Two exhibition openings in one week

30 Mar

This past week I was at two exhibition openings, in each case at a Bezirksmusem.
Bezirk means “district” and is similar to what the Parisians mean with arrondissement. Therefore the exhibitions were at the small museums that serve each district in Vienna by maintaining and displaying things that are unique to that district. Sometimes these museums are located in the same building as the administrative offices for the district, as in the 18th district where I was on Thursday evening, and sometimes not, as in the 8th district where I was last Sunday. Usually they also house an auditorium that can be rented for different kinds of performances and occasions.
The exhibitions were completely different from each other and yet both fit perfectly the idea of what a Bezirksmuseum is for.
Last Sunday was the Day of District Museums in Vienna. Each district museum (there are 23) was open for most of the day and had its own exhibition on a common topic. In this case, the theme was—not surprisingly—“Vienna 1914: The End of an Era”. (People in other parts of the world may also be aware that this year marks the 100th commemoration of the start of the First World War.)
Each district in Vienna also has a name. For the 8th district this is “Josefstadt,” which explains why the exhibition was entitled “Josefstadt from 1900 to 1914”. If anyone doubts that there was enough going on in those 14 years to warrant an exhibition, allow me to put their minds at rest. It was a time in Viennese history when tremendous expansion was going on. When it seemed clear that the threat of the Turks overrunning Vienna was truly over (around 1858) the city walls were torn down, the famous Ringstraße with its stunning buildings was created, and the satellite towns were incorporated into the city proper. Josefstadt was such a town.
This meant that there was suddenly much demand for housing outside the first district and many of the Baroque houses—too small and too uncomfortable to accommodate the growing and ever more demanding population—were torn down to make room for much larger and, above all, taller buildings. (Sound familiar?)
New streets were created. Several existing streets, like Lange Gasse, were lengthened to open up contact to the—are you ready for this?—9th district. All of this expansion required new transportation and so new streetcar lines and then the Stadtbahn (literally “city railway”, now the U6, running along the old outer line of defense against the Turks) were constructed.
All of this meant that many open spaces, where old maps suggest gardens and orchards that provided food for the district, were built over. The improved transportation no doubt made it possible to bring in what was needed from areas farther out.
The 8th district is considered a very desirable neighborhood, and it was no different back then. The famous painter, Gustav Klimt, had his studio in the courtyard of a house on Josefstädter Straße. He, too, was a victim of the expansion. That house was torn down to make room for a bigger house with no room for artists’ studios, and Klimt had to move to the 13th district (also very desirable so my sympathy is somewhat limited). Apparently, though, he was so attached to his studio in the 8th district that he continued to use the address professionally.
Some of the obvious parallels from that era to this were highlighted by the talk given by the elected administrative head of the district. She mentioned a planned building that will cut off a historic view from the 8th to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. She didn’t mention the building of what has been referred to as the “phantom underground line U5”, but that, too, apparently is on the way. Plus ça change, plus c’est le meme chose.
On Thursday in the 18th district the exhibition was of ceramic pieces with modest price tags done by two residents of the district. The artists, married to each other, were both self-taught and had earned their livings doing something else. The guests were mainly friends, family, and neighbors, one had the sense. Music was provided by two ladies, one on the violin and the other on the cello and both well over 60 at a guess, playing Haydn(?) with an encouraging blend of skill, musicality, and love—true amateurs, then, who probably also live in the 18th. When one had sufficiently explored the artwork one could wander through the 18th district’s version of “Vienna 1914: The End of an Era,” more rural than in the 8th and as such fitting to the character of the district, which lies farther out. To round off the evening, the artists’ son and his partner danced the Tango Argentino.
So you see that, too, was simply a typical gathering at a Bezirksmuseum

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