Vienna and the Secession Artists at the Turn of the Century

During the fin de siecle (i.e., the 1890s), Vienna, Austria was enjoying an infusion of modernist ideas that infiltrated the creative studios of the city’s young artists (within the realm of the visual arts, music, architecture, graphic design, etc.).  These young artists, thoroughly dissatisfied with the staid art establishment’s conservative taste and the seeming stranglehold grip it had on all aspects of creativity, embraced with enthusiasm the new modernist ideas and drew their energies and resources together in order to fund a series of advanced art exhibitions portending that the future had indeed arrived in Vienna.  The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig wrote passionately about this energized period of time in his memoir, published as The World of Yesterday.  A passage from Zweig’s memoir reflected on the utopian atmosphere engulfing the Secession artists who were unaware of growing nationalist tensions and a conservative backlash to the avant-garde movement:  “We had eyes only for books and pictures…The city was aroused at the elections, and we went to the libraries.  The masses rose, and we wrote and discussed poetry.  We did not see the fiery signs on the wall, and like King Belshazzar of old we feasted without care on the precious dishes of art, not looking anxiously into the future.”  If you lived in Vienna during this time period, do you think/believe you would recognize Vienna’s impending historic contribution to culture during the Secession period?  Does Las Vegas have a similar energy now toward post-modern advanced art in our culture?



Photograph of Stefan Zweig

Vienna Secession Building


Joseph Maria Olbrich, Vienna Secession Hall, 1898

26 thoughts on “Vienna and the Secession Artists at the Turn of the Century

  1. I think I would recognize the historical contribution that these artists are making, and I think it wouldn’t be any different today. If I lived in Vienna, I would probably want to be a part of the contribution. Things change all the time. With change, there will be those that are afraid to change (though we are more open to changing today). As I mentioned in my last post, art isn’t just defined by historicist themes. These artists wanted to expose that, and, as this blog states, make way for the future.

    I’ve seen many styles of art here in Vegas. I think that would be considered the future of today–where all art has a chance of being accepted into galleries instead of artwork that is of a certain style. Sometime in the future, perhaps there will be pioneers to a new style of artwork that we (the rest of us) know nothing about now.

  2. We have the gift of hindsight and due to events of the past 4-5 decades in this country, we are also more weary, cautious and pessimistic than the artists at the beginning of the previous century. They saw technology as the brave new world coming into being, we enjoy the technology but seem more aware of the down side. Considering the general optimism of the time, I would have seen Vienna as a major contributor to the culture particularly in the realm of architecture which departed drastically from the classicism and ornateness of the previous period. Today, I see art in Las Vegas as a fringe existence. Even in larger Metropolitan cities, the current art scene is not part of the mainstream of culture but more of a sideshow that takes center stage only occasionally. If it makes an impact on culture at all, I think it is more subliminal that it used to be.

  3. I do believe Las Vegas has a similar energy to the Vienna contribution. It may not seem as evident now, because we have gone through so much history and technological advances have not been as shocking as they were back then. Las Vegas embraces new art and uses it to impress its visitors. New artists seek new trends and incorporate that to the city. Because the city is fairly new and it is still growing, it calls for new designs in art and architecture. If one is building something new, why follow the traditional means, when one can create something different or more efficient. I believe even locals today, when we hear about a new building or hotel being made, we expect to see something different or greater than the rest.

