Address: Museums Quartier, Museumsplatz
Opening Times: Tuesday to Sunday io a.m. to 6 p.m.,
The Museum of Modern Art with its rectangular ground plan and its façade of rough, dark basalt rock is as much the opposite of the Leopold Museum in appearance as it is in its holdings. While the Leopold Museum concentrates on Austrian art since the Biedermeier period, the Museum of Modern Art specializes in international art of the 20th century to the present.
The collection is built around a core of Fluxus and Nouveau Réalisme (formerly the Hahn Collection) and Pop Art and Photorealism (the Ludwig Collection). Also of note are the holdings of Arte Povera, Minimal Art, Land Art and Deconstructivism. In addition, during the 1990s an extensive collection of Central and Eastern European art was assembled. Classic modernism (Expressionism, Cubism) is represented by only a few examples. No other museum, however, has as many masterpieces of Viennese Actionism, which is considered to be the most important contribution of Austria to avant-garde art. In total, the holdings of the Museum of Modern Art number about 7000 objects.
History: In February 1958, Heinrich Drimmel, the People’s Party (OVP) minister of education at the time, announced his intention to establish a museum for contemporary art in Vienna. “For the time being” it was to be accommodated in the Austria Pavilion built for the World’s Fair in Brussels, a structure for which a suitable use was sought. In 1959, the art historian Werner Hofmann was given responsibility for establishing the museum and assembling the collection. The Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts (Museum of the 20th Century) opened in September 1962 near the South Station with the exhibition Art from 1900 to Today. Two-thirds of the 328 works shown were on loan. A detailed and balanced collection could no longer be acquired: despite skillful purchasing, many gaping holes in the collection (e.g. Expressionism, Cubism, Neue Sachlichkeit) could not be closed in the decades that followed.
In the spring of 1977, the Wiener Kiinstlerhaus presented the exhibition Art Around 1970, which was a selection from the collection of Irene and Peter Ludwig, a German chocolate manufacturer. Stylistically, the emphasis was on Pop Art and Photo Realism. Subsequently, negotiations began, with the goal of securing loans for a museum of modern art in Vienna. Agreement was reached with Peter Ludwig in February 1978. But he issued an ultimatum to the Republic of Austria: he would make approximately 12.0 works available, but only if a suitable home could be found within one year for the new collection, which also would include objects from the Museum of the 20th Century. First an extension of the World’s Fair Pavilion was considered, but a location in the Messepalast was discussed as well. Then, however, the Liechtenstein royal family offered its Baroque palace in Vienna’s 9th district, which had been the home of its art collection until 1945.
With the additional building, which was opened in April 1979, the institution was reorganized as the Museum of Modern Art, which consisted organizationally and conceptually of the two houses. The goal by that time was to combine the two collections in a suitable building in the former Imperial Stables.
While the preparations for the first exhibition were underway, negotiations had come to a standstill between the City of Cologne and Wolfgang Hahn, then the chief restorer of the Wallraff Richartz Museum, over the purchase of the latter’s art collection. Hertha Firnberg (Socialist Party), who was science minister at the time, reacted quickly, purchasing in 1978 approximately 400 works with an emphasis on Fluxus and Nouveau Réalisme for the Museum of Modern Art. This enormous addition suddenly gave the collection an almost completely new face.
The Ludwigs immediately communicated their willingness to donate the artworks that were on loan. In January 1981, the Österreichische Ludwig Stiftung für Kunst und Wissenschaft (Austrian Ludwig Foundation for Art and Science) was created. On condition that the Republic of Austria would create a fund for expanding the collection and transfer to it 10 million schillings (726,000 euros) each year for 15 years, they agreed to donate 129 works. The Ludwigs made a second donation in 1991. The funding agreement was extended to 30 years (until 2021), and the name of the institution changed to Museum Moderner Kunst: Stiftung Ludwig Wien (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna). This arrangement has made important purchases possible every year (including works by Paul Klee, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mario Merz and Andy Warhol).
From the first phase of the architectural competition (1986), the Museum has been an essential part of the MuseumsQuartier. Nevertheless, its inclusion was challenged several times. In addition, several space reductions had to be endured. In January 1993, pressured by a citizens’ action group instigated by the newspaper Kronen Zeitung and the Freedom Party, the building volume had to be reduced by 20 percent. A whole floor was lost in March 1993. Construction of the Museums Quartier started in April 1998. The new building opened in September 2001.
Tour of the Museum
An outside staircase ten meters (31 feet) wide leads to the entrance level, four meters (13 feet) above the level of the MQ Main Courtyard and vertically aligned with the center of the building. Two main exhibition levels are above the entrance level, two below. A 35-meter (m-foot) high atrium, which is illuminated from above, cuts the museum across all levels into two differently proportioned space groups. On one side are five exhibition levels, each with approximately 700 m1 (7500 square feet) of floor space five meters (16 feet) high. On the other side are the more intimate “cabinets” 3.5 meters (11 feet) high.
The arrangement of space is not immediately obvious to the visitor. In addition, it is not possible to tour the building in a logical sequence of rooms. Upon entering, it becomes immediately obvious, however, that this museum is an enormous machine from a time long past. This impression is created by the materials used (cast iron for the stairs and wall linings; glass and basalt lava), and the central shaft with the three elevator systems and the bridges that lead to the exhibition halls. The architectural concept of the huge shaft has been massively impaired since June 2002 by a white, tunnel-like bridge. This intervention by Heimo Zobernig created a direct connection between two exhibition halls, which have been used for changing exhibitions ever since.
The most sensible course of action is to approach the museum from the top floor: the imposing Cupola Hall with its panoramic window is flooded with daylight and has a gallery that primarily features exhibitions related to the permanent collection. The level beneath is dedicated to special exhibitions. The best way of accessing the other areas of the museum is by walking down the staircase and taking a look inside each doorway as it presents itself. Thus one also arrives on the entrance level, which appears brutally cut into the shaft. The descent continues to exhibition Level 3 and finally to the “Factory” deep underground, reserved for young viewpoints and contemporary currents.
Towards the rear of the entrance level is the access to the shop and to the restaurant with its bar and reading lounge. The library, which is open to the public, can be reached via the adjacent “Spange.” The separate conference hall “Hofstallung” is located in the Oval Wing of the MuseumsQuartier. It can be reached by means of a more recently built bridge along the rear of the museum