Artist Erwin Wurm’s guide to Vienna
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When I came to Vienna in the late ’70s it was dark and depressing; there was not much going on and the restaurants were bad and expensive – it still had the feeling of a postwar city. But it was also interesting because of the art and the artists who were here, starting a revolution. It has changed dramatically since then: now it’s vivid, young and beautiful.
Of course, there is still a connection to the old culture – it is the city of Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud, of the Karl-Marx-Hof and the Belvedere Palace. The most vibrant museum in the city is the Albertina, housing an incredible collection of some of the world’s most famous artists. In 2020 it transformed into something else with the opening of Albertina Modern, which has great temporary exhibitions and themes, such as a recent show on abstract expressionism. Works by Rothko and Pollock haven’t often been seen in Vienna, so it was rare and exciting. I don’t like everything – but I’ve given up believing I need to like everything. Next year I will have a retrospective there.
I live in a renovated loft in the Jewish neighbourhood of Leopoldstadt, with my daughter and wife. We have a collection of art and midcentury design there, and it’s a huge space with windows looking out onto the street on both sides. The building was once a clothing manufacturer – it was black and rotten when I first spotted it. One of the first to buy a flat here was my friend, the screenwriter Peter Morgan, who lived here for a time.
At the weekend, I often go to Limberg, about an hour’s drive from Vienna. My main studio is there, in an 11th-century castle, with a lake outside. I keep most of my sculptures there as I need to see what I’ve done to be able to make new things. In Limberg, I don’t have a doorbell. It’s freedom.
At the moment, I am designing a hat for Mühlbauer. It’s a traditional felt milliner but it makes fancy, experimental hats. As I’m getting older and going bald, I need a good hat – I’m scared of the sun and skin cancer. But I don’t like the classic hats everyone wears, so I went to Mühlbauer with my design – a hip-hop cap – and they said, fantastic, let’s do it! It is called the Erwin.
Scheer on Bräunerstrasse is an old shoemaker that once made shoes for the emperor – they still have the original wooden model. When you enter you feel as though you’ve gone back to the 19th century, with old machines and original wallpaper – it’s very exciting. They make classic Viennese leather shoes in a way that’s fresh and modern, as well as contemporary sneakers and boots – they experiment. Everything is done by hand and is bespoke.
Vienna has many good restaurants. Mochi is close to our loft. It’s Japanese-European fusion food and is fantastic – its soups and sushi are excellent. It’s small but there is a nice area to sit outside, in a square surrounded by trees. It’s a meeting place for young artists, designers and the Jewish community. I also go to Fabios, run by a friend of ours. It’s a fancy Italian place and a little conservative, but you see all kinds of people there, so the atmosphere is always interesting. I love the parmigiana, the fresh fish and seafood, and the scaloppine al limone. It has great wine, too.
On a Saturday I often go to the Naschmarkt with my sons to have breakfast. Last weekend we went for a Middle Eastern breakfast of poached eggs, feta cheese and honey with mustard and bread. The “snack market” is an institution, it’s the biggest market in Vienna, all along the Wien river. It’s very hip now and you have to fight to get a place. I like to go to the stalls with fruits, vegetables, honey, cheese and different spices, especially organic produce. One of my last purchases were Schafnase apples. It’s an apple variety from Styria, where I grew up.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park will present Erwin Wurm: Trap of the Truth from 10 June 2023 to 28 April 2024