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Vienna: A Modern Art Lover’s Paradise

Bohren Vienna Museums The Leoplold Wiener Werkstatte
The Leopold Wiener Werkstatte. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

Words & images by Deborah Loeb Bohren

For most, Vienna conjures up images of storybook palaces, the music of Mozart, Schubert, and Bruckner, a delectable Viennese patisserie, graceful Lipizzaner Stallions, and the Imperial Court. But there is also a very modern side to that city, as I discovered on a recent trip. As it turns out, Vienna is a perfect place to immerse yourself in the dynamic world of modern and contemporary art.

Many modern art options abound in Vienna, so it can be challenging to know where to begin. Here are six museums not to be missed: the Albertina and Albertina Modern, Secession, the Leopold, the Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, and the  Kunst Haus Wien/Museum Hundertwasser. At each, you will find yourself enveloped by an excellent array of modern and contemporary art, each museum offering a different facet and perspective on the genre. Visiting these museums is a feast for artistic cravings.

 

Bohren Vienna Museums Albertina Modern Yoshitomo Nara 2
Albertina Modern and Yoshitomo Nara 2. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

I started at the Albertina Modern in the city’s historic center, its classic architecture seamlessly blending with its surroundings while still exuding a modern aesthetic. Opened in 2020, the museum is the younger sibling of the renowned Albertina Museum (more on that later), with a dedicated focus on contemporary and cutting-edge works from the post-WWII period to the present day. From abstract expressionism to conceptual art, visitors can explore the varied and evolving landscape of contemporary creativity from the likes of Austrian artists Maria Lassnig and Franz West and international icons including Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Jackson Pollock. On my visit I was treated to a wonderful exhibit “All My Little Words” by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, best known for his drawings of children that are simultaneously innocent and sinister. Sadly, that exhibition has now closed, but be on the lookout for an exciting exhibition encompassing nearly 100 of Chagall’s works that will open later this year.

 

Bohren Vienna Museums Secession Exterior
Secession Museum. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

From there, I went to the nearby Secession Museum, a small but essential architectural and cultural landmark founded by the Vienna Secession movement members at the end of the 19th century. You know you are getting close when the building’s distinctive dome — gilded laurel leaves symbolizing triumph and artistic achievement — comes into view. Inside, visitors encounter a treasure trove of paintings, sculptures, and decorative art from prominent Secessionists, including Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Koloman Moser, an ongoing reminder of the rebellious artistic movement that reshaped the cultural landscape in Vienna and beyond.

 

Bohren Vienna Museums Secession Beethoven Frieze
Beethoven Frieze in the Secession Museum. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

The Secession is probably best known today as home to Gustav Klimt’s iconic Beethoven Frieze. At seven feet high and 112 feet long, it winds along the top of three walls in a specially designed room. It takes your breath away as you enter. Inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, visitors can don headphones and listen to the fourth movement of Symphony No. 9 in D Minor while absorbing the frieze’s colors, details, and symbolism for a truly immersive experience.

Next on my list were the Leopold Museum and the Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, both situated in Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier complex, one of the world’s largest districts for contemporary art and culture.

 

Bohren Vienna Museums The Leopold
The Leopold Museum. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

The Leopold Museum is an imposing modern architectural gem, its bright, airy spaces providing the ideal backdrop for the dynamic and evocative artworks within. A treasure trove of works from Viennese Secession, Art Nouveau, and Expressionist movements, it seamlessly connects early 20th-century masters to contemporary practices, enticing modern art lovers to explore its captivating galleries along the way.

Bohren Vienna Museums The Leopold Bronze Sculpture
The Leopold. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

At the heart of the museum’s collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele, offering an in-depth glimpse into the provocative and often controversial artist. Visitors can also marvel at pieces by Klimt curated chronologically to capture the artist’s evolution.

