The late 1800s must have been quite a time in Vienna.
You had the tradition of a centuries-old monarchy and long-serving Habsburg emperor (Franz Joseph I) alongside a vibrant contemporary art scene “led” by the likes of Gustav Klimt.
It’s not a recipe for harmony.
Anyway, it was Klimt and friends who broke off from the traditional “Künstlerhaus” group of Viennese artists to form their own association with a stronger focus on, well, contemporary art.
I’m probably not using the right words, but think of it all as a group of adventurous progressives heading off on their own.
This new association was informally known as the Secession (the full title was, as so often in Austria, much longer: “Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession”). And in 1898, they got their own gallery for exhibitions: the Secessionsgebäude or Secession Building.
So the word “Secession” is often used in reference to both the organisation and the building it calls home.
- The place to see Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze (Beethovenfries)
- Also features temporary exhibitions of contemporary art
- Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm; adult tickets cost €9.50 (at the time of writing)
What’s to see?
Though it’s not one of the top “traditional” tourist destinations, the Secession Building enjoys iconic status among locals and visitors alike.
First, there is the building itself, which was fully renovated in 2018. Built by Joseph Maria Olbrich, it features a white, art nouveau design topped by a cupola constructed from 2500 gilded iron laurel leaves. This 8.5m-wide dome is affectionately known locally as the “golden cabbage”.
Then there are the artistic connections. Klimt exhibited here, for example. So did Schiele.
Although Klimt soon parted company with the Secession, the organisation continued until its forced closure under the Nazis. It was re-formed under a slightly different full name in 1945 and is still going strong today, hosting contemporary art exhibitions in the galleries within the Secession building.
Quite what you see inside depends, as always, on the current artists or themes on show. When I went, the next two exhibitions were set to feature Moroccan-French visual artist, Bouchra Khalili, and US visual artist, Elaine Reichek.
Once inside, go down some stairs (or take the lift) to find Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze. Before you reach the Frieze, there’s an antechamber featuring a brief history of the Secession building (in English), including blueprints, a model and design sketches.
A single ticket covers both the exhibitions and the Beethoven Frieze, costing €9.50 (with concessions available) at the time of writing. Opening hours were Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm. You can get an English audioguide and there’s an English tour Saturdays at 11am. Do check the website for up-to-date details of prices, times, exhibitions etc..
- Adjacent to the entrance hall is a small room with lockers (you need a €2 coin to operate them) and a rail for coats
- There’s also a store, which you may visit without a ticket. It stocks a wide collection of art books & catalogues, high-end gifts, and more traditional souvenirs like posters and fridge magnets. Look out for Secession honey – made by the bees that live under the golden dome.
- If you’re at the Secession, be sure to take a walk before or afterwards along the Naschmarkt, which begins diagonally opposite the front door. It’s Vienna’s biggest and best open market, full of little bars, restaurants and a whole host of food stalls. You’re also not far from Otto Wagner’s beautiful Pavilion at Karlsplatz.
How to get to the Secession
The Secession building is right next to Karlsplatz, a major subway station, so is very well connected to the public transport system. The U1, U2, and U4 subway lines all stop there. It’s quite a big subway station, so you want to exit to the west. Look for “Ausgang Secession”.
Address: Friedrichstraße 12, 1010 Vienna (website)