Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900 (Central European Studies)

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9781557536136: Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900 (Central European Studies)

The Memory Factory introduces an English-speaking public to the significant women artists of Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century, each chosen for her aesthetic innovations and participation in public exhibitions. These women played important public roles as exhibiting artists, both individually and in collectives, but this history has been silenced over time. Their stories show that the city of Vienna was contradictory and cosmopolitan: despite men-only policies in its main art institutions, it offered a myriad of unexpected ways for women artists to forge successful public careers. Women artists came from the provinces, Russia, and Germany to participate in its vibrant art scene. However, and especially because so many of the artists were Jewish, their contributions were actively obscured beginning in the late 1930s. Many had to flee Austria, losing their studios and lifework in the process. Some were killed in concentration camps.Along with the stories of individual women artists, the author reconstructs the history of separate women artists' associations and their exhibitions. Chapters covering the careers of Tina Blau, Elena Luksch-Makowsky, Bronica Koller, Helene Funke, and Teresa Ries (among others) point to a more integrated and cosmopolitan art world than previously thought; one where women became part of the avant-garde, accepted and even highlighted in major exhibitions at the Secession and with the Klimt group.

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About the Author:

Julie M. Johnson teaches contemporary and modern art history at the University of Texas at San Antonio. She has held Fulbright and IFK residential fellowships in Vienna.

Review:

This is an excellent addition to the literature on fin-de-sicle Vienna, well-researched and well-argued. It highlights little-known artists and situates them in a novel interpretation of women’s roles in the art world. The author challenges dominant tropes of feminist historiography and thus sheds new light on twentieth-century art history and historiography.” Michael Gubser,  James Madison University

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By andrea kirsh

June 24, 2012   ·   1 Comments

Julie M. Johnson. The Memory Factory; The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900 (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2012) ISBN 978-1-55753-613-6

It’s remarkable that recent scholarship can force significant reconsideration of an artistic culture as well-studied as that of Vienna around 1900, but that’s what Julie M. Johnson’s work has done. As such, it will be required reading for anyone interested in Vienna’s turn-of-the-century art and art institutions, particularly the schools and the artists’ associations and unions – which functioned much as today’s artists’ collectives and artist-run spaces. It is also an important contribution to women’s studies and to the historiography of art, for it documents a group of women artists who were active in Vienna’s art world around 1900 but were entirely written out of later historical accounts.

Tina Blau, Aus Dem Prater (In the Prater), pastel on board, private collection

Based upon intensive archival research, Johnson demonstrates that, unlike the better-studied situation in Paris, women in Vienna had access to art education, and while they were barred from official membership in the major artists’ unions, that didn’t keep those same groups from exhibiting their work. In fact, women participated in the mainstream modernist art movements in Vienna. The city not only trained local women, but attracted women from Russia, Germany and the provinces. They had successful careers, exhibiting across Europe; their work was acquired by the emperor, the state, and private collectors; they received public commissions, and exhibited in major exhibitions at the Kunstlerhaus and the Seccession, commercial galleries and alternative venues.

 

Theresa Ries in her studio

Tina Blau (1845-1916) introduced Impressionist painting to Vienna and became financially successful through her work. Her paintings were purchased by the Emperor and shown in solo exhibitions in Vienna and across Germany. She had a studio in a government-owned building in the Prater, Vienna’s popular public park, which became the subject of many of her best-known works. In 1882 when the French Minister of Art, Antonin Proust, visited Vienna and saw her work, he encouraged Blau to submit a painting to the Paris Salon; she did, and won an honorable mention. Blau was Jewish, and in 1938 her work was removed from public collection galleries and a street dedicated to her was re-named; for many decades she was unmentioned in histories of the city’s art. Her first solo exhibition in post WWII Vienna was in 1996, at the Jewish Museum.

Elena Luksch-Makowsky woodcut (1902)

Elena Luksch-Makowsky (1878-1967) exhibited with the Secession and participated with the Wiener Werkstätte. Access to Secession activities was certainly easier because her husband, Richard Luksch, was a member; she functioned largely as an unofficial member (although without voting rights), exhibited in important exhibitions developed around the idea of Raumkunst (literally spacial art – an integration of art with interior architecture and design that was at the center of Secession activities during the first years of the Twentieth Century) and contributed all of the illustrations to one issue of its publication, Ver Sacrum. She also produced a ceramic relief for the facade of the Wiener Burgertheater (Vienna People’s Theater) and was known for her graphic work and book illustrations, which drew on her Russian background. She, too, was largely written out of the histories of the period and there is no monograph on her work.

