Modern Art in Salzburg – The Walk of Modern Art
Explorer’s note: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a booking through them, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps us keep providing tours and top-notch travel advice.
I don’t like modern art. But I walked and cycled the streets of Salzburg for years on my tours and got used to the many strange statues. They grew on me and I am now a fan. Not for the sake of modern art, but because of Salzburg and because the Salzburg Foundations art has become a part of the city.
The Salzburg Foundation began in 2002 to place modern art in public spaces. Their walk of modern art was a private initiative that so far features 13 pieces of art by various artists. The Salzburg Foundations Goal is to break the boundaries of the museum and bring art to the people instead of the people to the art.
This noble goal and the fact that the Walk of Modern Art leads you to many must-see sights of Salzburg made me want to introduce it to you. For those of you who found this article because they are genuine lovers of modern art, there will be many more options at the end of this article.
The Walk of Modern Art
With this article, I want to provide an alternative sightseeing plan rather than just a guide to modern art. Therefore, the order in which I present the Salzburg Foundations art makes sense to follow for a tour of the old town of Salzburg. It’s presented in context with its surroundings. Here are the Google Maps and Google Earth maps.
Walk of Modern Art on Google Earth
Walk of Modern Art on Google Maps
Next to every modern artwork by the Salzburg Foundation you will find a red sign that gives information about the artwork.
The Spirit of Mozart
The Spirit of Mozart is where everything in Salzburg starts. You know why? Because that’s the meeting point for the free walking tours. It’s not that I like the artwork so much, let alone the artist. But I like the chairs as a meeting point, even if they are usually full of bird droppings and unusable as seating.
Furthermore, is the location right next to the main bridge is the most central location to start exploring Salzburg. The view of the fortress, the river, and the city mountain offers a glimpse of understanding at the beginning of the tours.
Marina Abramovic, a Serbian performance artist, is famous because of her YouTube videos. One of them where she sat in front of strangers at the MoMa in New York for three months for 8 hours every day.
Another piece of art is right where you stand. Beyond Recall are the four cubes. One in each of the corners of Staatsbrücke, the main bridge connecting both sides of the river. In each of the cubes, there are neon light letters and mirrors reflecting the lights inside and outside of the cubes. They are also great for creative photography.
Where Staatsbrücke, the main bridge was, there always a bridge. Before regulating the river in the second half of the 19th century, this was the most narrow point. They, however, had to rebuild the bridge eight times.
The last time during the second world war because the Nazis needed a more solid bridge for their warmongering. During the second world war forced laborers constructed the bridge. As you can imagine, this was dangerous work, and many died.
When the bridge reopened four years after the war, in 1949 no one mentioned the forced labor involved in building it. Brigitte Kowanz installed Beyond Recall in 2007 during a Restauration as an effort to remember the victims of the Nazi regime.
Brigitte Kowanz is an Austrian artist who lives and works in Vienna. Her focus is on the exploration of space and light. She teaches at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna.
When you cross the street from the main bridge to Linzergasse and turn left after the first building, you reach Makartplatz. Here you find another modern sculpture surrounded by Mozart’s Residence, the Trinity church, and the state theater. You find the so-called Caldera in the middle of the small park.
The term Caldera comes from geology, It refers to a volcano crater. Like with many of the modern art pieces we don’t exactly know what the five-meter high bronze sculpture represents represent. Everyone has a different interpretation. Some think it’s Mozart’s wig here in front of the residence, others believe it’s two people kissing. I think it’s a tooth.
Tony Cragg, the British artists of the Caldera chose Makartplatz for the purposeless sculpture because expedient traffic otherwise dominates the square. Moreover, Cragg compares the geography of Salzburg with its two city mountains to the volcanic crater.
In spring the sculpture is surrounded by the Magnolia blossom and crowds of Magnolia photographing people. The rest of the summer few spend their time on Makartplatz because it’s a place of passage.
Tony Cragg is one of the world’s leading sculptors. He experiments with unconventional material. In the case of Caldera with bronze and most of his sculptures are similarly abstract.
If you haven’t yet, take a quick look at Mirabell gardens before crossing the river.
Hommage to Mozart
After crossing the river over the Makartsteg bridge, you go downstream until you reach the white church on the left side. In front of the Ursuline- or Mark’s church, you find a rather bizarre Hommage to Mozart. A naked female body with a cartoon of Mozart’s head. You only recognize Mozart by his wig.
The surface of the statue seems unfinished. One arm of the statue even seems to have fallen off, but that’s intentional. What’s not intentional is the fact that the statue is plain grey. Here comes an interesting story.
