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Movements, Styles, and Tendencies The Vienna Secession

The Vienna Secession

The Vienna Secession Collage

Started: 1897

"Enough of censorship. I am having recourse to self-help. I want to get out."

Gustav Klimt Signature

Summary

The formation of the Vienna Secession in 1897 marked, quite accurately, the formal beginning of modern art in Austria - a nation at the time noted for its attachment to a highly conservative tradition. It was the coalescence of the first movement of artists and designers who were committed to a forward-thinking, internationalist view of the art world, all-encompassing in its embrace and integration of genres and fields, and - highly idealistically - freed from the dictates of entrenched values or prevailing commercial tastes. Led at the beginning by Gustav Klimt, the Secessionists gave contemporary art its first dedicated venue in the city. This, in concert with their official journal Ver Sacrum, not only introduced the Austrian capital to their work, but that of contemporary and historical art movements on a global scale.

The Secessionists' work provides in large part the visual representations of the new intellectual and cultural flowering of Vienna around 1900, in fields as diverse as medicine, music, and philosophy. Before long, however, internal divisions and difficulties arising from the commercial side of the Secessionists' work ultimately fractured the group's monopoly on the scene for contemporary and decorative arts. Nonetheless, even today the Secession remains a key forum in Austria for the promotion and discourse surrounding contemporary art.

Key Ideas

The Vienna Secession was created as a reaction to the conservatism of the artistic institutions in the Austrian capital at the end of the 19th century. It literally consisted of a set of artists who broke away from the association that ran the city's own venue for contemporary art to form their own, progressive group along with a venue to display their work.
The Vienna Secession's work is often referred to (during the years before World War I) as the Austrian version of Jugendstil, the German term for Art Nouveau, and it is the work of its members in association with that style that has contributed most to its fame, particularly outside of Austria. The Secession's most dramatic decline in fortunes occurred at virtually the same time that Jugendstil fell out of style elsewhere in Europe. When most people speak of the Vienna Secession, they are usually referring to the initial period of its history between 1897 and 1905.
The Secession was in large part responsible for the meteoric rise to international fame of several of its members, including Gustav Klimt, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Koloman Moser, and Josef Hoffmann, who helped to a large extent put Austrian art back on the map during the first two decades of the 20th century and beyond.
The Secession's building created the first dedicated, permanent exhibition space for contemporary art of all types in the West. It gave a physical form and geographic location to designers committed to narrowing the gap in prestige between the fine arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture and the decorative and graphic arts, along with encouraging the exchanges between these genres.
Since the Secession was founded to promote innovation in contemporary art and not to foster the development of any one style, the formal and discursive aspects of its members' work have changed over the years in keeping with current trends in the art world. It still exists and its famed building still functions as both an exhibition space for contemporary art and a location that displays the work of its famous founding members.
The Vienna Secession Image

Gustav Klimt framed his Nuda Veritas (1899), a nude young woman facing the viewer, with lines from Friedrich Schiller's poem "If you cannot please everyone with your actions and your art, you should satisfy a few. To please many is dangerous." He thus created a potent symbol of the Vienna Secession and expressed its artistic defiance.

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