Vienna, known for its rich cultural heritage and architectural splendor, recently unveiled a water fountain that has become the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons. Designed by the avant-garde Viennese art group Gelitin, the ‘WirWasser’ fountain, commissioned to commemorate 150 years of Vienna’s modern water system, has earned the dubious distinction of being labeled the ugliest fountain in Europe, and perhaps even the world.
Costing a staggering 1.8 million euros (approximately $2 million), the fountain’s design is intended to symbolize “communal responsibility for water.” The jury that selected Gelitin as the winner was convinced of the artistic merit, but the general public has been far less forgiving. Almost immediately after its inauguration on October 24, the fountain faced a barrage of criticism on social media platforms, with many users on X (formerly Twitter) expressing disdain for its appearance and questioning its exorbitant price tag.
Vienna’s Social Democrat Mayor Michael Ludwig, undeterred by the public outcry, defended the fountain’s “extraordinary, reality-inspired” design, asserting that it conveys a vital “sense of togetherness.” Despite accusations of overspending, officials contend that the construction cost was actually reduced from an initial estimate of 2.1 million euros.
Critics have not minced words in their assessment, with one X user likening the fountain to the work of a 5-year-old. The sentiment is echoed by others who lament the missed opportunity for real artists to contribute to Vienna’s public art landscape at a fraction of the cost. Some users even question the lack of romance, heritage, spirit, and history in the controversial design.
As the debate rages on, one cannot help but ponder the subjective nature of artistic appreciation. While beauty is often said to be in the eye of the beholder, the price tag attached to Vienna’s newest water fountain does raise eyebrows and invites scrutiny into the allocation of public funds for art that, at least in the eyes of some, may have missed the mark.