This depiction of Mozart was not well received by many. After its inauguration, Martin Humer, a Christian, political activist, even vandalized it. He tarred and feathered the statue. After cleaning the statue it lost all of its paint. Therefore, it’s plain grey now.
Markus Lüpertz, the artist, however, didn’t mind the vandalism. The rumors about the inappropriate statue and the act of vandalism surrounding the modern art piece made it even more famous. Lüpertz is a German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, writer, and musician and one of the best-known German contemporary artists.
Visit the Ursuline church, if it’s open. It’s one of Fischer von Erlachs churches and I would anyway always recommend visiting churches in Salzburg.
From the strange Mozart, you follow Gstättengasse along the side of the mountain and into the old town. At the end of Gstättengasse, there will be an elevator inside the mountain. That elevator takes you straight into the lion’s den. Straight into the museum of modern art.
The ride costs a few bucks but for the view, it’s worth it. If you have a Salzburg card it includes the elevator and the museum. If you don’t have a Salzburg card and are not a lover of modern art, skip the museum and only pay for the elevator! If you don’t want to pay you can also hike the mountain from Mülln or skip the view, the Sky Space and the next artwork.
Leave the museum building to the right. After going up the few steps and admiring the view, you can find James Turrell’s Sky Space. It’s a building in the shape of a cylinder. If you visit during the day, you can walk in. There is a hole in the ceiling so you can look at the sky.
Inside, benches surround the walls of the round building. You can sit down. Sky Space is supposed to give you an excerpt from the sky and the changing colors of the light.
James Turrell is an American artist from California, focused on light and space. The Salzburg Sky Space is not the only one. Turrell established similar constructions all over the world. Some of them much more sophisticated and actually meant to observe space.
Ziffern im Wald
Ziffern im Wald, meaning Number is the Forest, is on the other side of the museum. It’s not a must, and maybe the most random of all the modern art by the Salzburg Foundation. If you would like to see it anyway, pass the front of the museum and head up the two sets of stairs and past the Amelia Redlich tower next to the museum.
That’s where you find the Igloo shaped construction. Ziffern im Wald was the second piece of art put into public space by the Salzburg Foundation. It comprises twelve iron pipes forming the Igloo and 21 numbers illuminated day and night by neon light. The 21 numbers depict the Fibonacci digits. The Fibonacci digits are infinite.
What the artist wants to represent with the numbers is the infinite growth of leaves in the forest.
Mario Merz, just like so many artists who contributed to the Salzburg Foundation, had his special theme. Igloos and numbers. Unfortunately, the Igloo in Salzburg was his last piece of art. He died shortly after his work in Salzburg was finished in 2003.
Mönchsberg, the mountains you are on, is a fantastic place to hike. If you would like to, you could skip the elevator and just climb the mountain in Mülln to walk along. It doesn’t take long.
The pickles are one of the most famous pieces of modern art by the Salzburg Foundation. Nowadays you even find souvenirs that represent the Gherkins. You could say they went viral. Tourists took selfies with them, and so they spread on social media and became one of the images of Salzburg.
That’s also what the artist’s work is about. Erwin Wurm, the most famous Austrian modern artist, became known for his one-minute sculptures. What he did was ask people in the museums to interact with everyday objects weirdly and take a photograph. That only takes a minute, therefore it’s called the one minute sculpture. If you don’t quite know what I mean, follow this link to find some one-minute sculptures.
The pickles. Another modern artwork that we have to interpret ourselves. The only explanation the artist gives is that every pickle is different, and every person is different, but we can recognize every pickle as a pickle and every person as a person.
An interesting fact. The archbishop inhabited the left side of the river by monasteries and privileged citizens. But the mountain limited the space. Therefore, there was no more space left by the 18th century. The park where the pickles are is the only public green space on the left side of the river. In the park, you could find a few more modern art pieces, just not as part of the Salzburg Foundation.
Erwin Wurm is the most successful, most popular Austrian contemporary artist. He is famous for the one-minute sculptures, bloated everyday objects, and satirical humor. In 2008, for example, he created a self-portrait as a pickle. It looks the same as the pickles in Furtwänglerpark. The self-portrait is now in the collection of the MdM Salzburg.
AEIOU is the white building less than a minute from the pickles, right behind the University Church. The white pavilion in the shape of a cube was the first artwork ordered by the Salzburg foundation in 2002. The building is at ground level and open for visitors during the day.
