But first, just a few rules before we enter.
This week the “private” art museum group started up again. There are some new faces in the group as well as familiar ones; and, just like last year, Imma and Alexandra make a great touring team. Our inaugural tour was of the Volksgarten, built on the site of the city’s earlier fortifications and adjacent to the Emperor’s Palace. We have wandered through this garden many times, and each time I think, “This garden is quite the hodgepodge of stuff.” Turns out I am right.
In the garden sits a banana-shaped cafe and disco. Before this retro throwback, though, the space housed a salon in which Johann Strauss I performed a concert. Over 1500 concert goers rocked the premises, making the good Kaiser Franz Josef just a little nervous about crowds so close to his palace. When JS II desired to perform Auf der Schönen Blauen Donau in the salon a couple of decades later, the good Kaiser thought it best to sell tickets in order to limit the number of people who could be in close proximity to the Emperor.
Along came WWII. In the post-war years an Austrian designer was inspired by the espresso bars he had visited in his wife’s country that he managed to convince the powers-to-be that a 1950’s Italian cafe and espresso bar belonged on the site of the badly damaged salon. The disco came a bit later.
What’s a garden without a fountain or two? Emperor Franz Josef admired this sculptor’s style, and so Triton and Nymph provides a pretty home for some of Vienna’s ducks.
The garden is also home to the 80+ year-old rose bush transplanted from the Czech home (once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, remember) of Dr. Karl Renner, the first president of the Austrian Republic in 1918, and then Austria’s President in 1945.
At the end of a tree-lined path is the privately-funded statue of Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”), Franz Josef’s wife who was murdered by an anarchist in Geneva in 1898. The late Empress is much beloved in Vienna, even more than 100 years after her murder.
Along the Ringstrasse is the Rosengarten, begun after WWII. On our visit this week most of the roses had long since flowered, so I’ll just sub in this photo from the Internet. In my short time here I’ve paused quite a few times to enjoy the flowers in the beautiful setting, and I highly recommend stopping in the garden should you visit, as well.
Perhaps, or not, the most unusual object in the Volksgarten is the Theseus Temple, a replica, obviously, of the Greek temple by the same name. The temple is now under management by the Kunsthistoriches Museum (Art History Museum), whose curators never fail to impress visitors with the temporary exhibits on display inside.
Last season, you may recall, the temple exhibited “the ambivalence of life,” with a room filled with gold confetti.
This season the artist Richard Wright was commissioned to create a work in silver-leaf directly on the building wall. (This is the group, our senses heightened by the knowledge that this work may never be viewed anywhere else again.) I’m thinking something Bronze is due up next.
About that buff, naked, adolescent standing outside the temple? “The Perfect Athlete (or “Winner”)” is somewhat controversial for its depiction of “perfection” (ahem, a white male) by the sculptor Josef Müllner in 1921, who just happened to support National Socialism in the years 1938-1945. Müllner also created a bronze bust of Hitler that held place in the Vienna Academy in 1940. Müllner never denied his “German conscience,” but, hey, it’s not for me to judge.
Nature, art, architecture, and history, all in one place. A great tour of the people’s hodgepodge to start the museum-going season!