  4. Had I been alive during the Vienna Secession, I would imagine I would have recognized Vienna’s artistic contributions to the art world. Certainly, the world was going through many changes then, as it is now today. Many of the artistic endeavors, psychological ideas, and architectural designs of those in Vienna we have discussed so far, were new and possibly radical compared to what was already there in those days. Rejecting the accepted notion of what art is in those days was most likely a big deal, compared to present times where almost anything can be passed off as “art.”
    As for Las Vegas, I’ve always felt that what art we have is not really appreciated or known about very well. In my 18 years here, I feel like our art scene is almost like a kind of underground scene. As for Las Vegas’ attitude towards the advancement of post-modern art, I do think the city possesses a charm that is unique. If we look at the architecture along The Strip as an example, I would say we have a strange progressive attitude that looks to the past for its architecture. Up until recent years, many hotels like Paris, Caesars Palace, The Venetian, Luxor, and Bellagio have all referenced other locations for architectural inspiration. However, to build these places, older casinos like the Sands, Desert Inn, and the Dunes all had to be demolished to make way for progress. With regards to history, I do believe Las Vegas has a very progressive attitude; but only because our economy depends on it. Nevertheless, I do think the old adage of, “Out with the old, and in with the new,” rings true here.

  5. I believe that I wouldn’t necessarily see the “impending historic contribution to culture”, because I’m more of a political person now. If you asked this question in 1970, I would say, “yes.” As for Las Vegas, I believe Las Vegas is making an attempt to compete with the more “cultural” cities of Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and New York. The make-up of Las Vegas in terms of transportation, weather, and crowds/parking probably keep a lot of people away from the exhibits in the Bellagio, Venetian, UNLV, and at Crystals. There is/are no Art Museum/s on the magnitude of even cities like Cleveland. UNLV’s Barrick Museum can only hold a small exhibit. Other cities, such as Los Angeles, have built their own Museums of Modern Art, almost as big as their county museum. I don’t see the powers that be investing money in trying to get into the game. I personally don’t feel the energy of a movement, but that doesn’t discount that some people might see it differently. I think that having been exposed to post-modern/Avant Guarde art over so many years (art that would get you arrested), I’m not feeling what the younger Y generation might feel. Interesting things are happening because of technology; but nothing like the things that were coming out in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. We admire, but we’re not blown away anymore. The Utopia that was wished for started to end with the WWW (not the computer or the internet – the WWW).

  6. If I was living in Vienna during that time I probably would not recognize Vienna’s impending historic contribution to culture. I personally believe that artists tend to leave a mark in history until they pass or somehow become a celebrity during their time. Even though I don’t believe that I would have recognized Vienna’s contribution, I think I am recognizing what Las Vegas is contributing to today. Las Vegas always have to start something new and receive recognition throughout the world. Right now I think architecture is the biggest contribution to art today in Las Vegas. New and beautiful casino hotels are popping up on a yearly basis with architecture designs never seen before. The newer casino not only attract gamblers but art enthusiasts who appreciated the structure in itself.

  7. Had I lived in Vienna during the 1890s, I presume that I would have recognized the impending historic contributions that would be made by the Vienna Secessionists. As we have been discussing in class, the Secession artists started a rebellion against traditional art in favor of the more avant-garde. They chose to experiment and create art for the sake of art, rather than be slaves to conservative patrons. It would be difficult not to notice such a drastic change and to not appreciate the impact it would have on Vienna’s culture. In regards to Las Vegas’ culture, I cannot say it has a similar energy toward advanced art. With the exception of the ever-changing hotels and casinos, sadly, I do not see an art scene bursting with innovative spirit. The architecture in Las Vegas, particularly on the Strip, is certainly full of energy and creative progression. However, it seems that art in other forms does not have quite as much of an effect on the city’s culture.

  8. An interesting question to pose. Had I lived in Vienna during the Secessionist period as a young artist, I would be enthralled with the creative innovation and excitement brought on by the conflagration of new ideas overtaking older ones. However, as a more seasoned adult, my enthusiasm might be tempered by a wariness on the political pulse and tense climate of the time– dark clouds were gathering.

    I do not think Las Vegas has a similar Vienna Secessionist energy in a post-modern art movement. The art scene here is growing, perhaps gradually, but it often seems to be eclipsed by the infamous larger-than-life cultural tourism that primarily defines Las Vegas. As a city of the arts, we move one step back and two steps forward: the closings of the Las Vegas Art Museum and the Guggenheim Museum, yet the opening of the Smith Center and attracting world-class architects like Frank Gehry. Progressive arts development is gathering momentum in Las Vegas, but at a slower pace.