Mark Twain, sitting for his portrait in Theresa Ries' studio, 1897

Theresa Ries (1874-1956) was kicked out of the Moscow Academy of Art for talking back to a professor. She moved to Vienna where the first exhibition of her sculpture attracted the attention of the Emperor and brought Ries overnight fame at the age of twenty-one. The work depicted a young, mischievous witch, nude and seated on the ground as she cuts her toe-nails. Klimt asked her to exhibit with the Secessionists and she sent work to the 1900 Paris World’s Fair and the 1911 World’s Fair in Rome, where she was invited by both Russia and Austria. The Prince of Lichtenstein gave Ries a grand suite of rooms next to his picture gallery to use as her studio, which she inaugurated with a ten-year survey of her work. Ries was effective at self-promotion – the critic Karl Kraus complained that her exhibitions received too much publicity – and framed her own story by publishing a memoir in 1928. Her studio was Aryanized in 1938, after which she worked elsewhere in Vienna until 1942, when she left for good. Post-war Vienna ignored Ries’ contribution, as it did with so many of its Jewish population. Many of the women artists in Vienna were Jewish, and the perception that certain artists’ associations and schools were primarily Jewish insured their obliteration both as institutions and as part of the historical record.

Helene Funke 'In the Loge' (1904-07) Lentos Kunstmuseum

All recent writing on these artists has been in German, as Johnson’s extensive citations reveal. Her research yielded a more extensive analysis of Vienna’s complex institutional art structures than has previously been published anywhere, and will certainly insure the book’s importance. Johnson looked at archives of the art schools and artists’ unions, lists of work exhibited in art association spaces and at private dealers, and contemporaneous critical, journalistic and scholarly writing.

One distinctive aspect of art in Vienna was the significance of artists’ unions and associations, which provided most of Vienna’s spaces for art exhibitions. They showed their members’ work (and sometimes that of non-members), took a smaller commission on sales than did dealers, offered pensions, made arrangements in connection with state purchases and were a channel for distributing state funds to artists. Of them, only the Secession has received widespread attention. It was one of three large groups which regularly received state support (the others were the Kunstlerhaus and Hagenbund; the Austrian state understood that even if it didn’t favor the art,  promoting a vibrant artistic culture was good for international business and politics. None of them allowed women as voting members; all three, however, exhibited work by women. But there were many other associations, some integrated, others exclusively for women. Johnson’s research enables a comparison of Vienna’s artists’ associations with the many, current artists’ collectives and artist-run space that have characterized the U.S. art world for the past several decades. These share many of the functions of Vienna’s associations: providing curatorial and exhibition venues for artists working outside the commercial art world, offering locations for theoretical and practical discussions, promoting a particular artistic view and publishing artists’ writing. And like Vienna’s unions and associations, contemporary artists’ groups are able to apply for funding (private, rarely state funding) that would not be available to individual artists, for exhibitions and other projects.

 

Broncia Koller 'Seated Nude (Marietta)' (1907) Eisenberger Collection, Vienna

Johnson devotes serious attention to critical discussions about women artists and the problem of their place in the established story of patrilineal artistic development. She is equally interested in the erasure of their history after World War II, and makes use of  recent scholarship about memory to analyze how a group of artists so broadly involved with Vienna’s artistic life around 1900 could be forgotten. History is the product of information whi...



HABSBURG, H-Net Reviews. November, 2012.

Julie M. Johnson.  The Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of
Vienna 1900.  West Lafayette  Purdue University Press, 2012.  368 pp.
$35.00 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55753-613-6.

Reviewed by Megan Brandow-Faller (City University of New York
(Kingsborough)
Published on HABSBURG (November, 2012)
Commissioned by Jonathan Kwan

_Frauenkunst_ and Its Discontents: Women Artists in the Circles of
the Vienna Secession

