Tale of Two Cities: Exhibition Spotlights Berlin-Vienna Connection

Berlin and Vienna both played key roles in the transformative artistic period of the early 20th century. A new exhibition traces the cities' parallel development with show-stopping works from Gustav Klimt, Otto Dix and Egon Schiele.

The German and Austrian capitals have a long and well-documented collaborative history in literature, theater and music. Now a newly inaugurated exhibition at Berlin's Berlinische Gallerie is exploring the cities' conversation in the visual arts.

"Vienna Berlin: The Art of Two Cities" is the first joint exhibition between the Berlinische Galerie and Vienna's Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. The exhibition charts departures in both cities from the more conservative academic style of the late 19th century toward Art Nouveau (known locally as "Jugendstil") and late impressionism.

The chief contrast between the cities lies in their approach to realism. Members of the Berlin Secession began making everyday life the subject of high art, showing working class women at work or World War I veterans begging on Berlin streets. Their focus was the relentless pace of big city living.

Their Viennese counterparts, in contrast, found their style in ornamental forms. They were often inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud, and paid more attention to the interior world and psychology.

Cross-Pollination

Berlin's growing pre-eminence became evident during the 1910s, as a new generation of Expressionists emerged. This trend was accelerated by the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy following World War I, which deprived Vienna of much of its historic hinterland and left the city as the oversized capital of a small European country. Many artists moved to Berlin permanently, but even those who remained in Vienna increasingly found themselves having to present their works to Berlin's more progressive public to gain recognition.

However the exhibition tries to place the paintings in their broader artistic context, and demonstrates how the two cities cross-pollinated. The magazines "Die Fackel" ("Torch") and "Der Sturm" ("Storm") provided a space for debate and argument that was followed in both countries. And the Berlin salon of Viennese socialite Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein, the older sister of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, became an important meeting place for artists from both countries.

While works by Klimt and Schiele are predictably the showstoppers in the collection, seeing them in the context of their contemporaries and the artistic worlds they inhabited is what makes the exhibition so noteworthy.

"Vienna Berlin: The Art of Two Cities" runs at the Berlinische Gallerie through Jan. 27, after which it will transfer to Vienna's Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.

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