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Beethoven Frieze, Plattform © Courtesy of Secession Vienna

Friedrichstraße 12
1010 Vienna
March 23rd, 2012 - January 13th, 2013

+43-1-587 53 07
Tuesday to Sunday 10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m.


The Beethoven Frieze close up, as seen by conservators and artists

With the twin exhibition projects Close-up – Gustav Klimt ~ Gerwald Rockenschaub – Plattform, artist Gerwald Rockenschaub, the Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments, and the conservators at Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts reflect on a key work from the period of artistic renewal at the dawn of the 20th century. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Klimt's birth, the Secession offers visitors a detailed look at the Beethoven Frieze, shedding both scientific and artistic light on this icon of cultural history.


The installation developed by Gerwald Rockenschaub for the room containing the Beethoven Frieze at the Secession allows visitors to perceive this work from unusual perspectives and new viewpoints. His sculptural intervention allows the frieze, that runs round the room at a height of between three and five meters, to be viewed at eye level for the first time. The two works, Klimt's Beethoven Frieze and Rockenschaub's Plattform, enter into dialog on equal terms. While the platform is functional, in its quality as an object it also asserts itself as an autonomous work. "Up to a certain point," says the artist, "the platform is also supposed to appear in this setting as a work of art, not just as purely functional architecture."

Plattform displays many features that are characteristic of Rockenschaub's artistic idiom: standard commercial materials, symbolic minimalism, monochrome surfaces. "Color," the artist says, "is pretty much the most minimal means of heightening object character. I dip into the paint bucket with few inhibitions, in a childishchildlike way." With his platform at the Secession, he also continues a series of installations begun in the late 1980s that use podiums, benches, curtains, or partitions to guide visitors around the exhibition, altering modes of perception and recoding the social and architectural space. "It is always a respectful approach, he emphasizes, "never an ironic commentary."

Biographical outline
Gerwald Rockenschaub (born 1952 in Linz) lives and works in Berlin.
Selected solo shows // 2012: Embrace Romance/Remodeled, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg; 2011: If I ever had the chance again, I'd probably do the same, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg; 2010: Gone is back again, House of Art Ceske Budejovice, Budweis; 2009: Promise vs. Reality, Villa Stuck, Munich.
Selected groups shows // 2012: Utopie Gesamtkunstwerk, Belvedere, 21er Haus, Vienna; 2011: Carte Blanche a John Armleder. All of the above, Palais de Tokyo, Paris; 2010: Bilder über Bilder, MUMOK, Vienna; Amsterdam – Berlin, De Service Garage, Amsterdam; maximal pleasure, Souterrain, Berlin; 2009: Don't Follow Me I'm Lost Too, Substitut, Berlin; Wiener Musterzimmer, Orangerie - Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna; Spacioux, Lambretto Art Project, Milan; 2007: Documenta 12, Kassel


The "close-up" on the Beethoven Frieze takes its cue from recent studies conducted by conservators and scientists. More than 25 years after the last conservation campaign, the current state has been documented in great detail, creating a basis for all future conservation measures. "One of our central concerns is comprehensive assessment and the establishment of an adequate concept in advance of future conservation work," says Dr. Friedrich Dahm (Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments), underlining the importance of this joint project by the Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments, the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, and the Secession: "For the Beethoven Frieze, we set top standards. Here, we're operating at the highest level."

The presentation in the foyer revolves around the copy of one section of the frieze (Poetry) made at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna to aid precise analysis of the processes by which both the picture support and Klimt's painting itself were originally made.

"Our activities here involve performing the complex task of preserving artworks and cultural artifacts for future generations in an authentic state, oriented as closely as possible towards the original, working against decay caused by processes of ageing and unintended damage," says Professor Wolfgang Baatz, director of the Institute of Conservation and Restoration at the Academy of Fine Arts: "This work allows artistic manifestations to continue making an impact, preserving cultural heritage for future generations."

