Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Austrian holiday - city visit 2 - Vienna

Vienna is absolutely great - it is a beautiful big, and big in all manner of ways, with large scale architecture and town planning, wonderful architectural detail and great museums. Again, where to start? I will just discuss a couple of things, how you can find art nouveau detailing in the street, baroque churches and just drink in some amazing art in the large art galleries there.

We visited the Leopold Museum where the Tracey Emin exhibition was just finishing (in a recent programme of What do Artists do all Day, she had been shown preparing for this show), and where they keep beautiful judgend stil furniture by the Wiener Werkstätte and paintings by a number of Viennese turn-of-the-century artists, Gustaf Klimt, Otto Kokoschka and great Egon Schiele works. I was really taken by the Schiele works in particular, his work with shapes across bodies and backgrounds, the body in paint, and his later work where he was modelling the body more, they seemed less thin and distorted and more fleshy and real. I thought this work very impactful, even his landscapes and houses, described in flat shapes were fresh and demanding.

This was a very fine museum in the city's museum quarter, but from there you just crossed the Ringstrasse and entered the other museum area where the Kunsthistorisches Museum stood, which we also visited. This is a great museum, not just in size, but also in its collection. They had a temporary exhibition on while we were there, on tapestry (entitled in translation, The Strands of Power), which had tremendous tapestries on show, including a royal throne balcony. This show also showed medieval prints of tapestries in situ: at a French emperor's coronation, hanging two tapestry-deep on all spare walls of the church, there was a picture of a renaissance banquet where people's faces and the large wall hangings were illuminated by candlelight.

A gold automaton in the Kunstkammer of the Kunsthistorishes Museum - also in the background an amazing automaton in the shape of a ship that could roll down the table with small mechanical people playing drums, waving their arms, and as a finale a canon would explode to complete the effect. I loved this display and wished we had more time to look at more in detail. this gallery had benches along the periphery of the room where you could sit down and study films of the automata in action, showing the wind-up mechanism and clock-work wheels and gears of the machinery.

The Vienna Sezession building, a gem of a place, so complete and a statement of the new feeling for art that the Viennese artists of the turn of the century was working to create:

And so, when you walk through the city you can find all manner of art nouveau detailing:

These balonies sit on Majorlica Haus a residential building designed by Otto Wagner, 1898-99, it is a large building and the neighbouring block is equally grand with its gilt surface designs. Unfortunately the buildings sit on a busy road with a lot of traffic and so any picture taken of them is crowded at the bottom by cars ziping past.

You can walk into churches you pass by and find the most serene or voluminous interiors without it breaking the bank:

We also visited the Upper Belvedere palace which houses collections of Austrian art, again key works by Kokscka, Schiele and Klimt as well as other, earlier art works. Here was my favorite Klimt painting, a portrait of Sonja Knipps (1898), before he started painting the longer, thinner more distorted bodies of The Kiss and the paintings of the Beethoven Frieze from after 1900. 

In the Lower Belvedere they had an exhibition on called Klimt and the Ringstrasse, a title that was in fact a bit of a mis-nomer, as it was about many different artists and architects and their patrons at work at the time of the design of the Ringstrasse and those grand buildings I mentioned earlier. However Klimt had painted some small works in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which I tried to capture; so, spot the Klimt(!):


And lastly, part of the central European tradition of puppetry is being performed (perhaps slightly touristically) at the Schonbrunn Palace. We did not visit the Palace, but went there to see The Magic Flute in a performance of puppetry, that was quite sweet, but very well crafted. The theatre had a small display of puppets in glass cabinets so here is an impression of soe of them:

I love puppets, since childhood I have enjoyed puppets and stop-motion animation, and in the 1970s in Denmark where I grew up, there was this Saturday TV programme for children with a small puppet on a string that would play piano and talk with a human presenter. And so I seek out puppet theatres and performances when I can, and naturally if there is one in Prague (which was definitely for tourists) or Vienna (which was less so and had local people in the audience) or even somewhere near where I live in the UK, I will seek it out. I am not sure why I love puppets, maybe it is the way this dead matter, wood or a synthetic material, is dressed up and animated, breathing life into an inert thing can evoke dream-like states, like a suspended reality, or parallel life.


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