I had wanted to wait for the opening of Albertina Modern and introduce two fantastic modern art institutions in one go. Because under one beautiful roof – at the historic and just reopened Künstlerhaus Wien – we now have now have two galleries. The original owner, the Künstlerhaus Vereinigung (Vienna Association of Fine Artists), is now for the first time sharing the space with that venerable art institution, the Albertina Museum, which will be showing its modern art collection on the ground floor of the Künstlerhaus.
Alas, the Corona virus Covid-19 crossed my plans, and not just mine, as under current quarantine measures all our museums are closed until this health crisis subsides, and the Albertina had to postpone its long anticipated opening of its new art space. Before the closures, however, I managed to visit the newly restored and re-opened space of the Künstlerhaus Vereinigung, so now I can show you my impressions from their new exhibition.
All was (never) clear
ALLES WAR KLAR (all was clear) – that is the motto of this first #reOpening exhibition. As the exhibition curator, Tim Voss, said during a press preview on 5 March, this is a “nostalgic title of an impossibility” – nothing was ever clear, and nothing ever will be. In ALLES WAR KLAR, several artists deal with the changing history of the house. Many of the works were realized directly in the exhibition.
Turn left, and you´ll walk into a yellow room with black caramel relentlessly, slowly, dripping onto a plush yellow carpet.
A note on women at the Künstlerhaus
The current exhibition features both female and male artists prominently. This was not always so. (I wrote about the sorry history of the treatment of women artists before, as the Belvedere had a wonderful exhibition on this topic last year.) For decades, the Künstlerhaus Association did not have any female members. Although women were sometimes “allowed” to exhibit a work of art in the Association´s annual exhibitions, the Künstlerhaus tended to show only works by those women who painted in “traditional feminine” styles. (If you explore women´s art across centuries you will see that there is no such thing.) In response, female artists began networking among themselves, and in 1910 formed the Association of fine female artists, which was allowed to rent rooms at the Künstlerhaus for exhibitions. Nevertheless, even the exhibition catalogue for the 100-year celebration does not mention a single female artist. It took until 1961 for three women to be accepted as members into the Association, and a new millennium to elect the first female president, the artist Tanja Prušnik, who has been at the helm of the Association since June 2019. She also conceived the idea for the next exhibition at the Künstlerhaus When Gesture Becomes Event. The show will deal with expressions of feminist solidarity in contemporary art. Something to look forward to.
Juxtaposed to a sculpture – made on location using enamelled steel, wax, and urban clay from a nearby subway excavation pit – by Cäcilia Brown, is Anna Artaker´s recreation of an exhibition entitled “Flower and Sculpture” (Blume und Plastik), which was originally shown at the Künstlerhaus in 1931. She collaborated with DANIO, an association for freshwater and saltwater fishkeeping and terraristics, which already provided the plants for the original exhibition. At the time, the entire Künstlerhaus had been transformed into a garden and sculpture show, complete with butterflies. Anna Artaker purchased some butterflies from 1931 (!) to augment her installation. I attended the press preview and was able to capture the artist (second picture, the artist at left) showing her little box of butterflies to someone.
Showcasing Künstlerhaus members
The Künstlerhaus Association now has 439 members, representing painting and graphics, sculpture, architecture, cross-over, film, audio, and photography. For this exhibition the curator selected works of 20 artists. Christoph Freidhöfer collaborated with Noële Ody to create a “picture cable car” with works by Sandra Brandeis Crawford, Waltraut Cooper, Johannes Deutsch, Michael Endlicher, Lore Heuermann, Uta Heinecke, Barbara Höller, Richard Kaplenig, Michael Kos, Larissa Leverenz, Leslie De Melo, Herbert Meusburger, Michael Pilz, Margot Pilz, Maria Temnitschka, Martina Tritthart, Linda Zahra, and Laurent Ziegler.
The historic Künstlerhaus building
Since March 2020, after 3.5 years of restoration and upgrading works, this grand classicist building opens its doors to visitors again, with two institution´s collections of contemporary art.
The Künstlerhaus was the first exhibition and association house in the entire German-speaking region built by artists and financed exclusively by private donors. The building originally stood like a villa (built in Italianate Renaissance historicism) in the middle of a park on the banks of the Vienna River before the river “went underground”. It was opened in 1868 with the “III. General German Art Exhibition “, for which artworks were brought from all over Germany, as the artist association at the time wanted to unite all German-language artists into one large network. The building turned out to be too small to accommodate the art of all members, so it was continuously expanded over subsequent decades. Apart from its history of exhibitions and as an artist social venue (carnival parties, various social clubs, etc.) over a period of more than 100 years, with periodic expansions and redesigns, the building was also repurposed to accommodate various needs.
Over the decades, the Künstlerhaus has been put to many uses. Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, the executive committee of the Künstlerhaus decided to make it available to the Red Cross for use as a convalescent home. The artists wanted to take part in the numerous aid campaigns that were initiated every day to “demonstrate patriotic sentiments”. Concerts, lectures and similar events were held almost weekly to entertain the wounded. In autumn 1915 the first exhibition of the war press quarter was opened in the Künstlerhaus. The building was even misused for grain storage in its “French” and “German” halls during the unhappy days of the national socialist regime.
A movie theatre was introduced to the West wing in 1949. A theatre, opened in 1974, closed again in 1985.
The cinema “Stadtkino” (on this location since 2013) will now, after the re-opening, partly be showing art and short films for free. The free admission will enable as many people as possible to discovery unusual worlds of images – great move, Künstlerhaus Vereinigung!
Time for coffee and cake
I always like to visit museum cafés. If, after absorbing all that art, you need a break, there is now a lovely little café, Ludwig und Adele, in the lobby of The Künstlerhaus (where I enjoyed a traditional Apfelstrudel and Melange last weekend). You can admire the modern art on the walls and the views of the Wiener Musikverein and Karlsplatz. (Psst: You can actually visit the café without buying a ticket to see the exhibitions…)
Well, as it turns out, thanks to the Corona virus spread, things are less than clear indeed, and we can only hope that we will pronto get the “all clear” again. Part 2 of this blog will follow once Albertina modern actually opens. Soon, I hope!