A War in the Distance: Exhibition

Curatorial Interventions

Refugees from Czechoslovakia in Austria (1968), eleven photographs, photo: Mathias Völzke

The exhibition A War in the Distance is based on subjective choices and associations. Encounters between historical artworks and contemporary artists create a space beyond both. Here, the boundary between the aesthetic and the documentary is blurred, creating a new kind of fiction. Curatorial interventions in the exhibition underscore this method of working and point toward the larger imaginary space it means to open.

The model of a horse in Neue Galerie Graz’s entrance is usually displayed in Landeszeughaus, the Styrian arsenal, where it is covered by an elaborate suit of armor. Landeszeughaus owns a unique collection of over 30,000 pieces of weaponry, tools, and armors, of which equestrians are the rarest. Stripped of its plating and looking naked, vulnerable, and slightly out of place, the horse opens a show where war and its attributes are often absent—but still hang in the air.

The festival’s founder Hanns Koren might have chosen its name in reference to the poem “Steirischer Herbst 1916” by Hans Kloepfer, a regional poet he greatly admired. The text is displayed here. It describes an idyllic Styrian autumn evening, punctuated by distant artillery fire from the Battles of the Isonzo. Kloepfer’s poem is complemented by a miniature sequence from Charles Vidor’s Hollywood adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, in which these battles are described.

The first edition of steirischer herbst took place in 1968, just as Czechoslovaks were fleeing Warsaw Pact troops or were stuck in Styria, hesitating to return from their Yugoslav beach vacation. As a reminder of this often overlooked fact, the exhibition includes a selection of photographs documenting the arrival and reception of refugees in Austria in the summer of 1968.

Paintings from Neue Galerie Graz’s collection are regularly loaned out to public offices of the city or province, and the choice of works and style—be it conscious or due to circumstances—creates intriguing juxtapositions. A series of interior photographs specially commissioned by the curators documents the habitats of the gallery’s paintings in administrative offices and meeting rooms in Landhaus Graz and other venues. The artists’ names as well as those of the offices’ occupants have been deliberately omitted, in order to make the contrast or correspondence of rooms and artworks speak for themselves.

How to Spot a Communist (USA, 1950s), leaflet from the collection of Emil Gruber

Over the course of his lifetime, recently deceased Graz curator and artist Emil Gruber accumulated a massive collection of printed matter, including extremely rare publications. The present curatorial selection illustrates Austria’s political history from the Dollfuß regime and the times of the Anschluss to the Cold War in a range of documents from across the globe. The exhibits range from antifascist comics to anti-communist propaganda and newspaper clippings, highlighting the many ideological battles being fought in the shifting political landscapes of the 20th century.

Unknown artist, Archduke Johann of Austria (mid-19th century), distempered plaster, 168 × 113 × 81 cm, Neue Galerie Graz / Universalmuseum Joanneum, photo: Dietmar Reinbacher

The exhibition’s central rotunda features one of the many discoveries in the depot of Neue Galerie Graz: an enigmatic, oversized bust of Archduke Johann, benefactor of the arts and education in Styria and founder of the Universalmuseum Joanneum. The damage to his forehead, according to a recent forensic report, probably stems from a large-caliber lead bullet fired from a revolver as it was used by many armies during and before World War I. In the context of this exhibition, it might serve as a reminder of the assassination of another archduke, Franz Ferdinand, at the hand of Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip.

←  A War in the Distance: Exhibition