70s Pothead Aesthetics, Meet Austrian Art

“I am going to take you to see the ugliest church you have ever seen,” said Barbara. We’d been having a long lunch in her garden in the Graz suburb of Hitzendorf. The church was just a few kilometers away in the village of Thal, a place that has the dubious distinction of being Arnold Schwarzenegger’s home town. There were four of us, Barbara, her daughter Anna, my husband Julius, and me. We got into Anna’s car and about 20 minutes later, we parked next to a green temporary structure that had the words “Arnold Schwarzenegger Exhibit” stenciled on the windows in matching grass green.

A paved pathway led to the entrance to the chapel. Five bridesmaids in wine colored dresses stood in the doorway looking sticky and annoyed with the heat. A wedding party was ending; there were glasses of beer on a picnic table and kids running in circles. There was an odd vibe to the event; the Austrians stood at high tables set up on the church patio while the others – Czech, we surmised, after a survey of license plates – sat on benches under a sprawling chestnut tree. The bride and groom were nowhere to be seen, but a 1970 GTO with a spray of white roses on the hood awaited their getaway. Already, it was kind of a weird scene.

We slid past the bridesmaids who continued to glare towards the patio. The little side chapel was quite traditional; wooden pews and a somewhat austere altar, a crucifixion on the back wall. But the main church, well, it was as though Liberace had found Catholicism and liked it. It was like being inside an oyster, all irregular and curved and lavender and blue and pearly. Mirrors studded with Swarovski crystal reflected sunlight in to the body of church. The pews were sculpted plastic, the floor set with river rock. Overhead, stripes, lots and lots of stripes, and the altar? A series of thick glass panels. Vegas. I thought. Any minute, Sigfried and Roy will make a tiger appear from this altar.

Barbara was right, the place was a freaking eyesore.The church was a collaboration between the architect Manfred Fuchsbilder and the artist Ernst Fuchs. Fuchs, the child of a Jewish father and Christian mother, survived WWII through a loophole – by filing for divorce, Fuchs’ mother was able to recover her son from a transit camp for “mixed race” children. Fuchs’ father fled to Shanghai. Fuchs was baptized and raised a Christian in Vienna. He went on to study art and founded the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.

The Fuchs-Kirche, as it’s called locally, was built in the early 90s, but stylistically, it appeared to stand firmly in the pot-smoking late 60s or early 70s years of black light Grateful Dead posters and tie dye peasant skirts. To my California educated eyes, Fantastic Realism has a haze of purple smoke hanging over it.

Take the work of Arik Brauer, a musician, architect, and painter who has something of the Dutch master Bruegel about his work, but Bruegel after he’s smoked a bowl of the Santa Cruz’s finest weed. This isn’t to dismiss his art; I liked the exhibition of his paintings I saw in Vienna a few years back. But there’s no denying the psychedelic color or the landscapes that look like the ground might be moving.

There’s also the work of Friendensreich Hundertwasser. Hundertwasser was another “mixed race” kid of pre-war Vienna, another survivor. In his art, Hundertwasser used fully saturated color, those same irregular surfaces I walked over in the Fuchs-Kirche, and a lot of highly glazed tile.

Seeing Hundertwasser’s work always left me feeling happy, a little off balance, and probably hungry, I don’t quite remember. His buildings suggest how Lego might behave if it was cuddly, with snap on onion domes and relaxed rectangles, all in bright colors with fat outlines. The Hundertwasser Museum is one of my favorite places in Vienna, not just because it houses his art – and that of his artistic soul mates – but because the building itself is a joyful mess of stacked color and shape. It laughs out loud around the neighbor buildings who don’t understand what’s so funny – expect for the Hundertwasser house, nearby, she might have baked the brownies and is totally in on the joke.

On a rainy day in July, with a car full of Austrian in-laws, I made another trip to another weird site in Austria, this one designed by Andre Heller. Heller, a Viennese Jew, was born post war to more privilege than his artistic predecessors. But he seems to have picked up the aesthetic created by the Fantastic Realists and dragged it firmly into, oh, let’s say 1978, a few years after Dark Side of the Moon was released.

Heller’s not responsible for the entire stoner feel of Swarovski’s Kristalwelt, a museum/garden/shopping extravaganza near Innsbruck. He’s just on the hook for the parts that made me wonder exactly how much laser Floyd he’d watched. He created the mirror lined dome which surely needs a warning for those with a tendency towards migraines. He also engineered an enormous button accordion that breathes in and out. Brian Eno created some – not all – of the ambient sound in Kristalwelt, but that doesn’t help modernize it, it just makes me wonder who left the Zeppelin vinyl in the car on a hot day.

I couldn’t wait to get out of Kristalwelt and back into the pouring rain. I wanted an espresso and some fresh air. The crush of the crowd, the constantly changing light, and the aggressive surreal weirdness of the place was freaking me out. This modern flavor of Fantastic Realism gave me a headache with none of the happy buzz I’d received from the more organic crops of the founding school. Everything was too hard, too sparkly, too blinky.

We drove for about 45 minutes before stopping at a traditional Tyrolean restaurant. With my belly full of food and the cover of a soft gray sky, the day became a lot more mellow. I slept it off in the car on the drive back home.

Pam Mandel’s transportation to Austria was provided by Austria Tourism. You’ve probably guessed that her opinions are very much her own.

