Vienna | No Photos Allowed

Vienna | No Photos Allowed

Yes, this is a photo.  No, I wasn’t supposed to take it.  It’s the MAK Museum, the Museum of Applied Arts, in Vienna.  I love Vienna, and it’s a fantastic museum.  There’s just a couple problems…

…number one being that they don’t allow photographs to be taken.  It makes no sense.  No flash, maybe, but no photos?

I’m not hurting anything, just taking discreet photographs, without a flash, for reference and inspiration.  I mean just look at those cool sofas wrapped in fabric!

I managed to take this picture when the guard went out of the room, because I wanted to remember the shape of the handles on the porcelain cup.

In addition to the (highly unusual) rule banning photographs, the museum seemed to think it was too much trouble to label the collections

Instead, there’s a giant three-ring binder inside the door of each room, so you have to carry it around and look up the numbers, which involves digging reading glasses out of your bag, and then gingerly paging through the binder (it’s falling apart from all the other people paging through it), to find the number and look up what the piece is, from the hundreds of other pieces…and by that time you’ve almost stopped caring about what it was you wanted to look up. 

If you’re wondering, the white porcelain above is Meissen, from 1928.  I almost got caught taking this next photo, but I just loved this blue Viennese porcelain with the portraits, circa 1805.  (I looked them up.)

In the next room there was an interesting chair exhibit, comparing traditional chair shapes to contemporary.  This is the 2008, “Fresh Fat Chair,” designed by Tom Dixon, next to a rattan armchair from 1913.

And then I got busted.

By “Big Brother.” 

It was a great exhibit of industrial furniture.  (It’s there until October 30, 2011 if you’re in Vienna.)

There wasn’t a guard in sight.  The shapes of these stools standing in a row was a surefire “style moment” that just demanded to be photographed.

I took the photo. 

Suddenly, I heard the sound of muffled German voices over a radio transmitter, and then a scary, 7-foot tall, uniformed German guard with a crew-cut was standing behind me, reprimanding me.  I don’t speak German, but I got the gist. 

I profusely apologized, and then digested the fact that there was a video camera in the room, with someone, a.k.a. Big Brother, watching it somewhere, and communicating via walky-talky to the guard so he could nab the offender.  Is that really necessary?

He followed me around through the rest of the exhibit, but I got the photo before I was caught.

My designer friend, Annie, was there with me, but we had split up to view the exhibits on our own.  Comparing notes with her later, I found out that she’d gotten busted, too…but instead of using the apology excuse, she actually argued with the guard that, no, she didn’t take a picture, it must have been her cell phone receiving a text that he heard…It was a battle of wills that she won by pure belligerence. 

We might not have many photos, but it’s still one of the most memorable museums either of us has been to.  We’re still laughing about it.

MAK Museum
Stubenring 5, 1010 Vienna, Austria
http://www.mak.at

There are 5 comments for this article
  1. Michael at 3:32 pm

    I agree its frustrating and doesn’t seem to make sense not being allowed to take photos for personal use. But most British galleries I’ve visited lately don’t allow it – Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives, Hepworth Wakefield for example. Sometimes it seems its for copyright reasons with newer works, but I don’t understand why they ban the taking of photos with older works. Maybe they don’t want people standing around getting in the way while they take a snap.

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