MUMOK: Vienna, Austria

MUMOK is within Vienna’s Museum Quartier and despite being a new building, is sympathetic to the palatial old architecture that surrounds it. Dedicated to modern art, it is large and airy with high ceilings and an enjoyably industrial feel to it – as concrete, glass, heavy aluminium doors, and interior mechanisms such as the lift shaft exposed to great effect. It spans 7 floors; three below ground and three additional levels allowing enough space for large free standing installations, no overcrowded wall hanging, and room for visitors to move freely. The ground floor exhibition ‘Always, Always, Others’ presents a diverse selection of works of classical modernism, and my personal favourites were Karl Wisum’s ‘Wooden Puppet in various materials’ and Freidl Dicker’s black and white photo collages. ‘Prosperous Poison’ took up the majority of the lower ground floors and was dedicated to post 1945 artworks arranged according to five key themes; ‘Alfombia’ a mixed media on photo-paper by Nora Aslan struck me as initially it looks like a Arabian carpet but on closer inspection is created from thousands of small photographic images. Likewise Katya Sander’s ‘Double Camera’ film provided an unusual immersive experience for visitors who could simultaneously witness both sides of an interview. The upper ground floors displayed ‘To expose, to show, to demonstrate, to inform, to offer’ which questioned art and its social function from 1990 onwards. Bravely many of the pieces commented and indeed challenged museum curation; ‘Mining the Museum’ looked at Fred Wilson’s rearrangement of the Maryland Historical Society collection in Baltimore to bring to light forgotten aspects of Afro-American history including visitor responses to it, and Klaus Scherubeul’s project ‘Melvin’ imitated the mechanisms of professional reception and cannonisation of art by setting up a mock exhibition including invitations to an opening, a catalogue and curator talks – particularly pertinent given that it was on display within such an institution.

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Leopold Museum: Vienna, Austria

Leopold Museum is in Vienna’s Museum Quartier and showcases one of the world’s largest collections of Austrian modern art across seven floors. I started on the top floor which exhibits ‘Vienna 1900’ focussing on the city’s art nouveau movement including works by Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann as well as examples of Wiener Werkstätte design from furniture, to silver, glass and jewellery. Klimpt and Matsch’s three allegorical commissions for the Great Hall of Vienna University caught my eye as progressive artworks, and interestingly sparked public furore at the time leading to Klimpt withdrawing his contract, returning his fee and repossessing the paintings! The next floor down displays ‘Self Abandonment and Self Assertion’ comprising over 40 paintings and 190 works on paper by Egon Schiele (making it the largest collection in the world). Schiele created portraits, nudes and cityscapes in a highly original and at times quite haunting style, I was also struck by the sheer volume of works completed considering he died aged just 28 of Spanish flu. The museum also contained ‘A Rush of Colour: Masterpieces of German Expressionism’ and whilst I failed to appreciate many of the paintings due to their stylistically distorted shapes, over-emphasised contours and reductionism which leaves only essential features of an image, I did however enjoy many of the woodcuts and lithographs by Enrich Heckel, Karl Schmidt, Christian Rohlfs, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Max Beckmann. Having already seen three large exhibitions I was tempted to skip the Peter Sengl retrospective, but am so pleased to have persevered as it was arguably my favourite. The exhibition opens with a room full of paraphrased masterpieces from The Leopold with Sengl inserted into artworks recently viewed on adjacent floors. The entire show is full of colour and energy, synonymous with the Austrian artists’ idiosyncratic and provocative creations.

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Albertina: Vienna, Austria

Albertina is housed in a former Habsberg palace in district 1 (the centre) of Vienna. The museum comprises a permanent collection and several temporary exhibitions, as well as the imperial state rooms decorated in Empire Style following Archduke Carl’s redevelopment of the original Louis XVI décor in 1822. In addition to grand interiors and furnishings, these state rooms also display the Archduke’s personal art collection including pieces by Da’ Vinci, Rubens and Rembrandt. The lower ground floor displays ‘Worlds of Romanticism’ which offers a wonderful insight into Austrian art from its founding as a nation in 1804 until the end of the 19th century; highlights for me included Carl Belchen’s ‘The Wild Hunter’ and ‘Withered Tree Trunks’ and Peter Cornelius’ ‘Faust Illustrations’. The top floor contains the permanent Batliner Collection which showcases works chronologically from Monet to Picasso including Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Klimpt, Matisse, Rodin, Gaugin, Kirchner, Giacometti, Kandinsky, Chagall, Margritte and Miro amongst others. The pinnacle of the museum for me however was a temporary exhibition on the second floor dedicated to Edvard Much entitled ‘Life, Death and Loneliness’ displaying a vast number of the Norwegian printmakers woodcuts, lithographs and dry-point works. All of his pieces have a haunting intensity and centre around psychological themes, evident in their titles ‘Jealousy’, ‘Separation’, ‘Anxiety’, ‘Melancholy’ and ‘The Lonely Ones’ and echoed in the artists’ personal battles with long term alcoholism, a nervous breakdown and even inflicting a gunshot wound to his own left hand following an argument with his lover! I was delighted to see ‘The Scream’ (arguably Munch’s most infamous work) in person, and was moved by the lesser known ‘Madonna’ which combines imagery associated with both femme fatale and femme fragile alongside religious iconography to produce a truly stirring piece. Albertina is without doubt a stunning building both inside and out!

Munch self portrait
Munch self portrait
The Scream
The Scream
Madonna
Madonna

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