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In the Giant’s Head — Austria’s Biggest Surprise

Yayoi Kusama’s “Chandelier of Grief”

By Jules Older

I got a lot of surprises in Austria: The enormity of the ski resorts. The state-of-the-art lifts and hyper-powerful snow cannons. The sheer beauty of horizon-to-horizon snow-white peaks.

But the biggest surprise came off-piste — in fact, off-mountain. The biggest surprise was a factory tour.

After I checked in to Stage 12, my Innsbruck hotel, and before I joined a ski gang headed for the hills, I found myself doing something I studiously avoid — taking a commercial tour of a factory.

Worse, of a jewelry factory. As a certified old, heterosexual male, I thought I was excused from such activities. They could trigger traumas of Christmas Past. Or of Factory Tours Past.

“Ready to Love” by Manish Arora

I knew what to expect: “Here are our skilled carvers/cutters/gnomes creating those fabulous jewels/necklaces/wonders. And over here are the blahblahblahs blahblahblahing them. Now, what you’ve been looking forward to — an abundance of free time to spend in our gift shop. Spend away!”

To make it worse, the company whose factory I was about to tour was Swarovski. They manufacture a product of zero interest to my old heterosexual male heart — leaded glass, a.k.a. crystal baubles. My worst nightmare? Right.

Only, in this case, wrong.

For starters, we weren’t allowed in the enormous factory. The crystal manufacturing process is a bigger secret than the Manhattan Project.

Next, we weren’t led inside at all. Instead, we stood out in the snow, gaping at a gigantic head with a waterfall pouring from its mouth. The guide said, “Now ve go inside ze Giant.” And into the head we went.

Holy Hiddenite! We found ourselves in a museum of modern art. What set this museum apart from all others was that crystals — presumably Swarovski crystals — were incorporated into each exhibit. And every exhibit had its own room inside the Giant’s gigantic head. They were, as their name implies, Chambers of Wonder.

“Mechanical Theatre” by Jim Whiting

Let me be crystal-clear — these were not promotional displays; they were artistic gems created by major artists from India, China, North America and Europe. They were all dramatically lit, and some were musically enhanced. I’ve been to many an exhibit at renowned museums that weren’t nearly as intense.

Among the rooms: Silent Light, originally created for the Victoria and Albert Museum in London; Mechanical Theatre, Jim Whiting’s utterly bizarre robotic fashion show; Chandelier of Grief, Yayoi Kusama’s house of mirrors that propels you into an altered reality. My favorite was Ready to Love, where Manish Arora creates a Technicolor Indian mansion dedicated to love.

The tour lasted … I’m not sure; as I wandered from room to room, I lost track of time.

“FAMOS” by Blue Noses

At the end of the museum tour, there was, yes, a gift shop. But instead of geegaws and gimcracks, the tastefully spare display cases contained Swarovski earrings and bracelets and other things that were way out of my price range. For non-buyers, there was a very nice coffee bar.

I went for the mocha, not the $900 necklace. Sorry, my love.

But what stayed with me was the only museum I’d ever seen that was inside a giant’s head. And now, inside mine, as well.

For more about the Swarovski Giant and its Chamber of Wonders, go to Swarovski. Day passes start at 19 euros. Plan to spend at least three hours.

 

Jules Older’s travel ebook is DEATH BY TARTAR SAUCE. His find-a-home ebook is TAKE ME HOME: How to Rent or Buy in a Hot Home Market.

 

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