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 for locations and fairs. Or check listings for major current and future contemporary art exhibitions.
Museums and venues
(The front entrance)
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.
Albertina Modern & Künstlerhaus
(The Künstlerhaus building)
Imagine the Albertina Museum had a child. A rather adventurous 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, as well as space for wider exhibitions featuring renowned domestic and international artists (such as the likes of Ai Weiwei or Nobuyoshi Araki).
The museum occupies part of the Künstlerhaus building, which is also home to the same-named artist organisation that puts on its own contemporary art exhibitions, too.
Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien
(The Kunstforum Wien sits on the venerable Freyung square)
Another major contemporary art venue right in the heart of Vienna, surrounded by historical townhouses and churches.
The Kunstforum normally has two major exhibitions each year, along with smaller supporting exhibitions that change more quickly. Think names like Rebecca Horn, David Hockney, Daniel Spoerri, Gerhard Richter, and Cindy Sherman.
(The main entrance)
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.
The Kunsthaus Wien
(Typical Hundertwasser flair)
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.
Wien Museum MUSA
(The MUSA lies opposite the Rathaus city hall)
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 historical 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 exclusively contemporary site among the Belvedere venues)
Think of Belvedere 21 as the contemporary arm of the Belvedere group, with regular exhibitions of works that appeared long after Klimt put in his last order for gold paint.
Do check the upper and lower palaces at the main complex, too, since their rather wonderful permanent and temporary exhibitions vary from medieval masterpieces to today’s creative output.
For example, 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.
Heidi Horten Collection
(The building in the background is the Albertina art museum)
A relatively new location showcasing highlights from the prestigious modern and contemporary art collection put together by the billionaire Heidi Goëss-Horten.
(Note the famous golden dome)
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.
Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
(Reopened in 2021 after refurbishment)
The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna has a renowned collection of older paintings (Bosch, Titian, etc.) that it typically presents in dialogue with contemporary works.
The Theseus temple
(The installation inside is usually free-to-view)
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.
Public spaces offering examples of today’s creativity include…
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.
Their website lets you search for projects by district, for example.
(A common sight along this Danube channel)
Contemporary art events
And just a few annual events to whet the appetite for all things contemporary…
(No prizes for guessing the event name)
- Viennacontemporary: an international art fair that usually draws in galleries from around the world
- The Spark art fair: a newer event with a strong contemporary focus featuring numerous solo presentations and more
- 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 assembles galleries together, though with a stronger focus on contemporary pieces than its colleague above
- Art at the Park: another prestigious collection of galleries assembled in the prestigious surrounds of the Park Hyatt Vienna
- Calle Libre: a festival of street art which has produced some rather wonderful urban art across the city
- Parallel Vienna: annual festival that brings together the contemporary art world (initiatives, artists, galleries, and more) in a changing selection of vacant buildings
- Art Austria: high-quality national and international art from domestic galleries, featuring names you’d recognise instantly