Vienna; The Secession Building; Klimt's Beethoven Frieze; Bad art in red; The Schlöss Belvedere; Alfresco party in the Museumquartier

Being in Vienna, one of the cultural capitals of the world, we thought we’d take in a museum gallery or two. Viennese Art Nouveau around the turn of the last century is one of my favourite artistic periods, so we began with the Vienna Secession building, which houses Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven frieze. It’s a beautiful example of technique and design, and the use of negative space is impressive.

The Secession building is still a working gallery, and there were three shows on at the time we visited. Two of them were films and looked as if they might have been interesting, but we didn’t have the time to watch them. The third was… trash. It was an exhibition by a man named Hirschhorn, who I would have taken for about 20 years old had I not read that his real age was upwards of 50. He’s assembled a large room full of red and white objects, gory photographs and plush baby seals, and splashed red paint around everywhere. It’s so clearly and contemptibly the work of a man with nothing at all interesting to say that I can’t believe any jury approved it. I excerpt here the accompanying text:

“Das Auge” resists facts, it resists by seeing – by only seeing. The exhibition, the work “Das Auge” is intended as a postulate. A postulate is an assertion given form. The form of this postulate – “Das Auge” – consists in the fact that “Das Auge” sees but “Das Auge” does not understand. And no one else is expected to understand “Das Auge”, no one has to be in agreement with the “Das Auge”, and no one has to enter into contact with “Das Auge”. “Das Auge” sees, “Das Auge” shows, “Das Auge” names, and “Das Auge” ‘is’. “Das Auge” sees and is present, it sees and is thereby present and it is present because it sees. With “Das Auge” I want to create the conditions for a dialog or confrontation – in whatever way; that is the assertion – and I want to do this with this work… “Das Auge” insists on seeing without understanding. “Das Auge” does not see everything – but it sees everything that is red. “Das Auge” only sees the color red. Thus it can only show red, it can only name red, and it can only ‘be’ red. The red – that “Das Auge” sees – is the blood of those wounded and killed by war and terror, the red is the blood of slaughtered baby seals, the red is the red of models protesting against the wearing of fur coats, the red is the red of branching capillaries, the red is the red of national coats of arms that use the color red, and the red is the red of cardboard hearts, the red is simply just the color ‘red’.

So essentially, he’s thrown some semi-random crap together, related only tenuously by colour, and since he knows he has no coherent message or conclusions to draw, he tries to elevate the lack of message to the status of message itself. I find this sort of thing supremely self-indulgent and lazy both intellectually and artistically. Crudely: If you have nothing to say, then shut the fuck up, because there are people who do, and you’re getting in their way.

Our second artistic destination of the day was the Schlöss Belvedere, a huge baroque palace of eighteenth-century vintage, now a museum gallery. It houses a good cross-section of Austrian and Impressionist art, some interesting sculpture collections, and a Baroque period exhibition. Its most famous possession is Klimt’s The Kiss. The painting is over-familiar to most people - enough to be a cliche in fact - but it rewards close study in person. Photographs don’t convey the three-dimensional nature of Klimt’s work - there’s strong texture in his brushstrokes and the details of patterns in fabrics and such is as often as not modelled in shallow relief.

Later, we met Regine again and had a few drinks with her and some friends of hers in the courtyard of the Museumquartier. It was fun and relaxing and good conversation - nods to Andreas and Walter. We were drinking a beer called Wieselburger, which I still can’t say without laughing. All the Austrians were laughing over my weasel-sandwich jokes, since they, unlike Germans, have a sense of humour. We had to run early though, since we had to catch the last bus from Hüttledorf station to the campground - which, in fact, we missed by two minutes. It was a nice 45-minute walk through cool, misty streets, though.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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