Birth of the White Cube
“To every time its Art. To Art its Freedom.” These are the words that adorn the Secession Building in Vienna Austria. Built in 1898 by Architect Joseph Olbrich, this gallery was to become one of the very first ‘White Cubes’. What we now see as commonplace was a radical idea at the time. Strip the room bare of all other distractions and let the Art take center stage. The building was to act as the main exhibition space for the newly formed Secessionist group led by Gustav Klimt. The Secessionists were rejecting the art establishment of the time and wanted to forge new paths that bridged many of the different arts together to create an artistic synergy. Influenced by the Jungendstil and Art Nouveau movements along with Japanese art that was proliferating Europe at the end of the 19th century, the Secession movement wanted to combine fine and decorative arts and work with architects and practitioners of other disciplines.
A perfect example of this was in 1902 the Secessionists held an exhibition to celebrate the life and work of Beethoven. The show was centered around a sculpture of the composer by Max Klinger and was to act as a unification of the Arts showcasing sculpture, painting, architecture and music. The exhibition was to be ‘a total piece of Art’ or also known as Gesamtkunstwerk.
The totality of it’s intention is no longer intact but the highlight of the exhibition: Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze remains. Moved from it’s original place to the basement it’s a miracle it’s still around. The painting was originally meant to be temporary, only supposedly lasting as long as the original exhibition, along with the building being stripped bare during WWII make it’s presence so special.
I got to tic another box off my art to-do list this summer. It was my second time in Vienna and it was just as wonderful as I remembered. The Belvedere Museum may have the Kiss (another must see) but The Secession Building and its splendid basement also deserves your attention and affection.