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I HAVE to be honest: art museums don't exactly rock my world. They have squeaking floors and loitering guards and are full of whispering people looking far too earnest.After a while, I feel fresh air and cold beer calling, if not a good lie down in order to recover.

And so when people start talking about Vienna's Art Nouveau furniture, music museums, baroque palaces and Modernist paintings, my eyes glaze over and I start thinking about heading to the nearest cafI for a strudel accompanied by coffee piled with dollops of whipped cream.Don't get me wrong.The current major exhibition in Melbourne is a great coup, showcasing early twentieth-century art and design from Vienna that includes pieces rarely seen before outside Austria, such as Klimt's famous painting The Kiss.

And if you're the arty type and have thigh muscles that can withstand hours of museum loitering, Vienna itself will be your idea of heaven.Austrian artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele are always on show at the Belvedere and Leopold museums.And get this: there's a whole Museums Quarter that could keep you busy for a week.

Yet many of Vienna's celebrated artists and designers can be admired simply by wandering the streets of this captivating capital.Otto Wagner, one of the world's most influential Art Nouveau architects, designed the lamps, railings and other details of station buildings along the U6 elevated railway line, which you can ride to this day, hopping off to enjoy live music in the bars beneath its arches.Or you can pop into the American Bar in a little alley in the old-city centre and get a look at the glorious little onyx-and-black-marble interior designed by another celebrated fellow, Adolf Loos.

I can assure you that Modernist architecture becomes more interesting with every apple martini.Humphrey Bogart would feel at home amid the cigarette smoke, which is bearable here for the louche old-time atmosphere it creates.And when the Museums Quarter starts to pall, you could partake of your design in a far more entertaining fashion.

Call me a philistine, but I'd rather be browsing the mystifying fashion boutiques of the trendy Seventh District just a few blocks away.Then there is the Fourth District, where bourgeois Viennese play at being bohemian, roasting their own coffee and dabbling in art.Wander the galleries and clothes stores before stopping at Babette's, a luminous bistro store flooded with light from huge windows.

Sit at the bar and watch the chef prepare your meal.Each day the dishes change, inspired by the recipes in the cookbooks all around.It might be basil and coconut soup with wantons, light and fresh, followed by grilled fish with sweet-potato strudel.

For all I know, museum types are happy enough just looking at food paintings.If so, Vienna's Museum of Fine Arts has the world's largest collection of Bruegel, who knew a thing or two about painting people eating pies.On the other hand, you could get a lovely glimpse of design history while actually eating chocolate at the same time by simply heading to Schokolade KVnig.

The "chocolate king" that gives the shop its name is master confectioner Wolfgang Leschantz, celebrated for his gourmet handmade Viennese nibbles.Locals drop by for some golden hearts make with hazelnut crunch, or to dip into the chocolate fountain.There is plenty of art for the mouth, but the shop is a designer beauty, too.

Operating for 160 years, it began as a button shop supplying the imperial court and is beautifully fitted out in polished wood surmounted by the double-headed eagle of the Hapsburgs.Talking of food - and frankly, why wouldn't you in Vienna - I would admit one of the attractions of its museums is that you can always nip out for a restorative snack between art movements.When you flag at the 60,000 drawings of the fabulous Albertina, its Do & Co restaurant offers leather-and-marble chic and baguettes stuffed with smoked salmon and sun-dried tomatoes.

The Museum of Applied Arts (MAK to its mates) displays porcelain, textiles and furniture, but you'd probably be arrested if you sat on its nineteenth-century chairs.Never mind.Its in-house restaurant, is one of Vienna's best for traditional Austrian fare with a modern twist.

It has a courtyard where the blue-rinse set sits in the summer months, and a spectacular bar where bright young things hang out of an evening.Its huge chandelier made of bottles ought to be in the museum itself.When it comes to chandeliers, Austrian firm Lobmeyr once made ceiling-loads of the hideous things for the Hapsburgs, some of which you can see hanging among the gilt-adorned excess of the Hofburg and SchVnbrunn palaces.

