#ToArtItsFreedom: controversy around Schiele's nudes in Vienna

Egon Schiele’s nude drawings still cause excitement 100 years after their first publication. His expressionist display of naked bodies still encounters resistance in many places today.


During the last few weeks there has been much talk about the censorship suffered by posters for the Schiele exhibition to be held at the Leopold Museum in Vienna.

It is incredible how the art of the Vienna Secession can still be controversial, even a century after the death of its protagonists (Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Koloman Moser and Otto Wagner, who all died in 1918). However, the offline and online censorship has given a new impetus to the celebrations of this centenary, triggering a gripping debate around the scandal raised by nudity. The Viennese tourism agency has therefore launched the hashtag “#ToArtItsFreedom”, taken from the secessionist motto written on the Vienna Secession building (Der Zeit ihre Kunst / der Kunst ihre Freiheit). The Viennese museums themselves also seized the opportunity, emphasising how in Vienna in 2018 it will be possible to enjoy the art of Schiele and his nudes, so expressive and touching, in total freedom.

As a diehard fan of Austrian early twentieth century art (who can’t wait to see the exhibitions scheduled in Vienna), I absolutely love this sense of intellectual excitement. It generates curiosity and invites the public to have a more critical and less passive look on what Schiele’s vision has given to the history of art.

At the same time, however, my experience as a writer for Antenna International tours has taught me that nudity actually does not upset anyone, as long as it’s offered to visitors in a natural way. In some cases, paintings and sculptures depicting nudity have been proposed even in kids tours, without triggering any controversy. The secret? A respectful and relaxing narrative style, conceived to put the visitor completely at ease.

Even though art is often the target of censorship, it is important to remember that art itself only asks to be experienced with respect and without any prejudice.

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