For many folk, placing the word “contemporary” next to the word “Vienna” feels a little inappropriate. This is, after all, the city of Franz Joseph, Klimt, and Beethoven.
Vienna is, however, also a thriving modern metropolis; a central European economic powerhouse with (whisper it) the occasional skyscraper, where most people were not alive when Freud bought his first couch from the 19th-century equivalent of IKEA.
Which brings us to contemporary art in Vienna. As well as numerous commercial galleries you can find with a quick Google search, the city offers major exhibition venues and annual events to showcase the works of local and international artists. Here a few suggestions…
- See also: Museums in Vienna
Museums and venues
The MQ kind of sits at the cultural centre of contemporary art in Vienna.
The area itself (formerly the imperial stables) offers its own public art spaces. For example:
- The artistic makeovers of the archways connecting courtyards
- An ever-changing installation in the MQ Art Box transparent container
- International exhibitions (mostly free) in the frei_raum Q21 exhibition space
In addition, various museal institutions make their home in the MQ. The MUMOK and Kunsthalle in particular provide space for exhibitions that typically feature art from the 21st and late 20th centuries.
Public Art Vienna
Public Art Vienna promotes and organises numerous permanent and temporary art projects across public spaces in the city.
Wander around town and you’re bound to spot a few, perhaps above a tram stop, down the side of a building, or along the walls of a station escalator.
The website lets you search for projects by district, for example.
The Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art is a mixed bag of a museum that features everything from industrial design to Ottoman carpets.
I find it a rather magical place, particularly the high-quality temporary exhibitions that might feature anything from contemporary Chinese art to an examination of “beauty” or a retrospective of a lesser-known Austrian architect.
Imagine the Albertina Museum had a child. A rather artistic child, comfortable in all sorts of media, and eager to break away from the trappings of the past.
The Albertina Modern offers a showcase for the Albertina’s large collection of modern and contemporary art, with an inevitable focus on domestic artists, but with plenty of international greats thrown in for good measure.
The Kunsthaus Wien
The building itself deserves a look in its own right, since it offers the same curved and colourful delights as its more-famous cousin, the Hundertwasserhaus. Except you can actually go into the Kunst Haus Wien.
Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien
Another major contemporary art venue right in the heart of Vienna, surrounded by town palaces and historic churches.
The Kunstforum normally has two major exhibitions each year, along with smaller supporting exhibitions that change more quickly.
Wien Museum MUSA
The Wien Museum collection of locations includes Otto Wagner station buildings, Roman excavations, and the former homes of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, and Strauss. But the MUSA is the modern roof extension on their imperial palace.
As well as a major exhibition, typically around some contemporary art figure or movement, the MUSA also provides space for solo exhibitions of young local artists.
The Wien Museum also has an open-air street art exhibition that uses the construction fence around its main location on Karlsplatz. Urban Natures runs from June 10th to July 25th and again from August 5th to September 12th, 2021.
The Belvedere collection of institutions has some rather wonderful permanent and temporary exhibitions that vary from medieval masterpieces to today’s creative output.
Think of Belvedere 21 as the contemporary centre, with regular exhibitions of works that appeared long after Klimt put in his last order for gold paint.
Equally, do pop into the Upper Belvedere palace (home to Vienna’s greatest Klimt creations) and turn right after the main entrance. The first room houses the Carlone Contemporary series of exhibitions, where a piece of contemporary art interplays with the striking historical frescoes and architecture of the Carlone Hall.
Klimt and colleagues established the Secession group of artists back in the late 1800s and the group’s modern day successors still run the same-named building as a venue for contemporary art exhibitions.
The Theseus temple
Vienna likes its juxtapositions. The 1829 Theseus Temple makes a rather delightful landmark in the middle of the Volksgarten park. Once a year, it also provides a home for an exhibition of a single piece of contemporary art under the aegis of the prestigious Kunsthistorisches Museum.
For more casual contemporary art, walk down to the Donaukanal, a small arm of the Danube that passes alongside the very centre of Vienna. Street art lines long stretches of the riverbanks (see the photo above, for example).
And just a few annual events to whet the appetite for all things contemporary…
(viennacontemporary 2019; SVIT, Markus Proschek, © viennacontemporary, photo: kunst-dokumentation.com)
- Viennacontemporary: an international art fair that usually draws in galleries from around the world
- The ART&ANTIQUE fair: held in the Hofburg winter palace and covering a wide range of eras and genres that also includes contemporary art
- Art Vienna: another large event that brings together galleries in the Hofburg, though with a stronger focus on contemporary pieces than its colleague above
- Calle Libre: a festival of street art which has produced some rather wonderful urban art across the city