Two accompanying films offer insights into the step-by-step construction of the replica and into the process of examining and assessing the masterpiece, added to which there are excerpts from the high-resolution digitization of the original made to document the work's condition in the long term. The presentation is rounded off by a look at the complex challenges met during the last conservation campaign of the original mural in the 1970s and '80s by the Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments.

Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze (1902)

"But enough is enough, and a burning fury grips anyone who has preserved a modicum of decency. What should one say about this painted pornography? [...] Such paintings might have been suitable for some subterranean establishment where pagan orgies are celebrated, but not for halls to which artists dare to invite respectable women and young girls." (S.G., April 22, 1902, Quoted from: Hermann Bahr, Gegen Klimt, 1903, p. 70)

"In the left-hand aisle, Gustav Klimt has painted a delightful frieze, so full of his bold, high-handed personality that it is only by exercising restraint that one does not declare this painting his most important work." (Ludwig Hevesi, Acht Jahre Secession, 1906, p. 392-393)

In the summer of 1901, the members of the Vienna Secession, which had been founded in 1897, decided to inaugurate a new type of exhibition to realize their concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk. The different arts— architecture, painting, sculpture, and music—were to be united under a common theme. Held only a year later under the direction of Josef Hoffmann, the Fourteenth Exhibition was a perfect example of the groundbreaking design championed by the Secession. Works from the Secession members formed a mise en scène centered around a statue of Beethoven by Max Klinger—including Klimt's mural, the Beethoven Frieze. The frieze was based on Richard Wagner's interpretation of Ludwig van Beethoven's Ninth Symphony celebrating humankind's yearning for happiness. The frieze shows how suffering humanity struggles to overcome hostile forces such as Sickness, Madness, Wantonness, and Intemperance, finally finding eternal bliss in art.

The Story of the Beethoven Frieze

1902       Originally created for the Fourteenth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession, the Beethoven Frieze was intended to be removed from the walls of the Secession Gallery after the exhibition ended.
1903 The mural remained in place until 1903, however, when it was bought by industrialist Carl Reininghaus. After the end of the Eighteenth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession—a Klimt retrospective—the new owner had the Beethoven Frieze, including its support, taken down.
1915 Carl Reininghaus sold the Beethoven Frieze to the Lederers, another family of industrialists, with Egon Schiele acting as intermediary. The Österreichische Galerie was also interested in acquiring the work but failed to obtain the purchase.
1936 In the interwar years parts of the Beethoven Frieze were put on display in the Secession Gallery.
1939 After the possessions of the Lederer family were expropriated by the Nazis in 1938, the Beethoven Frieze was put in storage in a transport company's warehouse.
1943 Parts of the Beethoven Frieze were put on display in the Secession Gallery before concerns for its safety led to it being removed into storage in the chapel of Thürntal Castle, near Fels am Wagram in Lower Austria.
1945 After World War II the Erich Lederer Collection in Geneva was identified as the rightful owner of the Beethoven Frieze. However, the Austrian government imposed an export ban on the work, which remained at Thürntal Castle.
1956 The Beethoven Frieze was removed to Altenburg Monastery in northwestern Austria. Because of conservation and safety concerns Erich Lederer strongly urged for the work to be moved elsewhere.
1961 The Beethoven Frieze was put in storage in the depot of the Österreichische Galerie in Prince Eugene's former stables at Belvedere Palace.
1973 The Republic of Austria bought the Beethoven Frieze for the Österreichische Galerie at a price of 15 million Austrian schillings.
1974 The Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments began the conservation campaign which lasted more than ten years.
1985 The conservation of the Beethoven Frieze was completed at the end of January with the mounting of the individual sections on steel frames. In the exhibition Traum und Wirklichkeit— Wien 1870-1930 at the Vienna Künstlerhaus, the frieze was displayed in a re-creation by the Hans Hollein Studio of its original setting by Josef Hoffmann. It was then transferred to a room in the Secession Gallery specially designed by Adolf Krischanitz.
2009 Twenty-five years after the conservation campaign, analyses on the Beethoven Frieze's present state of preservation began.
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