenberg, which seem invitingly unsittable; and the tall, thin, plant-like Lidded Container, festooned with a single leaf spring and nugget of cracked wheat, which nevertheless doesn't seem like it holds much in the way of food. The book was produced as the catalogue for an exhibition now at New York's Neue Galerie Museum for German and Austrian Art, a jewel-box-like space backed by Ronald Lauder and others, and it features 14 short essays, most rather useless (particularly the maddeningly coy and incomplete biographical chronology), along with reproductions of Peche's magnificent hand-written love letters to a mistress. (Dec.)