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MAK/Georg Mayer

‘Into the Night: Cabarets & Clubs in Modern Art’

“Alcohol served in a theatrical setting had been one of the allures of Cabaret Fledermaus, a decade earlier, in Vienna,” writes Lucy Scholes. “With a ‘fancy drinks’ menu that included the ‘Pick Me Up,’ ‘Kiss Me Quick,’ and ‘Cabaret Smash,’ the Fledermaus bar was a ceramic-tiled masterpiece, its black-and-white checkerboard floor a striking contrast with the fantastical motifs, in a riot of primary colors, that adorned the walls. Designed by Josef Hoffmann, it’s still remembered today as one of the most iconic pieces made by the Wiener Werkstätte, Vienna’s famous cooperative artistic workshop. 

Its life-size recreation—by teachers, students, and archivists at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna—is undoubtedly the pièce de résistance of ‘Into the Night: Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art.’ All the same, the thrust of this rather ingenious new exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London is that each of the clubs and cabarets included was much more than just an elaborately decorated drinking den. The show isn’t simply interested in cabarets and clubs in Modern art, or Modern art in cabarets and clubs, for that matter; this is a deeper and more thoughtful examination of the symbiosis between the two. 

Organized by city, it’s a compendium of some of the world’s most famed nightspots, from the 1800s through the 1960s. Each section offers up a rich selection of decorative objets d’art and ephemera belonging to the spotlit venues; furniture, silverware, programs of entertainment, the art displayed therein, video footage (where available) of performances hosted by the cabarets and clubs. Also included is a broader collection of artworks, either created by artists closely associated with the establishments (though not necessarily part of the décor of the club in question, nor displayed there), which helps to capture the spirit of the cities’ nightlives. Four extra rooms are also given over to “recreations”: of the aforementioned Fledermaus bar; of Paris’s Chat Noir shadow theatre; the Mbari clubs in the Nigerian cities of Ibadan and Osogbo; and Theo Van Doesburg’s Ciné-Dancing, the centrepiece of Strasbourg’s L’Aubette, a grand hall that combined dancehall, cinema, and restaurant.”


For more information, visit barbican.org.uk.

Category: Exhibition
Barbican Art Gallery
Silk Street,
London, England