Lonely Planet review for Secession
In 1897, 19 progressive artists broke away from the Künstlerhaus and the conservative artistic establishment it represented and formed the Vienna Secession (Sezession). Their aim was to present current trends in contemporary art and shake off historicism. Among their number were Klimt, Josef Hoffman, Kolo Moser and Joseph M Olbrich (a former student of Wagner). Olbrich was given the honour of designing the new exhibition centre of the Secessionists. It was erected just a year later and combined sparse functionality with stylistic motifs.
The building is certainly a move away from the Ringstrasse architectural throwbacks. Its most striking feature is a delicate golden dome rising from a turret on the roof that deserves better than the description ‘golden cabbage’ accorded it by some Viennese. Other features are the Medusalike faces above the door with dangling serpents instead of earlobes, minimalist stone owls gazing down from the walls and vast ceramic pots supported by tortoises at the front.
The 14th exhibition (1902) held in the building featured the famous Beethoven Frieze, by Klimt. This 34m-long work was intended as a temporary display, little more than an elaborate poster for the main exhibit, Max Klinger’s Beethoven monument. It was bought at the end of the exhibition by a private collector and transported – plaster, reeds, laths and all – in eight sections to the buyer’s home. In 1973 the government purchased the frieze and since 1983 it has been on display in the basement. Multilingual brochures in the room explain the various graphic elements, which are based on Richard Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s ninth symphony. The small room you enter before viewing the frieze tells the story of the building. It served as a hospital during WWI and was torched by the retreating Germans during WWII (the gold dome survived the fire). The ground floor is still used as it was originally intended: presenting temporary exhibitions of contemporary art.