Vienna Secession. Whether you love good design, Art Nouveau or the smell of revolution. The Secession deserves a red flag in your travel itinerary.
The Secession is the most successful provocation by Viennese architects and artists. It blends early Modernism and late Art Nouveau architecture like no other. The building’s stern white cubes boast gold-plated laurel leafs, owls and twirling lines, topped with a giant globe of golden laurel. The Viennese call it ‘Krauthappel’ (cabbage head).
How The Vienna Secession Started
The Secession is one of the few Vienna attractions that ripped local tastes apart: It was designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich and revolutionary artists of the Association of Visual Artists of Austria, among them Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, as their own exhibition house in 1898. The Secessionists wanted to break with the art of Historicism that you find mostly on Ringstrasse. Their motto, which decorates the main entrance: ‘To every age its art, to art its freedom.’
Originally among the most shocking Vienna sights, the Viennese Council banned the project from its intended location on Ringstrasse boulevard to ‘second row’ at Friedrichstrasse.
What To Watch Out For
The three female reliefs above the entrance symbolise architecture, visual arts and sculpture. The Secessionists wanted to unify those three art forms in one harmonious oeuvre.
My tip: Walk around the building to see the owls (photo), decorative lines and ornaments at the exterior walls. The interior is dedicated to temporary modern exhibitions, and quite plain in itself, apart from the absolutely marvellous Beethoven frieze.
Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze
With the Beethoven frieze, Gustav Klimt visualised Richard Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The 34 metre long fresco runs round the walls of an entire room and is so beautiful you could wrap yourself in it. The frieze groups different allegoric characters into a cycle, which symbolise the search of man for happiness: joy, passion, violence, illness, madness, death, the arts, lust and unchastity. (photo: Wikimedia Commons).
Opening Hours And Guided Tours
Location: Friedrichstrasse 12 (close to Karlsplatz and Naschmarkt), A-1010 Vienna
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm; closed on 1 May, 1 November and 25 December; 24 December :10am to 4pm; 1 January: 12 to 6pm.
Guided tours: Saturdays, 3pm; Sundays 11am;
Vienna Art Nouveau Tours
Unlike the ubiquitous baroque, Vienna’s Art Nouveau and Modernist architecture spreads across single sites in town. To get a thorough overview of key places such as the Secession, Otto Wagner’s Stadtbahn pavilions and town houses, his Postal Savings Bank and the Adolf Loos House take a small-group minivan tour.
Since Art Nouveau in Vienna came along with huge social and political upheaval, hearing the whole story will get you far beyond its intriguing surface. To join one of the most intelligent Art Nouveau tours follow a passionate art historian along Otto Wagner’s iconic Stadtbahn. On your way you will see the Secession and Otto Wagner’s stunning town houses, among other buildings. If you’d like to join this small group walk, email me at barbara.cacao(at)vienna-unwrapped.com.
explore more Otto Wagner in Vienna – Top Modernism and Art Nouveau Spots
visit the spectacular Otto Wagner Church – Europe’s Best Art Nouveau Church reviewed
go to Art Nouveau Walk – Map and Route of Jugendstil Architecture in Wien
take a self-guided Vienna 1900 Walk – Gustav Klimt and Beyond
go to Gustav Klimt Artwork – Guide to Top Paintings
visit the Klimt Villa – Gustav Klimt’s Studio Review