“The sole departure for our artistic work must be modern life,” Otto Wagner once said. An architect and designer, Wagner cofounded the Secession movement in Vienna, a cultural hub of Austria-Hungary, at the turn of the 20th century. The young painters, sculptors, and architects associated with the city’s Secession movement rejected the traditional styles and hierarchies promoted by institutions like the Vienna Academy of the Arts. Instead, they committed themselves to the unification of different art forms through the pursuit of the Gesamtkunstwerk (or “total work of art”).
By carefully considering every visual element of the objects they created—whether paintings or household items—they blurred long-held divisions between fine arts and the so-called decorative arts. A series of Secession exhibitions beginning in 1898 brought their experimental works to the public, offering visions of a modern world. At the entrance to these exhibitions, visitors were greeted with the motto: “To every age its art, to every art its freedom.”
Organized by Starr Figura, Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, Paul Galloway, Collection Specialist, Department of Architecture and Design, Amanda Forment, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, and Lydia Mullin, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture.