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Published 15/01/2002 email E-MAIL print PRINT

The return of Wittgenstein

Currently showing in London is a small ‘cabinet’ exhibition open to the public in the Library Print Room, Royal Academy, through 28 January. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein has been a compelling figure in British intellectual life. He died in Cambridge in l951, aged 61 years and having been a fellow of Trinity College (l930—36) and professor (l939—l947). His life, like his philosophy, was characterised by a profound but rigorous austerity that impressed his Cambridge mentor Bertrand Russell early on. But the subject of the exhibition, entitled ‘The Unknown Wittgenstein’ is centred around the house which he effectively designed and built for his sister in Kundmanngasse, Vienna. Strongly influenced by the architectural thinking of the Viennese Adolf Loos (itself a reaction to the prolific decorative art that permeated buildings in the early part of the 20th century) the Wittgenstein House as it is known became an eccentric but prescient landmark amidst Viennese avant-garde architecture. Professor Hans Hollein, when editing the magazine Bau, raised concern in the l960s about the deteriorating condition of the building. It is little better today, although it is in organised institutional occupation by the Bulgarian Embassy. Professor Bernhard Leitner wrote a book about the house in the l970s, co-published incidentally by Studio International, entitled The Architecture of Ludwig Wittgenstein, it revealingly but painstakingly reveals the secrets of this remarkable example of ‘built philosophy’. Now the book is re-published by Leitner with substantial extension and updating. Since Wittgenstein was a qualified (and ingenious) engineer there are amazing innovations in the house. Professor Sir Colin St John Wilson, like his friend Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, has been an avid fan of Wittgenstein since the l950’s. Wilson designed a house in Cambridge in the early l960s that is certainly reflective of certain of the ideas that Wittgenstein elaborated in his famous work, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Paolozzi was inspired by Wittgenstein to produce a famous series of screenprints with ‘Editions Alecto’, entitled As is When. Such engagements are brought together, largely by Wilson’s enthusiasm in this exceptional exhibition, which will be reviewed in Studio International in January.



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