Colorful tiles on the roof of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna

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Vienna Media News 09/2021 Modern Art and Architectural Gems

A Pavilion on Tour

The Belvedere 21, one of the city’s leading contemporary art centers, was originally built outside Vienna – in Brussels, to be precise. Created by star architect Karl Schwanzer in 1958, its first lease on life was as the Grand-Prix-d’Architecture-winning Austrian pavilion at the World Expo. It was dismantled in the 1960s, transported to Austria and put together again in the Schweizergarten in the third district. The clear lines, glazed hallways and use of new construction materials came together in a paradigm of modern architecture. The newly created Museum of the 20th Century, known locally as the 20er Haus, paved the way for the rise of contemporary art in Vienna. After transfer of stewardship to the Belvedere in 2002, as well as extensive renovations, the museum reopened in 2011 as the 21er Haus before switching to its current iteration, Belvedere 2021, in 2018.

The building is an icon of post-war modern architecture. Its light-filled, open rooms are primarily given over to the giants of 20th and 21st century art – including Fritz Wotruba, Erwin Wurm, Christian Ludwig Attersee and Lois Weinberger – as well as a constantly changing line-up of temporary international exhibitions. The sculpture garden in the grounds is also worth a look. Regular concerts, readings, lectures and film presentations ensure that the Belvedere 21 is a thriving urban art space.

Another New Lease on Life

Now more than 150 years old, the Künstlerhaus on Karlsplatz has an eventful history behind it. This seminal piece of Viennese historicist architecture was built at the same time as the Ringstrasse, with the honor of setting the keystone falling to none other than Emperor Franz Joseph. Ever since its grand opening in 1868, the Künstlerhaus has remained among the city’s most important exhibition venues for painting, sculpture, architecture and applied art. In May 2020, one of the city’s largest contemporary art museums, the Albertina modern, joined the building’s other permanent residents, which include the Künstlerhaus Vereinigung society, the Stadtkino im Künstlerhaus cinema and the Ludwig und Adele restaurant.

This offshoot of the Albertina shows a rich and varied collection of contemporary post-war Austrian art on more than 2,000 square meters of exhibition space spread across the ground floor and basement levels. International pieces by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein – just some of the highlights from more than 60,000 works by 5,000 artists – complete the picture. Converting the space into a museum called for extensive renovations. Running from 2017 to 2020, the project saw the interior and exterior fully restored and elevated to the state of the art. Original wall paintings and decorations were brought back to their best, as was the period terrazzo flooring. Today the Künstlerhaus is sparkling again, oozing the same opulence it had at the dawn of the Ringstrasse era.

Tip: The twin fall exhibitions at the Albertina modern – Schiele and his Legacy (from September 10) and The 80s. Anything goes (from October 10) – promise no end of art!

Grey Eminence at the MQ

Anyone on the trail of contemporary art in Vienna will find themselves at the MuseumsQuartier (MQ) sooner or later. Comprising more than 90,000 square meters and 60 different institutions and facilities, it is one of the largest cultural complexes in the world. The MQ opened precisely 20 years ago. Here, the contemporary architecture of the new museum buildings stands in stark contrast to the surrounding baroque former imperial stable complex, which dates back to 1725. The mumok – museum of modern art ludwig foundation vienna houses the largest modern and contemporary art museum in Central Europe. Once split between the 20er Haus and the Gartenpalais Liechtenstein, the combined collection is now one of the MuseumsQuartier’s core attractions.

And the building is a real head-turner – even from afar – thanks to its distinctive exterior. Clad in anthracite-gray volcanic stone, the cuboid, sloping-roofed, Ortner & Ortner-designed museum building comprises some 4,800 square meters of exhibition space spread across multiple levels. Like the panoramic window on the uppermost floor, it is the openings in the ceiling allowing light to flood into the space that give the museum its distinctive feel. Inside, it showcases a fascinating cross-section of 20th and 21st century art. The collection itself has almost 10,000 exhibits, with a focus on pop art and photorealism, Fluxus, Nouveau Réalisme and Viennese Actionism. This year will bring three anniversaries all at once: the 40th anniversary of the Ludwig Foundation, 20 years at the MuseumsQuartier and a decade under Director Karola Kraus. The “Enjoy – the Changing mumok Collection” anniversary show will run until April 2022.

Sustainability Surprise

In Vienna, art and architecture are inexorably associated with the name Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000). Opened precisely 30 years ago, his Kunst Haus Wien is an important contemporary art hotspot with a particular focus on the medium of photography. The additional permanent Hundertwasser retrospective is spread across two floors.

Unusual through and through, the brightly colored and highly irregular museum building is full of surprises. Bringing the great artist’s vision to life involved converting the former Thonet bentwood factory (est. 1892) and giving it the unmistakable Hundertwasser aesthetic. Eschewing straight lines and conventional geometric shapes, he instead made use of free-flowing glass, metal, brick, wood and ceramic tile elements in a host of colors. The planters and trees are also an integral part of the building, with the natural world playing a key role at the Kunst Haus Wien: Hundertwasser’s views on ecology and sustainability – he was one of Europe’s first green pioneers – regularly provide food for thought in temporary exhibitions. In 2018, the Kunst Haus Wien became the first museum in the city to be certified according to the Österreichisches Umweltzeichen ecolabel. 

Since then, four more of the city’s museums have followed suit: the Museum of Natural History, the MAK – Museum of Applied Arts, the Technical Museum and the Austrian National Library. Among the underlying certification criteria are careful use of resources and a focus on social responsibilities.


Vienna Tourist Board
Helena Hartlauer
Media Relations
Tel. (+ 43 1) 211 14-364