They also boast a wonderful collection of works from the Wiener Werkstätte, dedicated to producing decorative objects and other articles of daily use designed to “adorn” one’s surroundings. On view now, and continuing through 2024, is “Vienna1900: Birth of Modernism,” an expansive exhibition spanning three floors and highlighting the vibrant cultural, political, and intellectual environment of that time and which laid the foundation for modernism. Also on tap in 2024 is a retrospective of the works of expressionist Gabriele Münter; “Unknown Familiars,” more than 200 works of various genres and periods that have never been shown together; and “Magic and Abysses of Reality” highlighting the work of Rudolf Wacker, the first time in more than 50 years his works will be exhibited in Vienna.

 

Bohren Vienna Museums mumok exterior
Mumok. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

Just across the plaza from the Leopold, a dark gray basalt monolith beckoned. The Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wienmumok  — or mumok — showcases a diverse collection of modern and contemporary art from the 20th century to the present. Founded in 1959 and relocated to its current location in 2001, its commitment to innovation is evident in its broad-ranging exhibitions featuring emerging and established artists.

Bohren Vienna Museums mumok Pendleton
Pendleton exhibit at mumok. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

Adam Pendleton’s “Blackness, White, and Light,” composed of graphic paintings, drawings, films, and sculptures, occupied two full floors when I was there. It was the perfect counterpoint to “Elizabeth Wild. Imagination Factory,” an explosion of color in the form of small collaged works distributed through the gallery in a maze-like fashion, which continues through mid-2024.

 

Bohren Vienna Museums The Albertina Batliner Collection
The Albertina Batliner Collection. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

My next stop was the Albertina in the heart of Vienna. The museum can trace its roots back to the mid-1700s and is a perfect example of old and new Vienna side-by-side. Beyond the museum’s 20 decadently restored Habsburg State Rooms is one of Europe’s most important collections of modern art, the Batliner Collection. From Chagall, Degas, Giacometti, Kandinsky, and Klee to Magritte, Matisse, Miro, Modigliani, Monet, Picasso indulge in the best of the Cubists, Impressionists, Pointillists and Fauvists.

Bohren Vienna Museums The Albertina Baseltiz
Baseltiz exhibit. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

An incredible exhibition by Georg Baselitz grabbed my attention, as did the “Monet to Picasso” permanent exhibition. Upcoming shows include a centennial exhibition celebrating Roy Lichtenstein and an exhibition of Franz Grabmayr’s colorful sculptural paintings, along with “Thick Air” by Eva Beresin, among others.

 

Bohren Vienna Museums Museum Hundertwasser
Museum Hundertwasser. Photo Deborah Loeb Bohren.

And finally, don’t miss the Kunst Haus Wien/Museum Hundertwasser, housing the world’s only permanent exhibition of Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s works. A painter, printmaker, architect, and environmentalist, Hundertwasser had a distaste for straight lines or any standardization, as is immediately evident when you gaze at the building’s exterior. His works and the building itself are characterized by bold colors, curved walls, uneven floors, spiral labyrinths, ornamental and biomorphic designs, and trees that grow out of windows. While the museum is closed for renovations (it’s scheduled to re-open in early 2024), the exterior alone is worth a visit. Plus, for those who crave a second dose of off-kilter shapes, colors, and vegetation, Hundertwasser House, another of his creations, is only a five-minute walk away. It’s a real apartment house, so you can’t go in, but a small, Hundertwasser-designed shopping arcade is immediately across the street. The shops are touristy, but the building — especially the bathrooms — is worth a look.

These six museums are just a sampling of the museums and galleries in Vienna. Together, they showcase the city’s longstanding commitment to fostering creativity and pushing the boundaries of art, making Vienna the perfect destination for any modern and contemporary art enthusiast.

 

Deborah Loeb Bohren is a fine art and travel photographer. Photography has been Deb’s passion since her father put a camera in her hand when she was only five years old. Today she combines that passion with her love of travel, using her camera to capture the intersection and interplay of light, line and color to create visual stories from the flea markets of Paris to the dunes of Morocco and from Machu Picchu to Havana and beyond. She lives in New York. Go to http://www.travelinglensphoto.com/ for info about her online photo workshops.

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