The exhibition aimed to promote a dialogue between contemporary art and theology, making space for the critical consideration of human sexuality, the body, desire and relationships.

The exhibition concept was based on the premise that the Church is a space for contemplation, in which both religious and non-religious people can reflect on their being in relation to sacred space, their relationship to a sense of self, to others and to think about God.

The church building is primarily a space of ritual acts which are designed to facilitate an encounter with the divine and draw individuals toward community with others. A Church is also a space that offers all people, believers and non-believers, refuge and security. The exhibition made space for an open and friendly conversation between contemporary art and the so-called "theology of the body".

Theology has historically played an important role in the shaping and informing of artistic ideas, but now as art has undergone a fundamental shift in the way the body is represented, contemporary art may have more to say to theology than vice versa. The exhibition did not offer illustrations of a theology, nor was it an attempt to force art to be interpreted according to a theological framework. This dialogue necessarily took place in a sacred space where the art was challenged by the context of the environment and required to respond to its relationship with the hierarchical ordering of space. Each of the installations sensitively engaged with the architecture, respecting the religious significance of the Church in its whole and in its parts and will be made available as objects to introduce new ideas to prayer, theological reflection and provide an opportunity for the quiet contemplation of our embodied experience of being.

Jacob's Ladder in front of the „Fliegenglobalisierung“ installation

by Simone Stefanie Klein

Apparently, even the announcement of the exhibition "Leiblichkeit und Sexualität" suffices to attract an interested public: Yesterday, when I, a member of the Curatorial Team, popped into the Votive Church to observe the progress of the installation of Karmen Frankl's "Fliegenglobalisierung" [translated as "Fly-Globalisation"], I met an Italian couple who were contemplating a high wooden ladder, that had been placed in the space reserved for the artwork. The couple were convinced that the ladder was in fact the announced work of art, even moreso as I prepared to photograph the ladder. Being a conscientious person, I felt obliged to inform the Italians that the ladder had been placed there only as a means to install the artwork and that the actual installation was in the process of being set up. "Oh what a pity! We are going to leave Vienna tomorrow morning!" Certainly, one can easily imagine how disappointed the two guests were, so I thought I should at least try to soothe their frustration. "Let's suppose, this ladder were in fact a work of art, how would you think of it ?" After a moment of indecision, the woman answered, that such a beautiful wooden ladder would be to Christianity a very familiar symbol of a connection between heaven and earth and also represent the opportunity to ascend to heaven. She continued to say that this in turn would be very good news, especially at Easter time!How true! After a short discussion about “Heaven & Earth”, the couple left the church visibly content. How easily an everyday object may become a work of art! One might immediately reject all aesthetic theories and concede that art is only ever in the eye of the observer. Well, in the Christian tradition, a ladder is in fact loaded with symbolic meaning, so the association with a "spiritual" or "mental" ascension could be almost inevitable. Who amoung us, having grown up in a Christian environment, would not associate a ladder in a Church with “Jacob's Ladder”, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit or the seven-stage ladder of Sophia? In this special "encounter with art", the space played a major role: If the ladder had been placed in front of or behind the church, the Italian lady would probably not have discovered any merry Easter message! Therefore, for the time being, I may propose the following thesis for discussion:If an (even everyday) object loaded with symbolic meaning, is placed in a space which supports and contributes toward its symbolism, the space indeed affects its reception and interpretation. Therefore, it is certainly of great importance that the upcoming exhibitionLeiblichkeit und Sexualität takes place in a church and not in a museum!

Interview with Robert Drummond

by Heather Findling

You can feel a sense of spirituality that emanates from artist Robert Drummond, even over a Skype interview. Sitting down with Director and cofounder of the Geelong Fine Art School located in Australia, one is propelled into an artistic journey that encompasses strong undertones of east / west religious explorations complimented by such literary and musical references from Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. While Drummond prepares new work for the exhibition, I had a chance to ask him his thoughts on exhibiting work in a church setting and his artistic process in doing so. “To make art properly, you have to be monastic.”