It’s the most complex and maybe most random of all the artworks included in the walk of modern art. I haven’t bothered to interpret it yet. There is barbwire, an oil painting, part of a poem by Ingeborg Bachmann, a Moroccan thorn bush, a shelf with 60 metal books and the letters A.E.I.O.U. as used by Friedrich III in the 15th century.
We do not even know for sure what Friedrich III was referring to when he used the letters A.E.I.O.U. on his shield and his castle. There are 300 interpretations. Anselm Kiefer’s pavilion with the same name and the letters is no different. According to the artist, it’s supposed to be in a sleeping beauty slumber until the viewer awakens it with interpretations.
What amazes me, again and again, is the fact that they employ a security guard to protect the art during opening hours.
Anselm Kiefer is a German painter and sculptor. He works with materials such as ash, clay, and lead, and his works are inspired by poetry and recent history. Many of his works depict the horrors of the holocaust.
Awilda is just another corner away from our previous discovery. Heading towards the cathedral but turning left before the Franciscan church, you find a yard with a five-meter high white bust on the right side.
This five-meter high sculpture is made of Spanish marble. It’s called Awilda and is named and portrays a person the Catalan artist, Jaume Plensa used to know. A girl from the Dominican Republic who, together with her mother, came to Barcelona in search of a better life. That’s where he met them.
He took a 3D laser scan of her head to enlarge the captured information any size he wants. The sculpture in Salzburg comprises 20 individual layers of solid white Spanish marble on a metal rod. the white marble blends in with the historic surroundings on the backside of the old archiepiscopal residence.
Plensa chose the location because it’s part of the Salzburg University and therefore a meeting point for international students and a place to get to know each other.
The Awilda sculpture in Salzburg was later replicated twice as high and placed in Rio de Janeiro before they moved it to Chicago and then to Miami.
Jaume Plensa created countless busts similar to Awilda and other full-body sculptures made of stainless steel letters.
If you haven’t visited it yet, the Franciscan church is right next to Awilda and worth the visit.
To visit the Vanitas installation, you head to the Salzburg Cathedral. In the cathedral, where many of the archbishops were buried, you find the installation in the room on the left when coming down the stairs.
The artwork comprises twelve small devil figures cut out of sheet metal and lit by flickering candles. The figures cast shadows on the wall and appear larger. Another devil figure moves from one corner to the other while a voice in the background constantly announces the time.
Vanitas means transience. A common theme in baroque times and a theme in the tomb of the archbishops. Personally, I am not sure what to think of this kind of modern art in the basement of a church, even if I am not a churchgoer for religious reasons but for art and architecture.
Christian Boltanski is a French artist. Boltanski, other than most of the artists featured by the Salzburg Foundation, didn’t study art. He was born the son of a Jewish father just before the second world war ended. His work is shaped by the experience of the holocaust and often addresses transience, memory, and fragility.
Sphaera is one square further from the cathedral and right underneath the fortress. Together with the pickles, it’s the most iconic modern art piece in Salzburg. It’s one that I like because the golden ball fits the scene. Take a photo of the fortress, the golden ball, and maybe even yourself in the shot!
The second part of this artwork, the same statue of a woman but much smaller, is hidden at the back entrance of the festival hall in Toskaninihof yard above the entrance to the parking garage. The woman is much smaller and more inconspicuous than the man on the ball.
Theories say that the man could look for the woman but is looking in the wrong direction.
But again. We don’t know what the golden ball stands for let alone the man on top. Sometimes tourists think the man is real when they first see him and are afraid he might fall down. Others think the ball is the Mozart chocolate or the man is the little prince on his planet.
Stefan Balkenhol is a German sculptor who created countless of these figures in different places and contexts. Like so many other modern artists, he believes it is not his job to explain the figure but the job of the viewer to interpret the art.
Sprache der Vögel
The “language of the birds”, as we call the artwork, hides at the Salzburg state government in the yard of the Chiemseehof. The entrance to the Chiemseehof is right at the 220 degrees cafe. One of the best cafes in Salzburg, by the way. In case, you need a caffeine boost.
You can only visit the Chiemseehof during opening hours. Alternatively, you could look through the fence on the other side, but you wouldn’t get all the way to the art.
The artwork was made of bronze and represents the wings of an eagle growing out of a stack of books. The 4 meter tall statue lies on a base weighing seven tons.
It is the last of the thirteen works of art of the Salzburg foundation and was created by the same artist who created the first Salzburg foundation works of art in 2002.
It’s believed that modern artwork is supposed to represent the power and unstoppability of written knowledge. However, the artist has not commented fully on this and there is still plenty of scope for interpretation.
