An intricate golden sphere adorning a roof of Secession is surely catching your eye while you are walking along the edge of the first district, around the northeast corner from Naschmarkt. Today, this is the seat of The Association of Visual Artists in Vienna. It was founded in 1897, as a sign of a protest against the conservative Association of Austrian Artists by separating (hence the ‘secession’) from the mainstream art association.

Today, the Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession is the world’s oldest independent exhibition institution specifically dedicated to contemporary art that is led by artists. The Secession is an important forum for young experimental art, but its mission also encompasses prominent established positions.

Secession - one of themed exhibitions in 2021
Secession – one of themed exhibitions in 2021

Quick facts

Name: Vienna Secession (Wiener Secession), also known as the Union of Austrian Artists (Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Österreichs)

Type of attraction: Gallery / Museum

Built/opened: 1897

Location: Friedrichstraße 12, 1010 Wien, 1st District

How to get there: Public transport – U1 or U4 (Karlsplatz) , Trams: Oper, Karlsplatz (1, 2, 71, D) or a 15 minute walk from Stephansplatz

Price/ticket: from $10, depending on the package, children, and seniors from $7

Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10 AM – 6 PM, Monday – closed

Official website: https://www.secession.at/en/

History of the Secession

Austrian artists including Josef Hoffman, Koloman Moser, Otto Wagner, and Gustav Klimt founded the Vienna Secession in 1897, a movement that was influenced by the Art Nouveau style.

The Vienna Secession is also known as the Union of Austrian Artists, or Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Österreichs. Due to their dissatisfaction with the Artist Association’s support for more traditional art forms, they resigned from the organization.

The Secession Building, designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich to host group expositions, was their most influential architectural work. Artworks of highly stylized and influential graphic design were published by the Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring, in Latin).

However, in 1905, some of its most prominent members resigned due to a disagreement over priorities, but the group continued its operations from its headquarters in the Secession Building. When it was first established, the Secession gallery was run entirely by artists.

Building’s history

On March 25, 1898, the horticultural building hosted the first Secessionist exhibition. As early as 1897/1898, the Secession was able to build its own exhibition building based on plans drawn up by Josef Maria Olbrich. On November 15th, 1898, the doors officially opened. Art enthusiasts raised money for the project’s construction costs.

Secession building model
Secession building model

 

An iron laurel arbor (later known as “golden cabbage”) adorns the dome, which rises above the square niche above Ludwig Hevesi’s inscription “To every age its art, to every art its freedom” (“Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.”)

After a period of time, a frieze painted by Kolo Moser (“Kranzträgerinnen”) was removed from the building’s rear. For the XIV Secession Exhibition in 1902, Gustav Klimt created the Beethoven frieze (restored 1975-1985 after purchasing by the Republic of Austria).

The Secession’s exhibition activities will be suspended at the beginning of the First World War. The Secession served as a hospital during the war, just like many other public buildings. As a result, the “highest approval” was granted to the Association to establish “Reserve Hospital of the Red Cross Secession.”

The Secession movement’s history

An extraordinary general meeting of the Künstlerhaus on May 22, 1897, led to the creation of the “Association of Austrian Fine Artists Secession” (Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession). Josef Anton Engelhart joined Carl Moll and Gustav Klimt in a debate following the defeat of the “young boys” at an election meeting of the artists’ cooperative in 1896.

Secession entrance detail
Secession entrance detail

A group known as the “Association of Austrian Visual Artists – Vienna Secession” was formed on March 27, 1897, according to Ludwig Hevesi. They resisted the prevailing trend of historicism and demanded new forms of expression that were more appropriate to the contemporary world.

Gustav Klimt notified the Künstlerhaus Foundation of the situation on April 3rd. Klimt resigned from the Künstlerhaus on May 24th, following the tumultuous extraordinary general assembly on May 22nd (Josef Anton Engelhart, Carl Moll, Kolo Moser, Ernst Stöhr, Josef Maria Olbrich, Wilhelm Bernatzik, later Rudolf Bacher, Max Kurzweil and Rudolf Jettmar, most recently Otto Wagner).

The Secession’s first general assembly, held on June 21st, elected Klimt, Josef Hoffmann, and Moll to serve as the organization’s curators and editors for the exhibition. The horticultural building hosted the first Secessionist exhibition on March 25, 1898.

With the help of Josef Maria Olbrich, the Secession was able to build its own exhibition building in 1897/1898, which, with its striking golden dome, was to become a key modernist building. On November 15th, 1898, the doors officially opened.

The Vienna Secession movement was part of a large number of movements throughout Europe, trying to find a modern approach to art and how it is presented.

Historical exhibitions

Beethoven’s Exhibition in 1902

It was for the Vienna Secession’s XIV exhibition in 1902 that Gustav Klimt created the Beethoven Frieze, which was displayed from April 15 to June 27. The Secessionists’ vision of an all-encompassing synthesis of the arts was embodied in this presentation, which was intended as a tribute to Ludwig van Beethoven. Josef Hoffmann led a team of twenty-one artists on the project.

Beethoven Frieze detail
Beethoven Frieze detail

Max Klinger’s statue of Beethoven occupied the center of the exhibition’s main hall. Additional works by Alfred Roller, Adolf Böhm, Ferdinand Andri, and many other artists were on display at the show, including Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze. Architecture, painting, sculpture, and music were all meant to work together to create a “work of art” that would emerge from the interaction between the interior design and the artwork on the walls.

First-time visitors to Klimt’s monumental wall cycle were directed to the left-hand aisle, where the artwork was located. The Secession’s XIV exhibition attracted nearly 60,000 visitors, making it one of its most popular events. Furthermore, Klimt’s development and that of many other participating artists were greatly influenced by the Beethoven exhibition: the ideal of interplay and integration of all artistic disciplines and the collaboration tested in it was successfully continued by Wiener Werkstätte, among other artists, as well.

Secession today

Today, the Beethoven Frieze is regarded as a pinnacle of Viennese Art Nouveau and one of Klimt’s most important works.

The Secession hosts an international program that examines contemporary forms of artistic expression through individual and themed exhibitions.

Beethoven Frieze detail
Beethoven Frieze detail

The Visual Artists Association. Since its inception in 1898, the Vienna Secession has been a center for artists-run exhibitions of contemporary art. However, the Secession’s mission also encompasses prominent established positions in contemporary art. In addition to the exhibitions themselves, there are symposia, lectures, and other publications that document, and publicize the exhibitions and events.

There are about fifteen exhibitions hosted yearly in all areas of contemporary art.

Conclusion

If you are an art lover, don’t miss Secession when visiting Vienna. Regardless of your artistic taste, you will find something new or you can always enjoy Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, which is a masterpiece on its own. With frequently changing exhibitions, you will certainly come back to Secession more than once. Safe travels and see you soon in Vienna!

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