What do you think when you think of Vienna? I picture palaces and golden decorations, Wiener Secession architecture, and classical music. But a recent trip to the Austrian capital gave a me whole new perspective on the city. It is indeed very charming and aristocratic, with its beautiful facades, baroque gardens, and picturesque squares. But Vienna is also incredibly vibrant when it comes to contemporary art and museums.
I first traveled to Austria with my parents as a child and I have visited Vienna a few times after that, given it is so close to Italy. But if I have to be honest, I always appreciated the “classic” Vienna more than the contemporary side of the city. Up until my last trip, I used to travel to Vienna for the waltz and the Sachertorte, for Klimt and Schiele.
But a few months ago I found myself with a free ticket to Vienna and I decided to take a last-minute trip to Austria. I didn’t have much time to prepare and since I was traveling solo I decided to use the trip to get to know what Vienna and its museums have to offer to the contemporary art scene. And boy, I was blown away by that incredible city!
I should have imagined that Vienna puts a lot of attention to contemporary art. Its history is full of avant-garde movements and characterized by its great openness to new ideas. And you can feel it, visiting its museums and galleries. Vienna is not too big compared to other European capital cities, but it hosts several museums, many of which dedicated to contemporary art.
Moreover, from 2001 the city developed a whole complex dedicated to various forms of contemporary art, the Museumsquartier. Located in the center of the city, it is hosted in Vienna’s former imperial stables and spans over 90,000 m², making it one of the largest contemporary art hubs in the world. It comprises over 60 cultural institutions, dedicated to everything contemporary, from art to fashion, from architecture to music, design, photography, theater, dance, literature, children’s culture, game culture, and street art.
It’s a small city inside a city, a paradise for every art lover and a great place to start your art journey in Vienna.
Vienna has much more to offer, but if you, like me, don’t know where to start, here are the top 3 contemporary art museums in Vienna to start scratching the surface. I guarantee they will leave you asking for more!
mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien
One of the museums that form the Museumsquartier complex, Mumok is entirely dedicated to contemporary art. The museum, designed by Austrian architects Ortner & Ortner, looks like a giant monolith from the outside, with its grey color and texture, but the spaces inside are beautiful and full of light.
The museum was originally founded in 1962 as the Museum of the Twentieth Century, and during the 1970s its collection was enriched with long term loans, such as those from the Peter and Irene Ludwig collection. The collaboration with the Austrian Ludwig Foundation was later established in 1981 and in 1991 it resulted in a new name for the museum, which became the Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien. In 2001 it finally moved to the Museumsquartier.
It is the largest museum in Central Europe for art since modernism and its collection comprises works from Classic Modernism, Pop Art, Fluxus, and Viennese Actionism to present-day film and media art. At the same time, it also hosts well designed temporary exhibitions ranging from XX century masters to today’s well-established artists.
The museum has a collection of over 10,000 pieces and the largest collection in the world related to the Viennese Actionism. It also hosts a cinema, with an interesting program of screenings and films, and numerous activities for families and visitors, such as lectures, visits, and events.
The collection and the temporary shows are hosted on the multiple levels of the museum, while in the basement you can find Cafe Hansi by artist Hans Schabus.
I visited a few extremely interesting exhibitions at Mumok and I particularly enjoyed the display of the works. You can visit the museum in a few hours on your own or you can take part in one of their free guided tours, held both in German and English.
Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna, Austria
Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10:00 –18:00
Tickets 0€ to 13€
With its two locations, one directly under the Mumok and the other one in Karlsplatz, Kunsthalle Wien is another great spot for every contemporary art lover. It focuses on art and its relations to social change through exhibitions both by Austrian and international artists. Being a kunsthalle, it doesn’t have a permanent collection but works on rotating temporary shows with well established as well as emerging and younger artists.
It was originally opened in 1992 in Karlsplatz, inside a yellow container-like building designed by Adolf Krischanitz, later transformed into a glass pavilion. In 2001 it opened a second location in the Museumsquartier complex, which is now the main location for the Kunsthalle. Both branches are nearby though and can be easily visited together.
The Kunsthalle Wien is a place for experimentation and cutting edge exhibitions. Expect strongly political artists and thought-provoking works when visiting. The shows are very well designed and can guide even less experienced art lovers through the many themes they investigate.
The spaces are big and versatile, and they make the Kunsthalle the perfect place to be constantly surprised by a new exhibition setting. You can easily visit Kunsthalle Wien in a few hours or pair the visit with Mumok for a full day of contemporary art greatness.
Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna, Austria
Open Tuesday to Sunday 11 – 19 pm, Thursdays 11 – 21 pm
Tickets 0€ – 8€
The Belvedere Museum, hosted inside the magnificent Belvedere Palace, is one of Vienna’s most famous museums. It hosts a collection of Austrian and international art that ranges from the Middle Age to contemporary art. The Lower and Upper Belvedere are dedicated to the collection, with pieces from five hundred years of art history and the biggest collection of Klimt’s works.
Belvedere 21, on the contrary, is part of the same complex, but it is hosted in a modernist style steel and glass building designed by Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer. It was originally designed for the 1958 Brussels World Expo and later reinstalled in the Schweizer Garten. It hosted the Mumok museum from 1962 to 2001, when it was moved to the Museumsquartier. In 2007 it was finally reinstalled in the Belvedere premises and finally opened its doors as Belvedere 21.
It mainly focuses on Austrian art from the 20th and 21st centuries, with temporary shows and works from other international artists and movements.
It surely deserves a visit, not only for the well-designed exhibitions but for its architecture as well. The spaces are filled with light and the artworks on display are beautifully framed by the architecture itself. It also has a sculpture garden, a cinema and its program often offers several events, artists talks, and lectures that further stretch the museum’s offer. Moreover, it directly connects with the Belvedere Museums, making it a great escape for a full day of art.
Belvedere 21 (belvedere21.at)
Arsenalstraße 1, 1030 Vienna, Austria
Open Tuesday – Sunday 11 -18, Thursday and Friday 11 – 21
Tickets 2€ – 9€