Anselm Kiefer, as with the AEIOU cube, is concerned with the written word and with history and myths. The language of the birds emerged from his engagement with the French esoteric Fulcanelli.
Situated right next to the river, the connection is the last stop on this modern art tour of Salzburg. You get there when you head down to the river from Mozartplatz square to the Mozartsteg bridge. The artwork is an 11-meter long stainless steel wave with an entrance or an exit on each side.
Because the stainless steel reflects the surroundings at the entrances, the artist understands it as a connection between the inside and the outside. The solid outside could be the old town of Salzburg, while the inside are the people that live in and visit the city.
Manfred Wakolbinger is an Austrian artist with a professional background in metalworking and tool making. He is a photographer and sculptor and above all creates the “Connection” type of statues. Most of his works are exhibited in Austria.
More Modern Art in Salzburg
Museum of Modern Art Salzburg
The Modern Art Museum will be the first place you come across when looking for Modern Art in Salzburg. It’s the building on top of Mönchsberg mountain. The one next to the white tour and visible from everywhere in the city.
If you are a lover and a connoisseur of Modern Art, this might be the place for you depending on the current exposition. If you have a Salzburg Card, this might also be for you, simply because it’s free with the card and you will want to take the elevator, anyway.
Otherwise, I don’t consider the museum a must. The artworks collected by the Salzburg foundation are more significant and the artists some of the most important contemporary artists. But it depends on the current exposition of the museum, your personal interest, and your plans.
Before the Museum of Modern Art opened on Mönchsberg in 2004, there was first a Cafe and then the Casino. Inside the mountain, there is the Mönchsbergaufzug, an elevator to take you up the mountain and straight into the museum. Even if you don’t visit the museum, it’s worth taking the elevator or walking all along the mountain to enjoy the great view.
If you would like to eat on top of the mountain during the day, I recommend heading over to Stadtalm. Stadtalm is a restaurant slash hostel inside the fortification you see on your right when you stand in front of the museum and look at the city.
Here you find the current exposition at the Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art Rupertinum
The Museum of Modern Art on Mönchsberg is not the origin of Modern Art in Salzburg. The idea of a museum emerged after the second world war. Friedrich Welz, who because of the war became one of the most important postwar Austrian art collectors, is considered the initiator.
Salzburg bought the Rupertinum building next to the Concert Hall and opened the first modern art museum in Salzburg in 1983. Back then Welz donated most of his private collection, a lot of Kokoschka’s expressionist art and the museum also owns the largest photography collection in Austria. Today, all of it is part of the larger MdM.
Rupertinum still nowadays is a Modern Art Museum, has its own exhibitions but belongs to the Museum of Modern Art on Mönchsberg. Therefore, you can also use the MdM ticket or the Salzburg Card to visit Rupertinum. A separate ticket would be available.
You find the current Rupertinum expositions also on the MdMs Website.
Art Galleries in Salzburg
If you’re really into modern art there countless other places to explore. Art galleries of all kinds. Here I will provide you with links to the most significant ones.
Galerie Ropac is recognized as one of the leading art galleries in the world. Thaddaeus Ropac began in Salzburg in the 1980s but nowadays has branches in London and Paris. Their gallery at Mirabell Square often features well-known artists.
Galerie Welz is the oldest art gallery in Salzburg. Friedrich Welz took over the picture frame shop of his father just before the second world war. During the war, Welz became successful by collaborating with the Nazis. As mentioned before, he later started the museum of modern art and also founded the international summer academy together with Oskar Kokoschka.
Künstlerhaus is home to the Salzburg art association and might the most open place for art in Salzburg. It houses over 20 studios of mainly young artists and features different projects in two rooms and in the hallways. They run a shop, there is a cafe and in summer they organize the Sunset Cinema in their garden. There are no entrance fees.
The Leica Gallery makes the heart of a sophisticated photographer beat faster. It’s one of 18 Leica Galleries worldwide and features not only expositions in different locations in the city but hosts workshops and sells cameras.
Fotohof is a non-commercial photography gallery but not only. It’s also one of the biggest public libraries for photography, a photo archive, and a publisher. Fotohof might be worth the visit if you are as passionate about photography as I am.
Even More Modern Art in Salzburg
If that’s not enough, you can search and you will find. Even more. There are many more small art galleries and many more modern art pieces in every corner of the city.
The reason I like the Walk of Modern Art by the Salzburg Foundation is that it leads you along the most important historic sights, that it’s free and that these pieces of art blend in with the old town of Salzburg. They chose these locations well and if you like to interpret Modern art, you will find connections with the particular places in the city.