It stands like a golden beacon embraced in white: the newly-refurbished Secession building continues a long tradition of contemporary art and also houses one of Klimt’s masterpieces.
- Features regular temporary exhibitions
- The place to see Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze (Beethovenfries)
- Close to the excellent Naschmarkt open-air market
- See also: Klimt locations in Vienna | Contemporary art locations
Secession: institution & building
The late 1800s and early 1900s 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, though it did give rise to the period of outstanding creativity known as the Wiener Moderne.
Anyway, it was Klimt and friends who broke off from the traditional Künstlerhaus group of Viennese artists to form their own organisation with a stronger focus on, well, contemporary art.
I’m probably not using the right words, but think of Klimt and his colleagues as a group of adventurous progressives heading off on their own.
This new association became 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.
(People often use the word “Secession” in reference to both the organisation and the building it called home.)
Though not one of the “traditional” tourist destinations, the Secession Building enjoys iconic status among locals and visitors alike.
First, there is the Secessionsgebäude itself, which was fully renovated in 2018. Built by Joseph Maria Olbrich, it features a white, Jugendstil design topped by a cupola constructed from 2,500 gilded iron laurel leaves.
Locals affectionately call this 8.5m-wide dome the “golden cabbage”, though not everyone greeted it with approval back in 1898: one writer claimed the dome led you to think you were facing a buddhist temple, mausoleum or crematorium.
Then there are the artistic connections. Klimt’s worked appeared here, for example. As did Schiele‘s. And many other pieces of art by famous names of the time.
Although Klimt soon parted company with the Secession, the organisation continued until its forced closure under the Nazis. It 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 the home of Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze. Before you reach the Frieze, an antechamber gives you a brief history of the Secession building (in English), including blueprints, a model and design sketches.
Tickets & visitor tips
At the time of writing, a single adult ticket (covering both the exhibitions and the Beethoven Frieze) cost €9.50 with an English audioguide available for €3.
- You can visit the store without a ticket. On my trip, it stocked 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. This is Vienna’s biggest and best open-air market, full of little bars, restaurants, and a whole host of food stalls.
- And if you enjoy turn-of-the-century architecture, then Otto Wagner’s Majolikahaus and his Pavilion at Karlsplatz are both close by
How to get to the Secession
The Secession building is right next to Karlsplatz, a major subway station, so is 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 leave the complex to the west. Look for the exit marked “Ausgang Secession”.
Address: Friedrichstraße 12, 1010 Vienna | Website