When the artist Teresa Feodorovna Ries presented in 1896 his life-size marble sculpture of the naked witch cutting his nails, the result shocked the critics of Vienna. He also got that Gustav Klimt he will invite her to exhibit at the Secession. He could expose, yes, but what Klimt's colleagues did not allow is admitting her to the club. At that time, the main unions of artists and the Academy of Fine Arts vetoed women.
Between 1900 and 1938, the years covered by the exhibition, women, who socially had few alternatives to the roles of wife and mother, managed to conquer the artistic scene in Vienna. They abandoned the dilettantism and built solid artistic careers. They formed alternative clubs, sought new strategies and assumed revolutionary aesthetic challenges as far away from still lifes as the female nude. Those who could, as Helene Funke and Lilly Steiner, went to study in Paris and received the influx of Matisse and Fauvism. Now, the Viennese Belvedere Gallery wants to do justice to the show City of Women Female Artists in Vienna from 1900 to 1938which can be seen until May 19.
Already in 1908 the ambitious Kunstschau, the great art exhibition of modernism Viennese presided over by Gustav Klimt, quoted 179 artists, a third of them women. The Neukunstgruppe of Egon Schiele had a similar share in 1909. The artists exhibited in the most important galleries as the Kunstsalon Pisko. In 1910 they were emancipated definitively with the founding of the Austrian Association of Women Artists (VBKÖ in its acronym in German) and mounted The art of women in the pavilion of the Secession, the first international exhibition in Europe dedicated to works created by women between 1600 and 1910 and that saw 12,000 people in two months.
The following year the exhibition was held at the Zedlitzhalle with the Hagenbund - after the Secession, the second great association of alternative artists to the academic Künstlerhaus -, where they presented more than 200 works by 60 contemporary artists. The VBKÖ began to define the exhibition agenda of the capital and even carried out internal divisions. Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka created a lateral association considered radical and leftist that revolutionized the artistic scene, the Wiener Frauenkunst. Among its members, in addition to Helene Funke, Helene von Taussig and Broncia Koller-Pinell, was Stephanie Hollenstein.
The year 1938 ended with the presence of women in Austrian art. The Nazi terror unleashed the persecution of Jewish artists and the dissolution or Aryanization of schools and women's associations. Many artists emigrated, degenerate art was forbidden and works were destroyed. The Second World War began. Then the oblivion arrived.
The almost 60 artists presented at the Belvedere gallery do not constitute a homogeneous generation or group. The arch that covers the retrospective opens to the extreme: from Nazis like Stephanie Hollenstein to artists like Helene von Taussig, who was killed in a German transit camp in Poland, or Friedl Dicker, who did it in Auschwitz. Dicker - like the painter Trude Waehner trained in Paul Klee's Bauhaus class - joined the antifascist resistance movement and reflected her socio-political commitment in her collages photographic
There are outstanding representatives of impressionism, secessionism, expressionism, radical-expressionism, kinetic art and New Objectivity. Some artists had the support of their husbands, parents or teachers, such as Mileva Roller, Elena Luksch-Makowsky and Emilie Mediz-Pelikan, a painter who applied for admission to the libertarian Hagenbund - where she often exhibited as a guest artist - through the mediation of her husband, the also painter and member of the Hagenbund Karl Mediz, and was rejected with the subtle argument that if she were admitted they would have to admit more women. Others, such as Teresa Feodorovna Ries and Helene Funke, fought alone. The landscaper Tina Blau refused to link to any association that was integrated only by women. What unites all in a joint exhibition is the lack of recognition of the canon of contemporary art since the end of the Second World War.
"Is it possible that more than a century ago we were more advanced in terms of female representation than we are today?" Asks Commissioner Sabine Fellner with Frühmarkt, the 1907 painting by Broncia Koller-Pinell that was thought to be lost and that he found by chance in the Belvedere funds when he was preparing the show. Koller-Pinell, founding member of the Neue Secession and key influence in the work of Egon Schiele, participated in more than 15 exhibitions, worked with Klimt and forged a successful career of 40 years until his death in 1934. After his trace was lost as his canvas Frühmarkt.
Fellner points to the Third Reich as responsible for the great blackout of women in contemporary art but also for the conservatism of Austrian society in the late 1940s. What will happen next May 19 when the exhibition closes? Will these artists return to accumulate another hundred years of dust? "I hope not. Our intention is that it be a pioneering retrospective that feeds other samples in the future ", concludes Sabine Fellner.
Seen with perspective, Stephanie Hollenstein had an exciting life. Born in Lustenau in 1886, at the age of 29 she enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army disguised as a man to fight on the front of the First World War. When she was discovered, she was admitted to the Press Office of the troops where she worked as a war correspondent. The retrospective exhibits one of his drawings in the field hospitals and also his colorful expressionist landscapes. Self-taught as a peasant family, his trajectory fits the paradigm of the modern artist: he traveled, he won prizes and scholarships, he related to the avant-garde, his work was considered radical and expressionist, he joined the VBKÖ, he did everything It was expected of a cosmopolitan artist. In 1929 he began a relationship with Franziska Gross. And at the same time he was a Nazi. He joined before even the party was legal. His participation in Nazism, a movement so little tolerant of sexual and artistic ambiguities, became official on May 1, 1938.