In Vienna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it can sometimes be difficult not to become overwhelmed by history. But amid the cultural waves determined by the musical legacies of Mozart and Brahms, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical insights, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophical musings, Adolf Loos’ modernist architecture and Egon Schiele’s anxious sketching, there’s one historical element that stretches across decades.
Vienna has been the centre of the Habsburg Empire from the 15th century until the 18th century – an empire controlled by a royal family that has produced most of Europe’s monarchs and kings and whose branches reach from Austria to Spain, from Croatia to Mexico.
It’s no surprise, then, that this illustrious family has put an indelible stamp on the Austrian city, which in its most recent instant takes form in a museum dedicated not to historical art forms but to contemporary art.
Especially one part of the dynasty, the Thyssen family, who have built a reputation as legendary art collectors (and industrialists). They founded the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid in 1920, a museum located close to the Prado and the Reina Sofia, with a collection that completes these grand institutions.
But the family is as much a patron to the arts now as it was then, and in 2002, Francesca von Habsburg (wife to Archduke Karl, heir to the Habsburg dynasty) founded a contemporary equivalent: TBA21, short for Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary – a 21st century version.
Today, 15 years after its foundation, the institution boasts a collection of more than 700 contemporary artworks including film, sound and mixed-media installations, sculpture, painting, photography, and performance.
TBA21 also commissions projects and encourages experimental practices, especially those informed by social and environmental issues.
Currently on show is Allan Sekula’s Okeanos, a monographic exhibition of the American artist’s photography, film and writing works that focuses on public understanding of our oceans, shifting the terrestrial narratives in contemporary discourse that are all too familiar for most of us.
When you’ve trodden these beaten paths in Vienna’s Museumsquartier, close to our partner, Hotel Altstadt Vienna, venture about an hour away from there, to TBA21, near the Augarten park, for some of the most unconventional viewpoints contemporary art has to offer.
For more on all things Austrian art, read up on The Old Bread Factory, Vienna - a hub of contemporary art and Svekst Tenn's design of a Josef Frank hotel suite, where two cultural greats collide. We also love our Vienna Design Guide - taking you to all the under the radar art+culture+design hotspots this most beautiful of cities has to offer.