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Secession Hall

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Easily one of the most eye-catching, and most unique, buildings in the entire city of Vienna, the Secession Hall is a temple to all things Art Nouveau, or, as it was known in Vienna, Jugendstil. This flowery and ornate style of art, design and architecture, focused on incredible beauty and intricate patterns, first blossomed across Europe in the 1890s, and nowhere was it so popular and influential as it was in Vienna.

The Vienna Secession, an Art Nouveau association founded in 1897 by a group of dissident Austrian artists, sought to break away from the dry, academic styles of their contemporaries to utilise modern methods of production, and freer, more imaginative forms at odds with historical realism. In order to provide an exhibition pavilion and gallery space for the movement, architect Joseph Maria Olbrich designed the Secession Hall, constructing the building in 1898. Financing came from wealthy benefactor Karl Wittgenstein, father of the famous philosopher Ludwig. The building was intended to be a living manifesto of the Secession ideals, an icon for their cause. Above the main entrance reads the motto "To every age its art, to art its freedom," emphasising how the Secessionists considered independent, free art to be the bedrock of any successful society.

The white structure, located on Friedrichstrasse close to the Academy of Fine Arts, is topped with an incredible domed ball constructed from a gravity-defying filigree lattice of gold-plated laurel leaves. The walls are decorated with motifs of twisting branches, streamlined sculptures of owls and other sylvan creatures, stone gorgons and festive garlands. Anyone glimpsing the structure for the first time is bound to have their breath taken away, especially on bright days when the sun glints and glimmers upon the golden roof. Yet upon first opening the building was derided, with some opinionated locals referring to the Secession Hall as a "temple for bullfrogs" and even as a "crematorium". Yet down the years the gallery has won the admiration of Vienna locals, earning a sensitive restoration after being damaged during World War Two, and is today a well established venue for art shows. In fact the hall is now so popular that it even featured on a 100 Euro coin minted in Austria.

Visitors who flock to this gallery will be happy to find that the interior is no less extravagant. Artworks from the period's most successful artists are often on show here, with Gustav Klimt's The Beethoven Frieze permanently kept on site. This lavish picture, painted with decadent gold-leaf, embodies the sensuous and mythic qualities that make Klimt so adored today, and depicts beautiful nudes, jungle wildlife and the serpentine, complex patterns of a snake skin.

Along with these permanent displays of Art Nouveau, the gallery also hosts around 20 rotating exhibitions each year, gathering disparate Jugendstil works from round the world frequently, as well as a selection of contemporary shows. Artists to have their work displayed here in recent years include David Maljkovic, Terence Koh, Christoph Meier and Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger.
 

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