Austria’s new coalition government, which includes the far-right Freedom Party, took power earlier this week, and already it has provoked the ire of Vienna’s most revered art institution, the Secession. In a statement today, the board of the Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession — cofounded by Gustav Klimt in 1897 — criticized the new government for appropriating the art movement’s motto (“To every time its art. To art its freedom.”) in its program for the next five years.
“When a government does not champion a free society, its promise to respect the freedom of the arts is no more than a rhetorical exercise,” the statement reads in part. “[C]ulture cannot be reduced to art objects or musical compositions. Nor can it be assessed on the quantitative scales of visitor figures, market values, or the circulation of works. An open society is the air that art needs to breathe.”
Indeed, on page 92 of its program for the next five years, the new Austrian government outlines its cultural plan and cites the Vienna Secession’s motto as inspiration:
The basis of all our cultural policies is the freedom of art and culture guaranteed in the Federal Constitution. We are fully committed to this freedom, especially that of contemporary art — according to the motto of the Vienna Secession: “Time their art, art their freedom!” For the freedom of cultural and creative work is not only a prerequisite for a multi-faceted and a high-quality art and cultural landscape, it is also a mainstay of our society.
However, many are concerned that the presence of a far-right party in the new government may undermine and threaten its ostensible commitment to the “freedom of art and culture.” Already, the new government plans to impose sanctions on immigrants who attempt to maintain their own cultures or otherwise “refusing to integrate,” according to the Independent.
Speaking about the Freedom Party at the time of the election — in which it came in second, receiving 27% of the vote — collector Ronald S. Lauder, who founded the Neue Galerie of Austrian and German art, expressed alarm at the party’s ascendance.
“It is sad and distressing that such a platform should receive more than a quarter of the vote and become the country’s second party,” Lauder told NPR. “It is still full of xenophobes and racists and is, mildly put, very ambiguous toward Austria’s Nazi past. My only hope is that they won’t end up in government.” The Freedom Party was founded in the 1950s by former Nazi officers.
The Secession’s full statement is included below:
The program drawn up by the new Austrian coalition government quotes the Secession’s motto, “To every time its art. To art its freedom.” As the board of the Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession, we would like to use this opportunity to spell out our understanding of the freedom of the arts:
Ever since our artists’ association was founded one hundred and twenty years ago, we have sought to live up to our motto, which affirms our faith in continual renewal, diversity, and openness and is incompatible with any political interference with the contents of art and its forms of expression.
Freedom of the arts is necessarily premised on internationality, pluralism, and dialogue. The notion that art’s purpose is to buttress a national collective identity presses it into a service that runs counter to its thematic diversity. We are persuaded that it is only in the horizon of this freedom that art can attain relevance and quality.
The freedom our motto demands extends far beyond the individual creative articulation: the exchange of ideas in a larger, pluralistic, international context is what endows the individual voices with cultural significance. That is why culture cannot be reduced to art objects or musical compositions. Nor can it be assessed on the quantitative scales of visitor figures, market values, or the circulation of works. An open society is the air that art needs to breathe.
When a government does not champion a free society, its promise to respect the freedom of the arts is no more than a rhetorical exercise.
The board of the Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession