March 26: to art, its freedom

2012/03/26 § 2 Comments

On this day in 1898 the first exhibition of the Vienna Secession opened to the public.

The Viennese Secession was the Austrian capital’s answer to the international movement of Art Nouveau which took on very specific local characteristics wherever it was pursued: from the serpentine coup de Fouet style in Brussels and Paris to the curvaceous Stile Liberty of Florence with its magnificent ornamental beasts, Catalan Modernisme of Barcelona that features marvelous interpretations of multi-cultural historical tradition, and whatever it was that you call that thing that was happening in Budapest.  In Vienna was called Sezessionstil or Neue Kunst or Kunst mit Schlag (although Ärt Nöuveaü will do in a pinch): buildings that incorporated general proven principles of history, channeled through considerations of structural efficiencies made possible with new materials, and ornamental treatment that likewise featured contemporary imaginings of recognizable cultural symbols.  In short, the Viennese Secession managed to preserve qualities of architecture that made it delightful and enjoyable to the people of the world, while at the same time addressing critical calls for “modernization” within the field.  Unlike the next generation of Modernists, these aesthetic reformers did not throw the baby out with the bathwater: they gave her a new dress and taught her a free verse version of Hickory Dickory Dock.

The key monument of the Sezessionstil is its own Gallery (Vienna, 1989), designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908) as whitewashed pylons adorned with clever, beautiful ornament that enunciate’s the presence of the past (even a distant one) within a contemporary point of view: see Athena’s owls and Olympic wreathes (by Koloman Moser).  The whole of it is crowned by a hollow sphere of metallic laurel leaves (again, for the ancient/timeless victors) (but giving rise to the unfortunate but understandable nickname, “the Great Cabbage”), and inscribed with the Secessionist mantra:

Der Zeit ihre Kunst, der Kunst ihre Freiheit

Meaning, “To the age, its art; to art, its freedom”–not a bad toast to voice when you lift your next Einspänner.

image: the poster announcing the exhibition, also designed by Olbrich (from this source)

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