Blinged-out amenties kits from Etihad

Here’s an idea that’s right up our alley: Etihad Airways has taken the standard amenities kit a step further and partnered with Swarovski to bling out their first class offering. The new kits, debuting on flights between Abu Dhabi and London, Paris, Geneva, Sydney and Melbourne, as well a progressively throughout the first class long-haul network in the coming weeks.

Women will receive a cosmetics-style bag that will include La Prairie moisturizer, hand cream and lip balm, while men will enjoy a black leather cufflink box that includes a shaving kit with a Schick Xtreme 3 razor.

Lee Shave, Etihad Airways’ Vice President Product and Services, said: “In our market research, we found that very few airlines are developing product suited to the needs of female travelers, so we created these separate amenity product lines to suit to the specific tastes of both our male and female guests.

This is also the first airline collaboration for Swarovski. We only wish it could be even more bling-y, a la a Judith Leiber bag.

[Thanks to Luxuo for the tip.]

SkyMall Monday: Solar Powered Rainbow Maker

The world is filled with miracles. The problem with miracles, however, is that they happen so infrequently and with no explanation.

Generating miracles used to be impossible. You can lead a horse to a narwhal, but you can’t make them produce a unicorn. With so much pain and suffering in the world, we’re running severely low on miracles. Waiting around for the universe to produce them is no longer a viable option. We need to start churning out miracles like we did Model T’s and machine guns during the Industrial Revolution. Thankfully, there’s a force greater than all of us that heard our cry for help. A higher power that answered our prayers. An authority that peddles its miraculous wares so that all of us may benefit. That’s right, SkyMall is here to help us.

Here at SkyMall Monday, we have a particularly favorite miracle that we’d like to see more of. Of course, it’s the rainbow. If it were up to us, we’d have a daily double rainbow (and an unlimited supply of Skittles). Now, however, we can generate a rainbow whenever we damn well please thanks to the Solar Powered Rainbow Maker.Forget all the hogwash you’ve heard about leprechauns and pots of gold. Rainbows aren’t part of a sound financial strategy. Rainbows exist solely to distract us from the ills of the world. They give us a moment of quiet reflection. They allow us to pause, take a deep breath and remember that it probably rained recently. The ability to generate a rainbow at our leisure has always alluded us. Until now.

Think that man should not attempt to play God (or scientist)? Think that rainbows should not be devalued by rainbow inflation? I bet you want me to shut down my centaur mill. Well, think about all those orphaned centaur foal while you read the official product description:

All the Color without any of the Rain! — You don’t have to be Dorothy or Pollyanna to appreciate beauty in the ROYGBIV…The genuine Swarovski crystal attaches to your window with a suction cup, and rotates as it refracts sunlight to create a swirl of rainbows. — This makes a great conversation piece and an intriguing scientific wonderment for all ages!

People love outdated literary references almost as much as they love miracles. If I had to list the things that people loved the most, I would order them like so: 1) rainbows, 2) suction cups, 3) intriguing scientific wonderment, 4) conversation pieces, 5) Austrian crystal and 6) hyphens. In other words, the Solar Powered Rainbow Maker is a bigger collection of love than that orgy I attended at the Y.

We all live busy lives. Waiting for miracles just isn’t an option. Like movies, miracles need to be on demand (and enjoyed with overpriced popcorn and Sour Patch Kids purchased at the drug store that we then smuggled into the theater). Have your miracles on your schedule with the Solar Powered Rainbow Maker.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Daily Pampering: Swarovski Crystal Pocket binoculars

Binoculars can be an accessory – just as Swarovski, the crystal-clad designer who adorns necks and wrists everywhere.

Swarovski Optik is part of the Swarovski company and for $2,000, you can own a pair of the elite binoculars made with the Swarovski touch. There are 22 models of binoculars available, each grouped into one of six series, including the elite Crystal Pocket series with three models of crystal covered binoculars.

The Crystal Pocket series offers fashionable travelers binoculars that fit right into your pocket, so you don’t have to worry about bulging handbags or unsightly cases at your next night at the opera or bird watching from your yacht. The Crystal Pocket series has binoculars with grips covered in crystals, of course, and certainly makes a statement.

But do they work? The magnifications available on Swarovski’s binoculars are 7X, 8X, 8.5X, 10X and 15X, so it’s likely you’ll get a good view no matter where you look. The least expensive Swarovski model costs the better part of $1,000 and the most expensive model around $2,000.

Are you worth it? We think so.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Take the kids to Austria

I did not know that crystal is measured in carats. I didn’t need this bit of insight for the notion of a 300,000 crystal to be impressive. Apparently, this is one of the many unique items on display at Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens, Austria. According to MSNBC, this is the second most visited tourist attraction in the country – after Vienna‘s Schonbrunn Palace. Swarovski also has the smallest, which measures a mere 0.8 millimeters.

The art workshops, sculpture garden and playground also make Swarovski Crystal Worlds a great destination for kids, proving that Europe isn’t just for adults.

Eileen Ogintz asks: “Who says kids will be bored in Europe?”

In Austria, there is plenty (even beyond Swarovski). Childrens can dress up as royals at Schonbrunn Palace and later stop by the Imperial Zoo. In Innsbruck, they can traverse a bridge that dates back to 1080 and marvel at the fact that The Goldener Adler hotel has more than six centuries of history.

Perhaps the favorite for kids is Aqua Dome in Langenfeld. It’s less than an hour from Innsbruck and boasts thermal mountain waters. For the youthful – at least at heart – there is a waterslide, climbing wall … and plenty of supervision. Let the kids go nuts while you soak in the warm mountain water in a futuristic hot tub or relax on the ice grotto.