VIENNA – In the name of art, an Austrian landmark is encouraging visitors to confront their sexual inhibitions by having them walk through a swingers club to reach one of Gustav Klimt's masterpieces.
The Secession — a world-renowned venue for contemporary art in downtown Vienna — has temporarily incorporated a sex club named "Element6" as part of a project by Swiss artist Christoph Buechel.
The swingers are not there during the day, but their mattresses, erotic pictures, bar and whirlpool are.
Secession spokeswoman Urte Schmitt-Ulms said Buechel hoped to spark a stir reminiscent of the scandal Klimt caused when his "Beethoven Frieze" was first exhibited in 1902. Now considered one of the Austrian painter's key pieces, it was once thought of as obscene and pornographic because of the way women's bodies were depicted.
One section of the mural shows three mostly naked women, one with very large breasts who looks pregnant and the other two covered only by their long flowing tresses. Another includes naked mythical figures and a zombie-like, half-naked female with stringy black hair.
While the club only opens at night long after the art hall closes, daytime visitors aged 18 and older pass through its dimly lit rooms on their way to see the Klimt painting.
The room where the frieze is exhibited is locked at night for security reasons. But it too has its share of mattresses, surrounded by fake tropical plants and a life-size stuffed lion.
Buechel declined to comment on his project, but the club, normally located in another part of town, said its participation "aims to give as many people as possible the opportunity to overcome their inhibitions."
"In the framework of this exhibition at the Secession, each individual can test for himself or herself whether this opens up new dimensions for his or her own sexuality," the club said in a statement.
There's no question that Buechel has succeeded in igniting a debate.
"Group sex in the Secession — has our society completely lost it?" Austria's far-right Freedom Party asked.
Yet on the streets of Vienna, people appeared more amused than appalled.
"I think it's perfectly OK," said Moritz Wagner, a 26-year-old medical student.
"It's not my thing but why not?" echoed a laughing Ute Wegscheider as she pushed her young daughter's pram. "Maybe I should go check it out with my husband!"
Gerald Adler of Britain's Kent School of Architecture, who was taking students to see the Secession, said Buechel should have chosen a different site — such as St. Stephen's Cathedral — if he wanted to make a real splash.
"He's putting it in a place that's an accepted venue for avant-garde art, so it loses its effect," Adler said.
The project runs until April 18.