2019’s first ‘Artwork of the Month’ focuses on one example of how a ‘nostalgic modernism’ could look in interwar Austria. What it also stands for upon closer analysis is the malleability of the photographic image in turbulent social and political times. Not least, it also helps to introduce a trend of photography in 1930s Central Europe, which seemed to stand in diametrical opposition to the avant-garde experiments of the time: Heimat photography (‘homeland photography’). As it will turn out, the classically composed The Mother could be many things and fit within a series of developments that continued from the fin de siècle to the Second World War.
Photography has long been a stepchild of art historical research in Austria, and only few publications, most notably Anton Holzer’s Fotografie in Österreich (Vienna, 2013), have provided comprehensive assessment of this topic. Talks about the first Austrian museum of photography are ongoing, however, and Vienna’s exhibition landscape has started to include an increasing number of photographic exhibitions into its schedule. This year, coinciding with the centenary of the First Austrian Republic in November 1918, several museums in Vienna are focusing on photography in interwar Austria, and offer diverse insights into the medium’s significance at the time.
To commemorate the centenary of the First Austrian Republic in 2018, the Upper Austrian regional gallery in Linz presented a cross-section of stylistic developments and institutional frameworks of fine arts produced in Upper Austria between the two World Wars. The exhibition was part of the historical exhibition Between War Times: Upper Austria from 1918 to 1939 at the Linz Palace Museum, which runs through to January 2019 with a focus on the federal state’s position in an Austria that suffered deeply from social and political upheavals in the 1920s and 30s, and was annexed to the Third Reich in March 1938. With these historical complexities discussed elsewhere, the exhibition in the gallery focused its efforts on painting, photography and the graphic arts of the region, paying no more than faint attention to socio-political developments.