Austrian Cultural Forum Gallery

Edification value  
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  
Time spent 21 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Mark Dion’s “Humboldt Cabinet,” (2013), a beautiful wooden construction containing postcards painted by Colombians with random everyday things: a cat, a bug, a light, a toy airplane, fish hooks…  It’s simple and beautiful and speaks wittily and intelligently to the urge to collect and categorize the exotic.

Stairs detail, all metal and glass

The Austrian Cultural Forum is housed in a remarkable contemporary building, skinny and super tall.  The forum formerly lived in a townhouse on a standard Manhattan lot of 25 feet wide by 100 feet deep.  When they decided they’d outgrown that space, like so many Manhattanites before them they tore it down and built up.  On a footprint of 25 feet by 81 feet, architect Raimond Abraham designed a 24-story building, including a multilevel exhibit space at and slightly below ground level. The new building opened in 2002.


Skylight over a bright, exotic, reptile- and flamingo- infested swamp

The gallery space is super.  The tower is slightly set back from the rear of the building such that there’s a skylight, and it’s therefore bright and airy.  The different levels flow together  well, and while the total space isn’t large, it gives them a lot of flexibility for small-scale shows.

The current exhibit is called “Constructing Paradise,” pretty self explanatory.  I was surprised and intrigued by the breadth of artists — a handful of young contemporary Austrian and American artists contribute pieces but there’s also a print by Gauguin (perhaps the granddaddy of exotic-paradise-seeking-or-constructing artists). Basquiat and Kara Walker and Oscar Kokoschka are represented too.

The show ends (if you view it from lowest to highest) with a computer-generated tropical, palm-strewn sunset Mathias Kessler, a very timely take on invented paradise.

This is a great space for art, and assuming this show is typical, I really like the way they program it. I’d say absolutely visit if you happen to be in midtown and need an art fix.  The Austrian Forum and the Onassis Center are across 52nd Street from one another and make a great double bill.

For Reference:

Address 11 E 52nd Street, Manhattan
Cost Free

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