This statement extends to Drummond’s belief that creating art in today’s society is a difficult task. Omitting any distracting noise like radio or television allows him to extend into a deep creative process, and with this solitude, aids in the production of more honest and reflective artwork. His humble approach in exhibiting his work in the church setting is not about competing with what already exists aesthetically. Instead, Drummond challenges himself by constantly questioning how he can add his own conceptual reflections in a space that he finds both physically demanding to exhibit art and already full of spirituality. Specifically created for this exhibition, his scroll piece will touch upon themes from the Song of Solomon and will be shown in the Ambulatory chapel at Votivkirche, Wien.

Pyschology and Art Merge at Votivkirche

You can find Maria Schlachter, psychologist and art historian, guiding people daily through the exhibition Leiblichkeit und Sexualitaet at Votivkirche. Feeling somewhat like a hostess at a party, Maria provides basic information about the pieces (or guests), introducing the visitor to each work, allowing for a dialogue to begin. In a recent interview, we sat down with Maria and asked her to expand upon her experiences.

by Anja Wabnig und Heather Findling

Can you briefly explain how you became involved as a guide for this exhibition?

MS: I was introduced to the organizers of the exhibition through mutual friends shortly before the opening.


Maria, you feel that art and psychology are interconnected and both exist as a kind of communication.  Which associations do you feel art and psychology have to one another, and how has the exhibition influenced this connection?

MS:  Art for me is a psychology with a special means of expression. For me, life has many visible expressions with various dimensions. It is a language beyond words.  Art can, unlike most psychological treatments, reach the viewer on many different levels without words.  This is especially true when strong emotions are associated to life-altering events, be it positive or negative.  The stronger the emotion, the more difficult it is to find the right words, especially when considering a traumatic event that has occurred in someone’s life.

In my opinion, the exhibition shows the function of art as a whole experience, focusing on issues relevant to the concepts of life that resonate deep within each individual: shame, guilt, longing, loneliness, intimacy, etc. I have experienced in recent weeks that visitors who were willing to engage in a dialogue have deeply addressed these issues in some way and left the exhibition deeply moved.


When you are speaking with people about the exhibition, you encounter numerous individuals who bring with them their own personal experiences and perceptions, especially when looking at the artwork in this particular space. In your opinion, which artwork evokes the greatest reaction from individuals who visit the exhibition?

MS:  I am not able to answer this question because according to my observations, each work of art has the potential to trigger an intense dialogue in the viewer, depending on their own personal distress and history.


You believe that the inclusion of contemporary art in this particular space is not about conveying beauty rather it is through the imperfect and problematic that people can find meaning. Similarly, The understanding of religion is not about beauty or beautiful imagery found in the church, but instead through the varied, sometimes problematic, facets of our life.  How do you think contemporary art in the church setting allows for a more comprehensive understanding of both art and theology?

MS: I believe the space of the exhibition assumes an extension of the understanding of what art is and why we need it.  Art has to do with life in all facets and shows a sense of truth regarding life and people.  Art also conveys a sense of beauty, as beauty is an essential part of life.  Something that looks beautiful or listening to beautiful music even can often be a literal means to soothing the soul.

However, the truth of life also is that it is not perfect, and very often is actually not pleasant at all.  Contemporary art thrives on dialogue.  It should act like a mirror in which viewers can see themselves and can be addressed. The church is a place filled with imperfect, sinful and broken people - but also filled with wonderful, holy and beautiful people.  Here, people can find themselves confronted with their dark and problematic sides, and feel understood and accepted with the aid of the artworks.  For some it was like granting a kind of permission where one doesn’t have to be perfect, especially inside the church. 


The thought of the vanity in the Rosary chapel

by Anja Wabnig

The installation of Javier Perez's "Rosario- Memento Mori“, in the Votive Church offers a meditation on both the Rosary and the concept of vanity.