  9. It’s difficult to say in retrospect whether I would have recognized the cultural contribution during the Secession period as art is often regrettably noticed later than it should be. In past years, and to a certain extent in the present, society as a whole seem discouraged from change and look to conformity. I do feel like Las Vegas in terms of architecture certainly has a post-modern energy particularly with the design of new hotels and casinos combining functionality of living quarters with artistic energy and creative design. City Center in particular seemed like an incredibly ambitious architectural project and this tells me that Las Vegas is at the very least trying to create something special.

  10. If I were living in Vienna at that moment and time and was a participating and practicing artist of the Secessionist movement, then I do not believe I would have noticed the impact. The only reason the movement was noticed was because it was on those on the outside looking in. The Secessionists did not care. They only cared for creating that which they felt needed to be created and expressed in art, something that was not the conservative works that were common in that era. Here in Las Vegas I don’t believe there is anything like the movement in Vienna occurring exactly. I think that the art culture here is starting to grow and expand from its current underground status. So in a way we might be in the right direction toward creating advanced post modern art that may spark a movement.

  11. I don’t think I would have noticed the historic contribution of the Vienna Secession artists had I lived there in that time. All of their art seemed so barbaric, straying away from the tried and true methods of studying art, to become more realistic and naturalistic. I generally prefer more realistic art, because I believe it takes more skill, but capturing an emotion in an artwork is something that I feel is mostly innate. I don’t really know Las Vegas’s “energy” toward post-modern advanced art. I assume that Las Vegas’s energy toward this type of art is one of satisfaction because Las Vegas, too, delves into the world of overtly sexual and abstract themes, though I could be wrong.

  12. Few people have foresight into what they are doing now and how it will effect the future. Artists, by remaining true to themselves and their vision will prevail. In Klimt’s case his work was not appreciated in his lifetime and some works were destroyed by the invading/retreating enemy in WWII, yet his art has sold for millions in the 21st century. Schiele was imprisoned for portraying his exploration of ideas yet now there is a art centrum dedicated to him.

    I don’t think the art energy in Vegas can be compared to what was going on back at the turn of the 19th century. Vegas is a culture unto itself, a facade in the desert based on the odds of losing. How does that contribute to post modern advanced art in culture as a whole if it is not based in reality to begin with? My opinion is similar to the slogan “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”, I think artists do whatever they want in Vegas and isn’t going anywhere else.

  13. I think if I were living in Vienna during this historical time, I don’t think I would have noticed or recognized the impending historic contribution of the Secessionist movement. I think when you are standing so close to something, it is hard to look at it from an outside perspective and appreciate what is happening before your eyes. The artists were consciously creating a movement full of new life in a dark time, making the decision to be non-conformists.

    I think Vegas can be compared to this time but on a much smaller scale. The art scene is trying to evolve and turn into something it is not. I think many look down on art, or lack thereof, here in Vegas, but I think we may look back someday and think that we were there when big things were starting to take shape, but because we are surrounded by it, could not see. This could be the beginning of a post modern movement and we are witnessing the first stages.

  14. I don’t know that I would have recognized what was happening in Vienna at the turn of the century. Perhaps I would be drawn to the artists and to pushing the boundaries of decency and thus might have felt like something was happening. However, usually such a recognition happens in the aftermath, after a group of experts have defined the moment.

    I don’t think Las Vegas has an artistic energy that looks into the future at all. The Vienna Secessionists contributed to progress, whereas Las Vegas is steeped in regressive nostalgia and ironic camp.

  15. If I lived in Vienna at this time, I would like to think that I would recognize the changes that was happening at the time. I would embrace the new approach that the Secession movement promoted since it’s a new and refreshing take from the old and conservative views on art. Rules and conformity have been the norm for quite some time and many of the avant-garde works can only promote innovation in all aspects of design and creativity.

