A Short Introduction to the
Wiener Moderne / Vienna Modernism - Part II

This is also coherent with a sometimes na´ve obsession with the "genius"; it can be found at Gustav Klimt, Adolf Loos, Georg Trakl, Karl Kraus, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Arnold Schoenberg, Sigmund Freud, Robert Musil and Franz Kafka. These intellectuals themselves are celebrated as individuals, often overshadowing their work.

The adoration of individuals is something that can still be found in Austrian culture, and I wonder to what extent this is due to 19th century influences and to what extent it was the other way round: That the Austrian obsession with faces promoted the careers of "mass-friendly" persons. Note that the onset of the Wiener Moderne - approximately 1890 - is rather late compared to the development of modern thought in Paris or London.

But once it had kicked in, it resulted in an intellectual firework: In 1895, Otto Wagner declared the period of historicism (most disgustingly demonstrated in the Ringstraße) for being ended, only a few years later Adolf Loos went one step further in 1908 and announced that the ornaments of the Jugendstil or Art Nouveau (of which Wagner was a figurehead) were a crime. The "Secession" building became home to Austria′s avant-garde only a few years after historicist painters had ruled over the city with iron fists. Kolo Moser and his partners of the Vienna Workshop expanded the concept of art to objects of daily use.

Cease & End of the the Wiener Moderne

Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka used their excellent connections with Vienna′s new money to establish a new route to figurative expressionism. Richard Gerstl, Albert Paris Gütersloh and Herbert Boeckl followed. Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg and others established the "Second Viennese School" of composition, whilst Gustav Mahler continued a modern, but melodic tradition of symphonic composition.

World War I and the collapse of the Empire in 1918 did not mean a sudden end to the Wiener Moderne. In fact, minority Germans from all over Eastern Europe migrated to Vienna after WWI, and nourished the city′s intellectual life. Academia and art remained quite active well into the 1930ies. The Wiener Moderne and following post-modern tendencies ceased gradually until they were finally ended (in Austria) abruptly with Anschluss and WWII.

After the war, Austria managed to rise to former glory in very limited areas wihtin literature, fine arts and music (ignore the kitschy Klimt-confectionary and Strauss-porcelains sold in Vienna′s souvenir stores - there were actually some quite respectable contributions). However, in terms of intellectual achievements in general, Austria was doomed to dwarfism and widely failed to optimise its new role as a small country. Thank god we got a skiing industry...

Return to: "Wiener Moderne - Part I"

Back to "background"

Further Reading

Wikipedia on the Wiener Moderne

On Literature of the Wiener Moderne

Articles on: Wiener Kreis; Adolf Loos; Jugendstil & the Secession art movement; Schoenberg & the second Viennese School; Austrian School of Economics