The chain, as an aid for prayer is not a Christian invention. In fact, it can be found in different religions like Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam. Its earliest appearance is unknown. (cf. Frey, Bühler pg.337f.) According to the Catholic tradition, the Holy Virgin gave the rosary to Saint Dominic and explained to him the Mysteries. (Frey, Bühler pg. 23.) The Rosary is based around the “Our Father”, “Ave Maria” and "Gloria". These prayers are repeated in five sets of ten and have a strong relationship to the devotion to the Virgin Mary. The rosary is mostly known as a Marian prayer but in fact, it is a Christological prayer which prompts the believer to meditate on the most significant events in the life of Christ. (cf. Frey, Bühler pg. 42f.) Over the course of time, the rosary became a popular instrument for prayer and was often made from precious and expensive materials. Having the beads blessed gave it a even greater significance. The power of prayer could be increased by adding small charms with portraits of saints or phrases like “Memento Mori” on its surface. (cf. Frey, Bühler pg. 195f.) This phrase also appears on Javier Perez's rosary of 59 bronze skulls. Both, “Memento Mori” and the skull can be recognised as a symbol of vanity (vanitas). During the Renaissance and the Baroque period, skulls often accompanied the prayers of the saints or appeared as part of a still life painting to direct one's attention to the transience of earthly things. (cf. DeGirolami Cheney, 1992, pg. 242.)

“Rosario- Memento Mori” is placed around the tomb of Count Niklas Salm. The tomb was originally placed in the Dorotheer Church in Vienna and was brought to the Votive Church in 1879. Today the Salm Grave is located in the Rosary Chapel. Count Niklas Salm was first in command during the Turkish siege. (cf. Telesko, 2008, pg.94.)

After his death in 1530, the tomb was built at the request of the Emperor Ferdinand I. The twelve reliefs on the tomb represent battles involving Salm, like the battle of Pavia in 1525, the battle in Tokay 1527 or scenes of the Swiss wars in 1499. Between the reliefs are portraits of famous coevals like Maximilian I or Karl V. On the lid is an image of Salm kneeling in front of a cross. (cf. Thausing 1879, pg. 51.)

Analogous to the rosary as a reminder of the life of Christ, the tomb recalls important events in Salm’s life. Nevertheless Perez's Rosario, as “Memento Mori” with skulls is a meditation on vanity. Even the greatest warrior is not immune to the transience of earthly things.


Telesko, Werner: Kulturraum Österreich. Die Identität der Regionen in der bildenden Kunst des 19. Jahrhunderts. Wien: Böhlau 2008.
Cheney, Liana (editor): The Symbolism of Vanitas in the arts, literature and music. Lewiston: Mellen 1992.
Frey, Urs- Beat; Bühler, Fredy (editor): Der Rosenkranz. Andacht, Geschichte, Kunst. (Kat. Ausst. "Zeitinseln - Ankerperlen, Geschichten um den Rosenkranz"], Museum Bruder Klaus Sachseln, 25. Mai bis 26. Oktober 2003), Wabern/Bern: Benteli 2003.
Thausing, Moriz : Die Votivkirche in Wien. Denkschrift des Baucomités veröffentlicht zur Feier der Einweihung am 24. April 1879. Wien:1879

„Nur wo du zu Fuß warst bist du auch wirklich gewesen.“

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)- The pilgrimage places in the "Votivkirche".


by Anja Wabnig

About 250 meters has a visitor of the “Votivkirche“ to walk, when he passes all the artworks of the exhibition “Leiblichkeit und Sexualität”. Contemporary art placed in niches and chapels guide him through the church and lead him at the end to new thoughts, meanings, impressions, or enable at least to a short fled from the daily routine.

Walking is a specific aspect in the Christendom. Already the missionaries walked around the world to spread the message of Christ. This very day it is common to do processions for different events like Easter or the feast of Corpus Christi. Especially in the last years the pilgrimage became pretty popular again, not just for deeply religious people.

