It's not enough that Austria boasts glorious classical composers
or that Vienna jump-started the 20th century with avant-garde
innovations in the arts. No matter how illustrious, no country wants
to be known only for its past.
To shed its lederhosen image, Austria has opened a new outpost in
the happening hub of world art: Manhattan.
With yesterday's inauguration of a new home for the Austrian
Cultural Forum on East 52nd Street, in a radically unconventional
building by Austrian-born New York architect Raimund Abraham,
Austria has staked its claim as a player in the big leagues of world
The forum, funded by Austria's Ministry for Foreign Affairs,
promotes awareness of Austria's culture. In this tower, Austria will
show off its homegrown traditional and contemporary arts, as well as
nurture collaboration with American artists.
"Austria has always been associated with very traditional art
forms," says Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, director of the forum. They
date back to the Baroque period. "But ... we would like people to
know there are other aspects, which make it a very contemporary,
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and end of the cold war, Vienna
went from being geographically isolated in Central Europe to being a
nucleus for a united Europe.
"For the first time in 75 years, artists from Eastern Europe are
coming to Vienna for art school," says Laura Heon, curator of a show
on new Viennese art opening May 25 at MASS MoCA in North Adams,
Mass. "There's this flourishing scene now after 100 years of
To update its identity, the forum is sponsoring a three-month
festival, running through June, showcasing 100 Austrian artists in
its new home.
The challenging schedule of vanguard music, film, literature,
visual arts, architecture, and digital projects is free to the
public. Austria is strong in new media, electronic music, and
progressive architecture, often fused in a novel hybrid.The opening
festival, "Transforming Modernity," spotlights such evolving,
interdisciplinary art forms, which, according to Mr. Thun-
Hohenstein, signal the future.
"I'm glad the programs here don't deal with Mozart, chocolates,
Lippizaner horses, and the usual Austrian kitsch exports," says
Stefan Sagmeister, an Austrian graphic designer who lives in New
York. "The program is ambitious and specialized enough to actually
add to the artistic vitality of the city."
Indeed, even the building itself makes a distinct mark on the
cityscape. Architectural historian Kenneth Frampton of Columbia
University calls it "one of the most precise and interesting,
dynamically organized works built in New York in a long time."
The design is a triumph of freedom over a constricted space.
Built on an incredibly narrow site - 25 feet wide and 81 feet deep -
the structure soars 24 stories. On its facade, four planes of teal-
colored glass slope like ski jumps, punctuated by zinc boxes
cantilevering forward. …