In 1916, when surmising the perils of separate women's art
institutions, an anonymous reviewer for one of Austria's leading
feminist periodicals quipped that "the best success that one might
wish of them [separate women's art exhibitions] is that they might no
longer be necessary."[1] Julie Johnson's important and meticulously
researched study of women artists in Viennese modernism lends support
to the idea that corrective exhibitions, institutions, and monographs
serve to ghettoize women artists from the art historical canon.[1]
_The Memory Factory_ flies in the face of feminist art historical
inquiries stressing women's difference and embeddedness within
separate institutions to argue that "women artists were not part of a
separate sphere, but integrated into the art exhibitionary complex of
Vienna" (pp. 4-5). Drawing case studies from five highly successful
women painters and sculptors closely connected to the Vienna
Secession (Tina Blau, Elena Luksch-Makowsky, Broncia Koller, Helene
Funke, and Teresa Feodorowna Ries), Johnson refutes the
historiographical tendency to lump women artists into an aesthetic
"room of their own," seeking explanations for women artists'
canonical exclusion in "a new center ... whose themes have not always
fit into the dominant narrative structures of art history" (p. 111).
Such an approach, Johnson maintains, is not useful, for the art
historical "mothers" that she spotlights were leading practitioners
of the dominant strategies of modernism. Indeed, painters like Funke
and Koller often transmitted French postimpressionistic influences
ahead of their male colleagues, in a more purely autonomous manner
than Gustav Klimt and other allegorical painters, while exemplifying
the Vienna modernists' interest in psychological interiority and
nascent abstraction in the decorative. Johnson considers these
artists' erasure from the art historical record highly jarring given
that their life and work embodied textbook examples of misunderstood
modernist forerunners: i.e., stylistic innovation, run-ins with
conservative authorities, as well as acclaim abroad in advance of
recognition at home (for instance, the "skying" of Tina Blau's
masterful _Spring in the Prater _at the Austrian Artists' Guild in
1882). Similarly, Johnson shows how artistic personalities like
flamboyant Russian sculptor Teresa Ries created more than one
_succès de_ _scandale_, for instance the well-known anecdote of how
her delightfully provocative life-size marble sculpture of a witch
sharpening her toenails before the Sabbath attracted comment from
conservative emperor Franz Joseph. Today, however, Ries's works
remains buried in the basement of the Vienna City Museum Depot: a
poignant comment on the necessity of active scholarly intervention to
combat the invisibility of women artists' works. Johnson rightly
argues that Jewish women (including Ries) were strongly represented
in Viennese women's art institutions and this book serves to remind
the reader that fin-de-siècle Vienna is not a safe historical
landscape divorced from the exigencies of two world wars and the
_Anschluß_. On the contrary, as the author's final chapter on the
post-1938 erasure of these artists' lives and legacies, Vienna 1900
is much more caught up in the "unfinished business" of the Holocaust
than scholars have previously assumed.

Historiographically and theoretically, the _Memory Factory_ is
ambitious and complex, as evident in the book's richly documented
endnotes. The author draws more from the arsenal of memory and
_Vergangenheitsbewältigung_ studies than traditional feminist art
historical inquiry. In so doing, Johnson privileges not only formal
visual analysis, which indeed she does masterfully (on a par with the
sort of analysis pioneered by Griselda Pollock, Linda Nochlin, and
Norma Broude in studying nineteenth-century French painting), but she
also offers contextualized readings of non-visual sources such as
feuilletons, artist biographies, and humorous texts.

Making women artists visible in the post-Schorske dialogue on
Viennese modernism, a body of literature which has, according to the
author, "inadvertently reinforced the silencing of women's pasts" or
promoted false notions that women could not exhibit publicly
whatsoever, represents an important corrective, if only the tip of
the historiographical iceberg (p. 3). Carl Schorske's classic
_Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture_ attributed an
efflorescence of modern art, culture, and literature to the
disillusioned sons of liberalism who found meaning in an aesthetic
_Gefühlskultur._[2] For Schorske and his followers, the heroic trio
of Klimt-Schiele-Kokoschka exemplified a generational struggle that
exploded in Klimt's famous "walk out" from the conservative Austrian
Artists Guild to found the Vienna Secession (1897): an artists' union
dedicated to the philosophy of _Ver Sacrum_, the idea of art as a
sacred spring to rejuvenate modern life. Building on the pioneering
studies of Sabine Plakolm-Forsthuber, Johnson's book is among the
first English-language works on women artists in the circles of the
Vienna Secession.[3]

Yet Johnson casts her net more broadly than merely speaking to
scholars interested in Vienna. The author rethinks the idea that
women artists were not active participants in shaping international
Modernism as defined by Clement Greenberg: the famous genealogy of an
increasingly abstract and autonomous art beginning with Édouard
Manet (one of the first painters to privilege the painted surface of
...

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