The pilgrimage had also a special meaning for the Habsburg Empire. This can be seen in the ambulatory chapels of the “Votivkirche”. 16 wall paintings are dedicated to the most famous pilgrimage places in the empire. (cf. Telesko 2008, S.102.) This includes among other things Alt- Bunzlau in Bohemia with the palladium of Bohamia in the second chapel (today Staré Boleslav in Poland), Mariaschnee in Carinthia in the third chapel and Maria zur Linde in Tirol in the sixth chapel. The job to picture the walls was given to Joseph Matthias Trenkwald (*1824 Prague † 1897 Lower Austria) in the late 19th century. He has been professor of historical painting at the academy of Vienna from 1872 to 1895. In 1895 he was raised to the peerage and became a member of the K&K central commission for art and historical monuments. (cf. Vierhaus 2008, S. 94.) Beside the frescos, Trenkwald was also responsible for the cartons of the windows in the ambulatory chapels. They showed scenes of the life of Saint Mary which were unfortunately destroyed in 1945.

The pilgrimage places in the “Votivkirche” arouse interest in the history of pilgrimage. The beginnings can be found in the first centuries Anno Domini. Helena, mother of Emperor Konstantin, did a pilgrimage in 327. In the fifth century church father Jerome, whose image can be seen at the pulpit of the “Votivkirche”, had the opinion, that visiting the holy places facilitate the understanding of the Bible. During the 12th century the improvement of streets and bridges made it easier to go on a pilgrimage. The motifs for visiting specific sacred places (most of the time shrines, relics places or places with legends of the saints) were different. They ranged from the hope of healing from emotional and physical suffering to the pray for redemption of the sins or the escape from one’s owns life. So-called “indulgence” became a popular reason for pilgrimage in the 14th century. Boniface VIII legislated a bull in 1300 which enabled a remission of sins. The believer had to come 15 respectively 30 times to the Basilica Peter and Paul after their confession. (cf. Herber 2006, S. 34f.)

The Marian pilgrimage places, on which the focus is laid at the “Votivkirche”, hat its height during the 16th and 17th century. The most important sacrifice place in Austria especially for the Habsburg Empire is Mariazell in Styria. It is pictured in the fourth ambulatory chapel. According to legend in 1157 monk Magnus from St. Lambrecht was sent to the area of Mariazell as a pastor for the shepherds. Close to his destination, suddenly a towering rock has blocked his path. He prayed to Saint Mary and asked for help. Suddenly the rock split and he could pass. As thanks, he put a statue of Saint Mary, carved by himself, on a tree stalk and build a chapel around it. (cf. Lukan;Lukan 2012, S. 121.)

The fresco by Trenkwald shows the monk as pastor who is surrounded by the shepherds. Typical for the painter, who is often called “last Nazarene” (cf. Kralik 1933, S.481.) he prefers the clarity of form instead of the intensity of color. He formed a connection between nature and people. Same as in the festival room of the academic gymnasium in Vienna he put ribbons under the scenes with the description of pictured topic.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said: “Nur wo du zu Fuß warst bist du auch wirklich gewesen.“ ("Only where you were on foot you have also been real.") A walk to a certain place, to a church or an exhibition can raise spiritually or secular experiences. Someone can escape from the bustle of the daily routine, find to himself or just reflects the recently seen.

Herber, Klaus: Jakobsweg. Geschichte einer Pilgerfahrt. München: Beck 2006.
Lukan, Karl; Lukan, Fritzi: Via Sacra. Der alte Pilgerweg nach Mariazell. Mythos und Kult. Berndorf: Kral 2012.
Kralik, Richard: Geschichte der Stadt Wien und ihre Kultur. Wien: Holzhausen 1933.
Telesko, Werner: Kulturraum Österreich. Die Identität der Regionen in der bildenden Kunst des 19. Jahrhunderts. Wien: Böhlau 2008.
Vierhaus, Rudolf (Hg.): Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie 10. München: K.G. Sauer Verlag 2008.