The master glassmaker is still going, proof that contemporary Vienna still has its design edge.One of the exciting things about Vienna is the way imperial sentimentality is always tempered by the still-creative culture of today.Sashay into the Lobmeyr shop, which has an old-world charm about it, but where modern reinterpretations of the chandelier will bring a twinkle to your eye.

The best design treat of all in Vienna might simply be to take a night walk through the old town under the cathedral's gargoyles and the statues of musicians that prance in the shrubbery.Imperial glamour and baroque glory are all around and the Hofburg palace is entrancing under floodlights.Rattling trams - so old-fashioned they're positively hip again - will take you on a ride through centuries of illuminated architectural trends.

Then retreat into the family-run Josef Hawelka coffeehouse, a city institution opened in 1938.No trendy contemporary designer could come up with a better retro look.It has wooden floors, rickety coat racks and walls covered in peeling theatre posters.

Long-haired students munch on plum doughnuts and look as if they might be plotting a revolution or wrestling with Freudian problems.When it's time for sleep, you realise that museums have another drawback: you'll be frowned upon if you unfurl your swag on the floor.But in Vienna, you can have your art design and sleep in it, too.

Renowned French architect Jean Nouvel designed the recently opened Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom, which gives you fabulous views over the city and onto St Stephen's Cathedral.The cathedral's roofs are splashed with zigzagging orange and green tiles, as if someone has draped a gigantic oriental rug out to dry.The hotel mimics them in shiny ultra-modern panels.

Sit in the astonishing restaurant with its "golden carpet" ceiling and video installations by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist.Huge eyes blink at you, and swimming video goldfish startle as you admire the light-twinkled city.You can even sleep in a disconcerting all-black or all-white bedroom if you care to.

Most of the guestrooms come in trendy shades of grey but, this being Vienna, you can expect comfort too.A fluffy bed sends you off into slumber, and art has never been so enjoyable.The writer travelled courtesy Austrian National Tourist Office, Austrian Airlines and Accor Hotels.

Austrian Airlines (1300 655 727, flies from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne to Vienna via Bangkok with codeshare partner Thai Airways.Austrian Airlines (1300 655 727, flies from Adelaide to Vienna via Melbourne or Perth and Bangkok with codeshare partners Thai Airways and Virgin Australia.Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom (1300 855 975, is a new, ultra-modern design hotel that perfectly captures the best of new Vienna along with fine views of the old.

Rooms from $317.American Bar, KDrntnerdurchgang 10, visit ph 43 1 512 3283.Babettes, SchleifmRhlgasse 17, visit ph 43 1 585 51 65.

Do & Co, Albertinaplatz 1, visit ph 43 1 532 96 69.Schokolade KVnig, Freisingergasse 1, visit ph 43 1 596 78 77.Austrian National Tourist Office on (02) 9299 3621, or published as

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Its been disseminated with such profligacy that it has long since acquired the patina that afflicts all too-familiar objects, like dirt over a lens, and yet it retains its eerie power, its potency.Id been looking at it on laptop screens for years before I finally saw it in person, at the Whitney one sweltering October afternoon. Up close, the painting rearranged itself, decomposing into snags and anomalies Id never seen before. The bright triangle of the diners ceiling was cracking. A long drip of yellow ran between the coffee urns. The paint was applied very thinly, not quite covering the linen ground, so that the surface was breached by a profusion of barely visible white pinpricks and tiny white threads.Green shadows were falling in spikes and diamonds on the sidewalk. There is no colour in existence that so powerfully communicates urban alienation, the atomisation of human beings inside the edifices they create, as this noxious pallid green, which only came into being with the advent of electricity, and which is inextricably associated with the nocturnal city, the city of glass towers, of empty illuminated offices and neon signs.The diner was a place of refuge, absolutely, but there was no visible entrance, no way to get in or out. There was a cartoonish, ochre-coloured door at the back of the painting, leading perhaps into a grimy kitchen. But from the street, the room was sealed: an urban aquarium, a glass cell. Inside, in their livid yellow prison, were the four famous figures. A spivvy couple, a counter-boy in a white uniform, his blond hair raked into a cap, and a man sitting with his back to the window, the open crescent of his jacket pocket the darkest point on the canvas. No one was talking. No one was looking at anyone else. 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