12 March 2009

The Vienna Secession

Of all the buildings that the Secessionists designed and built in Vienna, the Secessionist Building was the most symbolic, the most iconic. Since the young artists who started the Vienna Secession in 1897 wanted to identify themselves as modern and different, their building had to clearly break away from the rigidity of Vienna’s long standing Academic taste. The building was to be their administrative headquarters, but it was also to be a vitally important exhibition space.
Ringstrasse taste, which had started in 1860 and was completed within 30 years, was traditional and classical. But that left architect Jos­eph Maria Olbrich with a problem. He knew he did NOT want to use Rom­an­esque, Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Baroque or Rococo archit­ectural taste, but he was not sure what he DID want to use. Impressionism did not lend itself to architecture and Art Nouveau could only assist with the decorative elements of a building. THE PINK COWBOY was correct that the search for a new aesthetic produced paintings that were both sumptuous and resplendent, but that didn’t help Olbrich greatly.
Secession Building, exterior

In the end, Olbrich decided to create a sober building, using only white with gold flourishes. Merisi, in Inspired Window Shopping, asked rhetorically “was there any other choice but gold in the city of Klimt?
Due to its plain walls, the building app­ears as if it was created from solid cubes. Of course the harsh­ness of the building was softened by decoration; laurel was placed on the pilasters and on the entrance. Above the build­ing, thousands of gold plated leaves and berries formed a dome or crown. Three gorgon heads, representing the arts, added to the ex­terior decorative elements which were all clearly Art Nouveau. D.B. Kim really admired the boldness of these details and the rare craftsmanship in all the architectural statements.
Inside the vaulted ceiling was transformed into a light tent roof. Koloman Moser contributed stained glass and other decorative work to the interior of the building.
A site along the Ringstrasse was originally chosen, but even with all its austerity, the building met with a hostile reaction from Vienna’s Municipal Council. THE SECESSION BUILDING noted that it was only after the site was trans­ferred to a plot on Friedrichstrasse that the Municipal Council granted permis­sion for "the erection of a provisional exhib­ition pavilion for the period of the next ten years" (Nov 1897).
After the building was completed, it still faced a barrage of crit­icism. Rather than being seen as a temple to art, the building was described as a mausoleum with cabbage on top.
The Vienna Secession only lasted for eight years, 1897-1905. How ironic, then, that its clever use of space and modest use of décor­ation eventually caused the building to be thought of as one of Vienna’s finest architectural works. In its 100+ years of history, the Wiener Seces­sion building has been renovated several times. http://www.wien-vienna.com/ noted that, by 1901, the entrance area had already been reorganised. 1908 saw the removal of some parts of the décor and of the slogan “To every age its art and to art its freedom”. WW2 damage was renovated in 1963 when the original décor was brought back and a gallery in the entrance hall was added. And there was a final refurbishment in 1984-5.
Front entrance and decoration

Interior exhibition space


Hels said...

From Tom Gray...

Hi Helen,

I’m working with 9 major British galleries and museums on a new social media project called Creative Spaces, which I thought you may be interested in for your blog.

Creative Spaces, and it throws open the collections of: The Royal Armouries, The V&A, The Imperial War Museum, British Museum, Tate, National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, Sir John Soane’s Museum and The Wallace Collection.

The site allows you to search all the collections at once, tag and store items in notebooks & groups and upload your own images, videos and notes to share creative inspiration with others - effectively creating your own collection from some of the world's greatest museum collections.

We’d love it if you’d have a play with the site, and let us and your friends know your thoughts.

To access the Beta go to: http://vna.nmolp.org/creativespaces/

This is a nonprofit, public sector project, and it’s the first time that national museums have collaborated in this way.

Please do let me know if you have any other questions


Tom Gray

John hopper said...

Another great article. Thanks alot for all the interesting information.

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