Robert Seidel and Richard Eigner’s “Living Waterfall” sculpture can be found in Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier. // © 2014 Robert Seidel and Richard Eigner
Feature image (above): The traditional architecture of the Leopold Museum (left) contrasts with the stark design of the Museum Moderner Kuns at the opposite end of the MuseumsQuartier courtyard. // © 2014 Hertha Humaus
If you make a list of the attractions you want to experience in a single European city, chances are that Vienna in Austria has all of them — and probably some you didn't even think of. In Vienna, you'll find grand imperial palaces; countless museums; impressive venues for concerts, ballet and the opera; and magnificent residences along with world-class shopping, dining and a vibrant nightlife.
But Vienna isn't resting on its laurels. These days, a lively contemporary art scene is adding to the city’s considerable cultural wealth. Vienna's appreciation of and support for “modern” art goes back at least 80 years. Today, there is new interest in contemporary art forms, which visitors can see in a variety of traditional as well as unconventional settings.
“Vienna’s contemporary art scene has experienced major movement in recent years,” said Helena Hartlauer, who works in media relations for Vienna Tourist Board. “More neighborhoods have developed where contemporary art can be contemplated; new exhibition spaces have opened; established contemporary art institutions have been investing in major renovations; and traditional museums are showing contemporary art. There’s even an art cluster currently coming together in a former bread factory.”
For starters, there's Museum Moderner Kunst, referred to as mumok (always expressed in lower case letters). With a focus on avant-garde art, mumok is the largest museum of its kind in Central Europe, located in Vienna's MuseumsQuartier (MQ).
Mumok opens onto a sprawling courtyard outfitted with dozens of huge plastic loungers. They may well express some artistic feeling, but are actively used as a place for students to sprawl out while studying (or napping), or for young lovers to spend time together. At one end of the plaza is a stage where live music is presented.
Another well-established art center is Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Arts (MAK). Though it celebrated its 150th anniversary this year, MAK is hardly stuck in the 19th century. One example of such is a solo exhibition called Orllegro by Los Angeles artist Pae White.
The Leopold Museum is another art venue worth visiting. Its collection includes masterpieces of the Viennese Secessionist movement, Viennese modernism and Austrian Expressionism.
21er Haus is considerably less formal than the Leopold and is a lively expression of Vienna's contemporary art scene. It’s housed in a modest structure set in the Schweizergarten district of Vienna and includes an event series bringing art, performances, cultural exchanges and fine food together in one evening, with the thematic focus provided by the individual artists.
Art collectors and museum curators would have to be envious of their colleagues in Vienna when it comes to finding exhibition space. Given the seemingly endless inventory of elegant private and royal residences, galleries aren't in short supply.
Late last year, for example, the winter palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy was reopened to the public. The nobleman's life story and military accomplishments were recorded with paintings and statues placed among soaring arches, marble pillars and ornately painted ceilings. When the Austrian Ministry of Finance vacated its rooms in the palace last year, the extensive space was given over to works by contemporary artists.
“Thanks to its vibrant art gallery scene and its animated contemporary music, dance, and theater scene, Vienna offers visitors an intense choice of contemporary culture within a relatively small geographical area,” said Francesca von Habsburg, art collector and founder of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary foundation in Vienna.