Tuesday, 1 December 2015

viennese sandbox: secessionist

Whilst in Vienna, H and I of course paid our respects at what’s described as a temple to Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) design. The Secession Building is not a museum on the interior, as we discovered after being confronted with a gallery of quite nice but incongruous exhibition of grainy photographs of rippling water and stars—though I suppose appropriate for celebrating the centennial of Einstein’s big and world-changing ideas, but rather as a hall for embracing the avant-garde as the founding artists had done.
The space was mostly empty and we had to wonder if this mop-head wasn’t in fact art or a decoy for one to make one’s own.
Descending to the basement, we discovered the Beethoven Frieze (EN/DE), created by Gustav Klimt, which was really a transfixing sight to behold with all its receding references: an interpretation of the composer’s Ninth Symphony (also known as Ode to Joy with lyrics by Friedrich Schiller), scored by Richard Wagner and performed by Max Klinger, in statuary-form.
The fresco itself also was executed only as a temporary decoration for a 1903 showing of contemporary artists, but was preserved by a collector with foresight and carefully prised off the wall upstairs before being installed in its permanent home. The Muse of Poetry looks like she’s consulting a tablet computer and does not want to be bothered (photography was not allowed and monitored, which made the experience all the more holy—down a rabbit hole of allegory) and stands in between an angelic choir and the monstrous giant Typhœus, the gorilla creature, attended by his Gorgon daughters—all elements in the struggle of the tone poem that became a national hymn.
The frieze ends with a knight in shining armour having doffed his protection and embracing his damsel in distress, illustrating the final stanza of “this kiss to the whole world,” diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt. Outside we spied one of the ubiquitous pedestrian crossing signs that Vienna installed to celebrate its inclusive victory in the Eurovision song contest—depicting the freedom to love whomever.