What an exhibition! Sex club opens in famed Vienna art hall available (Feature)
By Albert Otti Feb 24, 2010, 2:08 GMT
Vienna - Three elderly Italian tourists who had come to see a famous painting by Gustav Klimt in Vienna were surprised Tuesday to find the Secession art hall had turned into a sex club.
'I am shocked,' one of the women from Rome said after having walked through the dimly lit swinger club - the latest work by Swiss conceptual artist Christoph Buechel.
She would have been even more shocked had she visited the famed Art-Nouveau building in central Vienna at night. Then it is actually used by the sexually adventurous.
During the day, the club and Klimt's Beethoven Frieze with its graphic depiction of female nudes forms a new art project that shows that scandals were a part of the art world in Klimt's time at turn of the 19th to the 20th century, just as they are today.
'At that time, there was an incredible commotion,' said Gabi H., who operates the club with her husband Michael. He explained that it was the artist's aim to recreate that sense of outrage over the 1902 painting.
Together with Buechel, they installed a copy of the swinger club they normally operate in Vienna, decking out various rooms with beds, leopard-print pillows, tissue boxes and art prints of Klimt nudes. The venue also includes a whirlpool and a room for those interested in sado-masochism.
The couple did not want their last names used, as they also hold more traditional jobs besides their sex business. Buechel, who is known for recreating realistic situations in his work, was not available for an interview.
After the club opened Saturday, politicians reacted with a mix of unease and outrage.
The far-right Freedom Party felt inspired to issue six press releases denouncing the project on Monday and Tuesday.
'By abusing artistic freedom, the significance of Austria as a country of culture and of Vienna as a cultural capital is being dragged in the mud,' local Freedom Party politician Gerald Ebinger said.
Social Democratic Mayor Michael Haeupl said he was 'not happy' - but added he was neither responsible for, nor interested in, swinger clubs.
Buechel's successfully-staged scandal echoed the controversy over Klimt's 1902 Beethoven Frieze, consisting of several large panels that were made for a group exhibition dedicated to the classical composer.
'Such paintings might be suitable for an underground venue where pagan orgies are held, but not for halls in which the artists are bold enough to invite honourable women and young girls,' a critic wrote at the time.
Fulfilling the critic's worst fears, roughly a century later, the club had over 100 'visitors' on Saturday night. 'There was real action,' said Gabi H., 'they did lots of 'stuff'.'
But for her and her husband, the project that runs into April is not about provocation but about educating the public about their lifestyle, by giving people the chance to see what such clubs look like and by talking with visitors during the daytime.
In contrast to the politicians' reactions, viewers seemed more confused than appalled.
Even the companions of the shocked Italian lady seemed only mildly perturbed.
'I am sure young people see this with different eyes,' one of them said.