Vienna is beautiful, but never small

On the campaign “Beauty and the Abyss”

Norbert Kettner / photo: Christian Wind

Norbert Kettner, director of the Vienna Tourist Board, presents the “Beauty and the Abyss” of the Wiener Moderne to the world.

For Vienna’s city marketing there is no way around it: 2018 is not only the anniversary of the founding of the republic, 100 years ago; 1918 also saw the deaths of four titans of the Viennese art scene: Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, Kolo Moser and Otto Wagner. “We are not just working through their biographies, we are finding out what Viennese Modernism means today around the world,” says Norbert Kettner. As director of the Vienna Tourist Board he is responsible for a campaign entitled “Beauty and the Abyss. Klimt.Schiele.Wagner.Moser.” which aims to show the lasting relevance of the culture that Vienna produced until 1938.
Its flagship is the eponymous magazine, which is based on the style of the Secession. It contains interviews with Nobel laureate Eric Kandel and Arnold Schönberg’s son Ron, as well as historical photographs and new drawings that present Klimt and Schiele as millennials.

“People are not getting tired of this topic, particularly overseas,” explains Kettner. But we intend to “give the Wiener Moderne its teeth back,” just as he did in 2012, the year of Klimt. Its decorative character – which was, for a long time, an excellent selling point for Vienna – says little about that period of turmoil, which also went hand in hand with antisemitism. “If you are proud of the bright side of history, you also have to examine the dark side.”
If the innovations that characterized the Wiener Moderne are to provide guidance in the 21st century, Vienna does need to remain active. “I believe that Vienna offers great potential to culture technology companies and as a marketplace of ideas,” says Kettner. “And it has always been great at social design – just think of its mountain spring pipelines and social housing! It is not a coincidence that Vienna is now the number one when it comes to quality of life.”

In Kettner’s view, Vienna could do with more of the desire to represent – a desire that made Wagner, Moser and Klimt create their innovative works in the first place. “I’m not at all happy with the ‘small is beautiful’ principle, because it does not do justice to the role of the city. Vienna is beautiful, but it was never small. Cities are pretentious, sometimes kitschy, and we must make sure we do not lose that.”

The tourism expert hopes that residents will open their treasures to the public. Only a few of the villas planned or furnished by Josef Hoffmann, Josef Frank or Otto Wagner are on view. “When I see how private resi­dences are made available to the public in the Czech Republic, I think we could take a leaf out of their book,” says Kettner. “We are sitting on a mountain of jewels and don’t even know it.”

Text by Michael Huber:

Michael Huber, born 1976 in Klagenfurt, has been art correspondent for the “Kurier” newspaper since 2009. He studied communication studies and art history in Vienna and New York (NYU) and took a master’s degree in cultural journalism from Columbia University, New York, in 2007.

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