Mandy Gille 
Raphael Spiekermann
David Rastas 
Fr George Elsbett
Simone Klein
Anja Wabnig 
Heather Findling
Maria Schlachter
Lydia Sciri 
Jessica Blank  
Gerrit Schweiger
Johanna Petrovitsch
Anna Hoisl
Zahra Khorshidi
Hannes Platter
Erika Angerer
Christian Heredia
Rebecca Bredl
Emmanuel Fleckenstein
Roland Stieler
Elizabeth Spiekermann
Debora Däubl
Ines Oberngruber
Magdelena Schedl
Paul Schenck
Cora Jeannée
Elisabeth Loibner
Mareike Sornek
Itha Walser
Markéta Krčálová
Alen Batas
George Ooko
Ferdinand Walser
Johannes Wunsch
Christoph Bartylla
Klemens Höfer
Elmar Bertsch
Daniel Auer
Márton Hegedüs
Agnes Bredl
Eveline Stopfer
Fr Jacques Bagnoud
Elisabeth Doczy
Madina Sadykulova
Xenia Noble
Gabriele Schuster
Edi Pittracher
Simone Bergschober
Elizabeth Noble
Elisabeth Sunario
Markus Platter
Maria Gottsbachner
Johanna Walch
Kerstin Büdenbender
Christina Walch
Hanna Winter
P.Clément Imbert
Moriz Schlachter
David Jauernik
Andreas Ringhofer
Angela Ringhofer
Tanja Schenkir
Susanne Laubenbacher
Sylvia Buhl
Martin Buhl
Theresia Brömmel
Max Krecu
Julia Spiekermann
Oliver Daniel
Antonia Holewik
Joz Spiekermann
Damian Gatzweiler
Michaela Weimann



Contemporary art integrated into the architectural fabric of the Church building.


Each of the chapels, confessionals and other locations for the installation of artworks were given a new theme drawn from Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body.


Visitors were invited to make a form of pilgrimage through the church as a journey through moments of the mass.


The Votivkirche exhibition aimed to engage visitors in a challenging and enriching experience involving:

the way the body and sexuality have been re/presented in contemporary art

religious perspective on the body and sexuality particularly as it is expressed through ritual and architecture

the complex tapestry of memories, mental associations and attitudes that make up the individual and shape one’s perspective.

This three-fold relationship between the artwork, viewer and space are essential to the location of meaning in the experience of contemporary art. The museum space supports a very different relationship with the art object and it should come as no surprise that the re-entry of art into non-museum spaces coincides with a shift in the way the body is positioned in contemporary art.
KUNSTGLAUBE's exhibitions involve a series of architecturally sensitive installations of contemporary art in the side chapels, confessionals and nave of the Church building. Leiblichkeit und Sexualität sought to open the church space to a critical dialogue between non-religious perspectives on sexuality and a contemporary theology of the body.
Twenty-two interventions in the Votivkirche included works that both consoled and unsettled - aiming to disturb the comforted and comfort the disturbed. The Church space is traditionally reserved for contemplation and ritual action, providing refuge and consolation to people of all faiths and none. It must also be a challenging space that unsettles, provokes questions and gently exposes wounds and vulnerabilities. The art in KUNSTGLAUBE's exhibitions must sit on the thin and fragile line between consolation and disturbance - sensitively engaging with the architecture and the religious significance of the space.


One of the tasks of art is to remove us from the comfort of chatter (Das Gerede) and provocatively question commonly held values and widely accepted socio-cultural constructs. The transgressive rupture or erasure of these constructs in art can affect an awareness of our being in the world and deepen insight into who we are. In order to fulfil this function, art requires a particular reception that is often denied in the museum or gallery. The absence of ritual in the museum and distance between the viewer and artwork conspire against being confronted, disturbed or challenged by art.