    I don’t think that Las Vegas can be compared to the pre-war era in Vienna. Las Vegas is already a very forward thinking city. If there’s any indication; the skyline of Las Vegas alone speaks to the diversity that is being offered architecturally. I would think that a small midwestern city would be a more appropriate example for this, since there are still some cities in America that repress people’s creativity because of their conservative views.

  16. Rarely are people aware with they are standing on the doorway of great change. often times people speak of looking back on moments of time and in retrospect it may seem obvious where a trail of events were heading. that is not to say this is the case for all great events it history , sometime there is just so much raw energy that everyone may be aware of an inevitable change on the horizon. As for Las Vegas I feel like we still need to grow and mature alot as a city before we will be ready to attempt such a dramaitic cultural and artistic revaluation.

  17. I feel like people rarely ever realize when they become involved in significant cultural movements. They may fancy themselves important but at the end of the day they may not necessarily think they’re changing the face of society. I would have no idea that I was on the brink of historical contribution if I were in that time period. They were doing what they felt like they needed to be done and they weren’t letting people stand in their way.
    I do not believe Vegas is going to be creating any significant cultural movements anytime soon though. Vegas’ art scene is too immature and there is not much sense of community here. Every artist I know scoffs at First Friday and people don’t meet up to trade ideas.Artists here hide in their homes and studios and contemplate how to leave.

  18. It’s hard to really can know for certain if one would know if something is going to be revolutionary, it’s easy to say that knowing all we know now such as all the moments and events that take place. I feel that if I saw this movement and the new ideas and innovation that were being presented, that I would want to partake in it and embrace the new wave. Certainly if we as a society continued to stick to traditional and conservative views and rules, we would not be as forward-thinking or progressive in the art world and in general.

    I don’t believe that Las Vegas can really be compared to the movements like the Secession movement fully. We are certainly more on the progressive end with creativity and design but I don’t see any sort of new revolution or movement happening in Las Vegas Art. But perhaps, like the former question gives thought to, I just don’t realize it’s happening?

  19. In terms of Lyotard’s definition, Las Vegas is very postmodern, especially in regards to it’s architecture. The strip is certainly a site in which one sees an anachronistic bricolage of styles; the Luxor, Caesar’s Palace, New York New York, ect. Here we too see a blend of high and low culture blurring. I tend to enjoy that which falls under the umbrella of postmodernism when it comes to art and literature, but to me Las Vegas represents a kind of postmodern capitalistic nightmare. The arts and cultural scene in Las Vegas has a long way to go before it can be seen as on par with other major metropolitan cities in the US. I certainly don’t view Las Vegas as a community where people only have “eyes for books and pictures.” Hardly anyone cherishes the local libraries or meets to discuss poetry, unlike Zweig’s description of the Vienna Succession. To me the two appear quite dissimilar.

  20. I believe that at one time Las Vegas had a similar energy towards advancing art into this town that has no real culture. That being said, I feel that any resent efforts to bring art forward are based on financial and commercial success which had established what Las Vegas’s culture is today.

  21. I feel that Las Vegas does have a similar energy now towards post-modern advanced art. Though we may not aware of it as we see it, Las Vegas is changing as our culture changes. It is also seeking new ways, whether it is through a form of art on the strip or a new building in Las Vegas. Vegas is changing its image to attract people to it, to this it needs to come up with new ways to express things of old. So yes I feel that Las Vegas does have a similar energy of Vienna during that time.

  22. I do think and believe that I would recognize Vienna’s contribution to the culture during the Secession period. Any change that would help bring art alive during the time and for the future would grab my attention. Making a change to make art seem more modern for a better future ahead of us is always an excitement. I do believe that today in Las Vegas there is the energy for people to have the enthusiasm of post-modern advanced art. Everywhere you go in Las Vegas you see art changing for a better appeal towards us viewers. All the billboards you see around Vegas is becoming more intriguing with modernism art done by using technology. We get more excited and motivated by what art is exposing and changing into now. A new change in society is always recognizable because it gives us an idea that a better time is coming for us to experience.

  23. (I struggled to craft a response that I thought would be germane to the learning goals set forth by the purpose of the blog. But for the purposes of being as least-disengenuous as possible, I decided to instead write about some of my thoughts regarding the arching themes of the Secession artists; hopefully this response will suffice, but with all do respect… Here-goes.)

    The beauty of hindsight, is the clarity that is bestowed upon those with the privilege of holding it. It’s hard to say if I would have (in that time) recognized Vienna’s contribution to the Secessionist culture. I am a huge proponent of the concept of “the slowest changes are the most permanent”. Take the contemporary sociopolitical affairs of the United States into account: sweeping, and swift policy and social changes are the most likely to spur backlash, and uproar– things that are taken into account when considerations (or concessions) are made to alter, protect, or even uproot the change. However, when given flexible deadlines, and conscious backing– the most instrumental of changes often go unnoticed. I consider the latter to be an important pillar in “effective” artwork, or design: the ultimate goal should be to produce something that provokes thought, and incites action– but all under a guise of function; it should feel as if it is a part of our day-to-day lives: entirely unnoticed, but missed should we have to go without it. Sure, cultural shifts often inform the quality and characteristics of art, but our overall collectivistic Western tendencies remove us from our attachment to the affairs at-large. Essentially, a contemporary artist is most likely to camp within the comforts of that artists’ own canon of knowledge.

    In terms of Las Vegas– I feel that living in the Arts District, and being a local commercial artist gives me footing at the heartbeat of post-modern artistic advancement in what I consider to be Las Vegas’s “New Brooklyn”. Akin to the New York burrows, DTLV (or, Downtown Las Vegas) has hit its stride, and is absolutely in its renaissance. Waves of new business, restaurants, and art studios have slowly carved their nichés in the space, breathing new life in what used to be low-income, condemned, and otherwise underdeveloped areas. Unfortunately, that has meant some very mixed things for the arts-scene here. While those without a vested interest might only see First Friday as our sole artistic outlet– those who are more in the “know” are tuned into the ongoings of local studios, galleries, and shows. The new “spring” of the arts in Las Vegas has bubbled-up an increasingly-underground environment for art, and artists alike.

  24. I’d like to think that I would be apart of the contribution, though I probably would not be able to realize it until someone told me of the changes that were occurring. I’m not really one to see the world I am living in with any great deal of how the present actions will change the future. It is only in looking back that I begin to notice what things were important, and I imagine most people are the same way – with hindsight being 20/20.

    As far as Las Vegas’s view towards the modern art at the moment, as far as I am aware, it is relatively embraced here. Expression in the most nontraditional way possible is something sought after in most places, but in Vegas especially – I think there is a greater thrill with much less effort.

  25. If I lived in Vienna at that time, I would think I would notice the changes occurring, but then again there is still a lot of things I do not know about modern movements going on the past 10 years. The Secession movement was new and fresh from the bore old art. The secession embodied innovation, so it would be hard to not notice when you’re an artist during that time.

    I do not believe that Las Vegas is comparable to the movements like the Vienna Secession. Vegas’ progress is really heading towards something now that gallery and museum spaces are being built here. I feel that the identity of Vegas art will come out very soon.

  26. I believe I would have sensed something new and exciting was happening, but I do not believe I would have considered it a dramatic change in the progression of art. It is difficult for someone that is involved in something to be able to stand back and objectively observe something. Like when someone is trying to get an overview of a location, they have to remove themselves from it, go to higher ground so they can see the entire expanse of the land. This is the same with history. It is difficult to state exactly what will be important or what can be a watershed moment while living within that moment in time.
    With Las Vegas, there is definitely an enthusiasm for art. Especially on the strip, I can see so many galleries in the various casinos for artists to showcase their work. The work is not only in the galleries, they are installed and decorate the casinos themselves. It is difficult to gauge if this is superficial interest rather than genuine embrace of art and its contexts that artists infuse in their pieces. Not just because a patron or buyer thinks they look pretty, but support of art.

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