Booming bass and flowing drinks aim to dust off the image of a venerable institution
Some 125 years after opening to the public, the Kunsthistorisches Museum (the museum of art history, or KHM for short) might be forgiven its slightly tired reputation. One half of Vienna’s twin museums (the Natural History Museum, or NHM, faces it across Maria-Theresien-Platz), its collection of art and curios from the imperial family still draws hordes of school groups and foreign visitors eager to see the treasures accumulated over centuries by those at the pinnacle of society – but natives tend to view it as little more than a tourist trap.
Enter Kunstschatzi, an after work party held monthly on Tuesdays since this spring at KHM, organized by the team that successfully transformed the ramparts surrounding the Albertina museum into the place to be on long, hot summer nights.
Entry is €10 at the door, but free for Jahreskarte (annual pass) holders – you may even upgrade your ticket for an additional €25, granting you access to the museum for a whole year and any subsequent Kunstschatzis.
At first glance, the KHM’s unique setting seems ill equipped for a night of clubbing. Amplified by the domed architecture, the music booms out, hitting you in the gut by the time you’re scaling the venerable marble staircase, and reaching near-intolerable levels once you reach the action on the second floor.
Sadly, dancing is out of the question: The large, round skylight in the circular central chamber is additionally surrounded by café tables, leaving a ring of barely two meters to the walls – which is in turn filled with standing tables, bar counters and the DJ’s turntables. Beach chairs for chilling out and pop-up bars offering reasonably priced drinks (Aperol Spritz: €4,10; Gin & Tonic: €7,50) are set up in the hallways, adding to the clutter.
Amazingly for a mass event with limited space, the central chamber never feels overcrowded; the entire second floor is open to interested revelers, and as Kunstschatzi fills up, so do the exhibition halls. This is where the true magic unfolds: Culture vultures descend hungrily on the displays, spontaneously forming enthusiastic flocks. High-school classes normally bored out of their skulls are held at rapt attention by the unfamiliar nocturnal setting. Couples getting away from the noise nestle into the upholstered benches, while players try to impress the opposite sex with their hastily googled knowledge of the pre-Raphaelites.
Gone are the pretenses of a stuffy temple to high culture; the relaxed atmosphere instead cultivates easy appreciation and fluid transition from the noisy main drag and the tranquil sanctum of the picture galleries.
And just like that, Kunstschatzi makes perfect sense: Locals hard-pressed to find time for culture during the work week can now do so easily while meeting like-minded art lovers. The museum dusts off its image while accessing a whole new audience. It’s not unlike the now institutionalized Lange Nacht der Museen (Long Night of Museums) but monthly instead of annually.
Dancers might be disappointed, but Rubens, Dürer and Caravaggio smile down as the bass drones and the drinks flow.
Next Kunstschatzis: Nov 8 & Dec 6, 19:00-23:00, Kunsthistorisches Museum