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Between soap and air: My friend Ullman at MAK

Between soap and air: My friend Ullman at MAK

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Maria Ullmann “May” – a name that has faded without having resonated in the wider world of art. The Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) is now honoring the Viennese artist with the exhibition “My Ullmann”.

This brings to the forefront the actor of the movement movement, who died largely forgotten in the German city of Konstanz on Lake Constance in 1995. Konstanz was the final site of an eventful biography that took Viennese, born in 1905, from Austria to Germany and Switzerland.

Ultimately, her entire artistic work consisted of stage designs, costumes, furniture molds, commercial drawings, and last but not least, her photographs that could be attributed to the kinetic movement. All of this is on display in collaboration with the Städtische Wessenberg-Galerie Konstanz, whose director Barbara Starck tracked down the property in a dusty warehouse during the coronavirus pandemic.

A photo series containing 10 photos

Private property

My Ullman circa 1935
My Ullmann, design for decorative paper, lino print without year

Private property

My Ullmann, design for decorative paper, lino print without year
May Ullman, Attacking the Tiger in Three Stages - Landing, 1962 pencil, chalk and pastel on black cardboard

Private property

May Ullman, Attacking the Tiger in Three Stages – Landing, 1962 pencil, chalk and pastel on black cardboard
May Ullmann, rug design, 1927 pencil, watercolour, gouache and gold paint, Backhausen Archive, inv.  No. BA05585

Backhausen Archive

May Ullmann, rug design, 1927 pencil, watercolour, gouache and gold paint, Backhausen Archive, inv. No. BA05585
My Ullman, I, probably 1922/23 linocut

Private property

My Ullman, I, probably 1922/23 linocut
May Ullman, Abstract Composition, 1925, chalk on tracing paper

Artistic Collection and Archive, University of Applied Arts Vienna, inv. No. 8976/2

May Ullman, Abstract Composition, 1925, chalk on tracing paper
May Ullman, Dancing Head, 1923/24 chalk

Artistic Collection and Archive, University of Applied Arts Vienna, inv. No. 9052

May Ullman, Dancing Head, 1923/24 chalk
MAK Gallery View, 2024 Mai Ullman.  Living Kinetics: Images, Theater, Art in Architecture MAK Kunstseitensaal

Mac/Christian Mendez

MAK Gallery View, 2024 Mai Ullman.  Living Kinetics: Images, Theater, Art in Architecture MAK Kunstseitensaal

Mac/Christian Mendez

My Ullman with a model of the Marl City Fountain, circa 1965

Private property

My Ullman with a model of the Marl City Fountain, circa 1965

Perhaps Ullmann was never a simple person or a simple artist. Neither in life nor in its treatment. “While searching, My Ullmann appeared like a bar of soap: every time I thought I had it, it would slip away again,” Stark recalls. At the same time, co-curator Catherine Pokorny Nagel was commissioned to write a biography of the artist. “My Ullman was somehow levitating,” Pokorny-Nagel stressed.

Between wallpaper designs and advertising themes

Together they have now put together the first Austrian retrospective of the artist at MAK, who constantly reinvented herself in new places and new positions throughout her life. At the age of sixteen, she began studying at the Vienna School of Applied Arts with Franz Cizek and, along with colleagues such as Elisabeth Karlinski and Erika Giovanna Klein, became one of the main proponents of Actionism, strongly reminiscent of Cubism in its form. Stylistics of geometric shapes and strong colors with an emphasis on movement and body.

But early in 1930, Ullmann, who soon replaced her real first name Maria with the synonym “May,” left Vienna for Switzerland. Over the years, not only different marriages and relationships followed, but also career fields. She created wallpaper designs for Backhausen, designed advertising decorations for Humanic and Thonet, created stage and costume designs for Zurich and Berlin, and later opened her own interior design studio in Münster under the title “My Studio”, where she created designs for art. In architecture, fountains or furniture made.

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