This year’s exhibition in the Theseus Temple is an immersive environment by artist Susanna Fritscher (born 1960, Austria). Commissioned by the Kunsthistorisches Museum and created specifically for this unique architectural setting, the work consists of a parcours formed by thousands of translucent silicone threads stretched from ceiling to floor.
Suspended between painted steel lattices that echo the geometric patterns of the Temple’s neo-classical interior, the installation appears to be in constant movement. A gentle, quivering vibration sustained by the flow of air and accentuated by the passage of natural light seems almost to give it its own breath. As we enter the work, our perception and experience of the space is transformed, shifting continuously as we move through it and heightening our awareness of our own physical presence.
‘The materials that I use – films, veils or threads – are so volatile that they seem to merge with the volume of air which they occupy,’ states the artist. ‘In the interplay that they create in and with space, materiality shifts and changes: air now has a texture, a brilliance, a quality. We can perceive its flow, its movement. It acquires a palpable, modular reality, a reality that is almost visible, or audible, and which can be described in terms of vibration, oscillation, of a wave, of a frequency.’
The effect of Fritscher’s installation is subtle, restrained and contemplative. It responds to the intimacy of the building, the milkiness of the light and the fragility of its own materiality, folding outside and inside worlds into each other. It has no narrative, preferring instead an open-ended relationship with its visitors, who bring meaning to the work through their own presence and movement through it. It does what all great artworks do: it rewards us for our patient engagement with it. On display throughout the late spring and summer and into the early autumn, it will change with the seasons, following the arc of the sun as the days first become longer and then shorter.
Susanna Fritscher has lived in France since 1983 and has worked from a studio in Montreuil, an eastern suburb of Paris, for the last twenty-five years. This new work is the most recent in a series of related large-scale installations developed by the artist in recent years. It follows presentations at the Musée d’arts de Nantes (2017), the Louvre Abu Dhabi (2019–2021) and the Centre Pompidou-Metz (2020). Several of these projects, including her participation at the 14th Biennale de Lyon in 2017, have incorporated additional elements of sound and movement.
The exhibition is the artist’s first institutional presentation in Austria. It was curated by Jasper Sharp and generously supported by the Contemporary Patrons of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Contemporary Art at the Theseus Temple
Beginning in 2012, the museum began a new series of exhibitions within the Temple, a neo-classical structure built by court architect Peter von Nobile in 1823 to be the home for a single work of then-contemporary art: Antonio Canova's white marble masterpiece Theseus Slaying the Centaur. For almost seventy years, this artwork stood alone inside the building, until in 1891 it was moved to the newly completed Kunsthistorisches Museum where it still stands today. More than a century later, these exhibitions have returned the Temple to its original purpose: to house remarkable artworks by contemporary artists, one at a time.
Artists who have previously exhibited at the Theseus Temple include Ugo Rondinone (2012), Kris Martin (2012), Richard Wright (2013), Edmund de Waal (2014), Susan Philipsz (2015), Ron Mueck (2016), Kathleen Ryan (2017), Felix Gonzalez-Torres (2018) and Maurizio Cattelan (2019).