Vienna – Top Ten Arts Experiences

1. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
2. Otto Wagner, Steinhof Church
The yin and yang of Viennese architecture, one from the 15th century, the other a landmark of “Vienna 1900,” both exemplify gesamtkunstwerk, complete decorative ensembles.
3. Vermeer, The Art of Painting
In the richness of the Kunsthistorisches, this one painting stood apart, whether looked at as a complicated allegory or a thing of beauty.
4. Bosch, The Last Judgment
A surprising treasure of the Academy of Fine Arts, Bosch’s largest work is full of more ideas, let alone horrific images, than any painting I can think of.
5. Gustav Klimt gallery at the Belvedere
The full range of Klimt’s best work, tinged with uneasy ambiguity, all in one room.
6. Egon Schiele gallery at the Leopold Museum
The high pitch of Schiele’s work sets him apart, even now, whether in portraits, self-portraits or landscape.
7. Barbara Bloom, Bentwood Chair Installation at MAK
In a museum of innovative displays, this was the best: turning potentially boring chairs into thrilling objects.
8. Bruegel gallery at the Kunsthistorisches
As often noted, Bruegel is reason enough to visit Vienna; one could spend hours with Hunters in the Snow, Peasant Dance, and Conversion of St. Paul without tiring.
9. Velazquez, Rokeby Venus
On loan from London, the most beautiful back of a nude in the history of art is more subtle and more ravishing in person.
10. Liturgical Vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece at the Treasury
After room upon room of stultifying jewels and royal insignia, the northern European realism of these weavings, especially the Mary Cope, was heavenly.

The biggest discovery, if I can call it that, was the paintings of Koloman Moser (or “Kolo Moser” as he sometimes signs his work). I am used to seeing his decorative objects at the Neue Gallerie in New York, admixed in cases with Josef Hoffmann’s, featuring a lot of little squares. The Leopold Museum showcased Moser on different floors with at least three distinct styles: realistic landscapes (quite beautiful); Jugendstil decorations (his frieze of angels, which showed up later at Wagner’s Steinhof Church, echoed Lorenzo Lotto’s at the Kunsthistorisches); and stark portraits in the style of Ferdinand Hodler (e.g., Tristan und Isolde).
The best surprise of our tour was the thoroughly enjoyable visit to the Armory of the Kunsthistorische. The curator didn’t dwell on Habsburg history, which can be stupefying (cf., our tour of the Carriage Museum at Schonbrunn Palace), but explained how and when the different pieces of armor were used. Jousts were designed so the loser would be humiliated, not hurt. Different rules for different events led to different armor styles; and what fun to see the indentations in breastplates that had been test-run against firearms!
The Albertina is famous, of course, for its nonpareil collection of works on paper – none of which were actually on display. Instead, we were treated to a private tour of the recently renovated Habsburg state rooms, decorated in three distinct styles. On the walls were digital reproductions of some of the stars, by Michelangelo and above all Durer, which were still spectacular. The special exhibition of Miro was ho-hum, but there were some gems, and a lot of Expressionism, in the Batliner Collection.
Not to be overlooked is the Palais Liechtenstein, more fabulous spaces with probably a great paintings collection. There were no labels, however, which is the only way I can remember paintings. There was a major Rubens history/mythology cycle, but there were lots of those at the Kunsthistorisches, too.
Not everything was wonderful: the Winter Palace and the Spanish Riding School, both of which we went to on our own, were not worth the time. Same for the wax models of the medical school (Josephinum). Lunches, too, took too much time and were generally indifferent.
Dinners were half on our own, half with the group, and all generally good (my opinion). My favorite dinner was alone with Siri downtown at Procacci, a sophisticated Italian. Restaurant 1070 was fun because of the casual atmosphere, the mystery of not knowing what you were getting, and the company of the Lillys and Macdonalds. Vestibul was somewhat pretentious fine dining and Palmenhaus did a good job with a buffet for the group. Siri and Nivin liked the pub atmosphere and clean cooking of Kussmaul. I never got my wurst, but, as in Venice, there was good ice cream.