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Secessionist Space

Secessionist Space

The members of the Secession who were active under Klimt's presidency and subsequently followed him when he left in 1905 (the Klimt group), saw the Secession as itself a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art). Every element— Olbrich's Secession House, the finely curated exhibitions designed by interior designers, the posters, exhibition catalogues (published under the Ver Sacrum imprint), and the Ver Sacrum magazine (1898–1903) was conceived as part of a whole. Moreover, the Secession House served as a venue for related performances. Isadora Duncan danced there in 1902 and Gustav Mahler arranged and conducted a scaled-down version of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony during the Beethoven-Klinger exhibition.

The Secession House

The physical space of Secessionist exhibitions was just as important to the group's vision as the works themselves. While the Secessionists' first exhibition took place in Vienna's Horticultural Hall in March 1898, all of the subsequent exhibitions took place in the Secession House, a building designed specifically for the Secessionists by the architect and Secession member Josef Maria Olbrich. The House is located in Vienna's Friedrichstraße, but was originally meant for Vienna's bourgeois neighborhood: the Ringstraße. Olbrich's art nouveau designs, however, so angered the Municipal Council that he was forced to change locations before starting construction.

When construction finished, the House was a spectacle: a stark white, angular building with beautiful, gold natural imagery, topped with an ornate dome of gold foliage and berries. On the front, gold letters spell the group's maxim: Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit ("To every generation its art, to every art its freedom"). Classical mythological motifs, such as gorgons and owls, adorn the building (the owls were designed by Koloman Moser, a prominent member of the Secession).

Like most Secessionist projects, however, the building was ill-received. Its nontraditional use of art nouveau, cubism, and orientalism made the traditional Viennese population uncomfortable. Some called the dome the "cabbage head," while others called the building "Mahdi's Tomb" or the "Assyrian convenience."

The building's facade, a unification of different artistic styles and disciplines, was designed to provide viewers with a holistic experience of art. As a spokesperson for the Secession, Hermann Bahr, wrote: "We demand it to be truthful, we want it to help us recognize the interior by its exterior, in the most concise way possible. The facade fulfills its purpose if we immediately see what is behind it. It is bad if it lies or conceals. It is not enough, however, for the facade to just be truthful. We also want it to be decorative" (Waissenberger, The Viennese Secession, 95). Just as the Secessionists conceived of their exhibited paintings, furniture, and sculptures as component parts of a greater whole, so, too, did they want the exterior of their building to be both incomplete without and indicative of its interior and its contents. This idea of a Gesamtkunstwerk, or "total work of art," was at the heart of the Secession and manifested itself in their building, exhibitions, literature, and advertising.

Ver Sacrum

Secession members decided to publish a magazine, Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring), at their first meeting on June 21, 1897. The exhibitions, art- and design-works, exhibition catalogues, and magazine were seen as a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), with the magazine often supplying statistics and sales and recycling images and photographs of the exhibition. Alfred Roller, who designed the cover of the first issue—a stylized red tree against an ochre background—saw the page spaces of Ver Sacrum as analogous to the exhibition spaces. Secession artists supplied 471 drawings, 55 lithographic prints and 216 woodcuts.

A total of 120 magazines were published from January 1898 to December 1903. Each unusual square-format issue cost 2 kronen. The magazine was printed monthly for the first two years, during which time there was also a Founder's edition, which was not for sale. In 1899 a folio-sized supplement with limited edition prints was produced and sold.

In June 1899 the magazine was parodied in Quer Sacrum, subtitled "The Journal of the Union of Fine Artists and Crazyland."

Ver Sacrum (resources at the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg)

Ver Sacrum (resources at the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Ver Sacrum (resources at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere)

Interior Design and Secession Exhibitions

Immanuel Kant's suggestion that space can only be perceived in relation to objects may well have influenced the Klimt Group's articulation of space in the Secession House. From the second to the nineteenth exhibitions, there was normally a lead designer in charge of the Raumausgestaltung, or layout. These designers sometimes commissioned work from member artists and designers to fit a particular space or a particular theme. Some of these works included a full-length portrait wall in the central room of the tenth exhibition that was designed by Koloman Moser, or the ephemeral works that Josef Hoffmann designed for the fourteenth exhibition. The idea behind the creation of works of art to complement space was referred to as Raumkunst, or spatial art. Differing ideologies surrounding Raumkunst were one of the reasons that the Secession split around 1905, as some artists saw the function of the Secession as primarily enabling the selling of preexisting work without the commissions of dealers.

The Secession galleries also included proto-Weiner Werkstätte (Vienna workshops) furniture, drapes, and fabrics, so that photographs of the interior installations are reminiscent of the interiors published in the magazine Das Interieur. In fact, later issues of this magazine, with its innovative juxtaposition of text and image, covered the later Secession installations.

Das Interieur: Wiener Monatshefte für angewandte Kunst: II. Jahrgang. Vienna: Anton Schroll & Co., 1901. Courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives.

Das Interieur: Wiener monatshefte für angewandte Kunst.

Subtitled "The Vienna Monthly Magazine for Applied Art," Das Interieur was published by Anton Schroll, Maximilianstrasse, Vienna, from 1900. It documented the Viennese approach to Art Nouveau and was lavishly illustrated with images of interiors influenced by the Wiener Werkstätte, and artists such as Josef Hoffman, Gustav Klimt, Adolf Loos, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Koloman Moser, and Otto Wagner. The early issues were edited by Ludwig Abels. The German-born Vienna resident Joseph August Lux (1871–1947) also contributed. Although he left the Deutscher Werkbund in 1908, he is regarded as one of the theorists of Catholic Modernism and published early monographs on Otto Wagner (1914) and Olbrich (1919). He later opposed the Nazi Anschluss and also the takeover of Europe on the curious grounds that this should be the role of Austria: he was briefly detained in Dachau for this view.

Das Interieur (resources from the Hathi Trust)

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