The act of entering a church can be a stepping out of the world and into a space reserved for silence, involving the individual in an interaction with the architecture, art and quiet, where time slows down, the eyes having to adjust to the dim light, the lingering scent of incense filling the nostrils, inviting us to engage in gestures of submission and the result being deep consolation with attention drawn toward being present in the here and now. However, visiting a church isn’t always a consoling experience. A church can be foreboding, we can be distracted by elements that speak of the power structures of the religious institution. Symbols and images can seem irrelevant to our daily lived experience. And yet, there are moments when we might glimpse the potential of the space to speak directly to us in a very personal way. When we encounter contemporary art that speaks the language of our time, we are challenged to disregard this cynicism and discover that as much as these spaces are heavily bound to a specific religious tradition, they go deep into the human condition.


Visitors to KUNSTGLAUBE exhibitions are offered assistance in finding meaning in the works installed throughout the Church. The works would never be "explained" to the viewer because this would undermine the potential for the experience to be uniquely meaningful to each individual. There are no information panels in the church, and visitors are encouraged to approach staff if they would like to know more about an artwork. A floorplan and information on the works are also available online and can be accessed while in the church.


George Elsbett LC

Fr. George was born in London, grew up in Canada and has been living in Vienna for more than fifteen years. He is the theology consultant for all of KUNSTGLAUBE's exhibitions.

Maria Schlachter

Maria is both a psychologist and an art historian from Vienna. She is the Director of KUNSTGLAUBE

David Rastas

David has been living in Vienna since November 2012 and has been researching contemporary art in Churches since completing studies in art history and architecture. He is the curator for KUNSTGLAUBE's exhibitions.


The planning and realising of each of KUNSTGLAUBE's exhibitions requires a huge team of supporters, volunteers and staff. The Votivkirche exhibition involved twenty-six members of staff and forty-seven volunteers.

Volunteers Needed!

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Ben, London

Published Aug 30.


"A profound exhibition that has opened my eyes and my heart.. For so many years I have found it difficult to enter the Church. I love these buildings but I am overwhelmed with a feeling of unease at the thought of being in a church. Until today, I have not known why this is so. I`d convinced myself that it was because of the people, because of the rules, because of the institution. But today, this exhibition and Theology of the Body that it so gently engages have helped me to see things more deeply, to see things as they really are. I have already been here several times since the exhibition opened. The first time I came here I must be honest and say that I had no idea what I was looking at. But these artworks have stayed with me, they keep coming back to me. The experience I`ve had with each of the artworks has remained with me. As a result, I am changed. I feel as though I have been reborn. The reason why I did not feel comfortable in the Church was because I did not feel comfortable with my sexuality. I was afraid that my sexuality was “disordered”, I was afraid that all that is available to “church people” was not available to me. But I have realized today, as I reflect once again on these beautiful, incredibly inspiring artworks, my soul, my spirit has not been invited into my body. I’ve been living a struggle between spirit and flesh but only in a way that I have perceived it as such. Through the relationship that each of these artworks have to each of the chapels, to this remarkable church, I have discovered that my body is not opposed, separate or at war with my spirit. As the video projection on the window invites me to reflect on spiritual and bodily desires, I realize that my desires, my deepest desires are longing for one thing. If these artworks can sit comfortably in this Church and I can feel comfortable here through the access these works provide, then my spirt can feel comfortable in my body. My spirituality can sit comfortably within my corporeality just as my sexuality sits comfortably for the first time ever, in the Church. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to discover the healing power of art and the possibility of deep transformation," Ben, London

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David Rastas

Published Aug 28.


The installation of Anders Krisár’s The Birth of Us (Boy) in the Votivkirche embraced the viewer through the interplay of an unfamiliar object in an extraordinary space, but also through the most pronounced contrast of scale, ranging between the scale of the nave and the scale of the polyester resin sculpture. The range of emotional responses to the symbolic consequences of adult hand prints pressed into a child’s torso was immense. The location of the hyper-real sculpture within a space activated by ritual, where the viewer is symbolically removed from the everyday, gave permission for a thoroughly subjective response. Through ritual, this separation from the everyday enables an unexpected encounter with the threshold state of the symbolic ritual world.

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