Austria's little city of Krems an der Donau would merit a stop in any event, with its pastel-hued old center that still feels authentic, rather than touristy. Recently, it unveiled a new cultural ensemble called the Kunstmeile Krems, or Art Mile, which extends out from the old city’s gate. On our recent visit to the Krems and Wachau valleys, we took a day to explore some of its venues, and I left feeling quite impressed with what Krems has created. The Kunstmeile would be a feather in the cap of a city 10 times as large.
The Kunstmeile’s showpiece is the new Landesgalerie Niederösterreich (State Gallery of Lower Austria). A sort of torqued cube clad in zinc scales, the museum cuts a striking profile against old Krems and the green hills beyond. The architecture firm Marte.Marte designed the remarkable structure, dedicated to exhibiting Austrian art. I especially enjoyed an exhibition of works assembled by the important art collector Franz Hauer, which included major pieces by Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, as well as the lesser-known Albin Egger-Lienz, whose captivating paintings were new to me.
We also stopped in the Karikaturmuseum (Caricature Museum), a new jagged-roofed building dedicated to satire, comics and cartoons. The retro-futuristic exhibition we saw, Race to the Moon: The Fantastic World of Science Fiction, included numerous charming examples of vintage comics.
Other venues along the Kunstmeile occupy historic buildings. The Museum Krems, for example, exhibits older artworks in a 13th-century Dominican cloister, and the adjacent gothic church (the Dominikanerkirche) displays up-to-the-minute site-specific pieces. Another church, the Minoritenkirche, serves as an atmospheric space for performances.
After enjoying a museum or two, I recommend stretching your legs along Obere Landstrasse, the pedestrianized main street in the center of old Krems, lined with shops and cafés. It seemed to be filled mostly with locals, indulging in some coffee and cake or simply doing a bit of grocery shopping.
For anyone interested in Austrian art, whether contemporary or historical, Krems an der Donau has become an improbably important stop.