Carl Spitzweg encounters Erwin Wurm – Leopold Museum shows first Spitzweg exhibition in Austria

Ironic criticism of society served up with humor.


The Leopold Museum’s exhibition “CARL SPITZWEG – ERWIN WURM. Hilarious! Hilarious?” (25th March to 19th June 2017) is the first presentation of Carl Spitzweg’s profoundly timeless and strikingly current oeuvre in Austria. In the exhibition curated by the Leopold Museum’s Director Hans-Peter Wipplinger, the ironic-humorist German painter commonly associated with the Biedermeier period Carl Spitzweg (1808–1885) encounters the master of an extended concept of sculpture Erwin Wurm (born in 1954).

The exhibition at the Leopold Museum is the first presentation of Carl Spitzweg’s oeuvre in Austria. Featuringapproximately 100 paintings and graphic works as well as book illustrations, it is also the first presentation that focuses explicitly on those aspects of the artist’s oeuvrewhich – contrary to the ideas of tranquility and petit bourgeois idylls usually conjured up by the Biedermeier period – are critical of his time and the society he lived in and document the schisms and conflicts of the time. However, this exploration of Spitzweg’s oeuvre also reveals the topicality of his themes which are reflected in the 21st century’s “Generation Biedermeier” and are highlighted by means of 15 precisely placed interventions by Erwin Wurm who deploys “humor as a weapon”.

Hans-Peter Wipplinger: “While Carl Spitzweg’s oeuvre is embedded in the specific cultural-historical atmosphere of the Biedermeier period, the conventional definitionfalls significantly short in the case of Spitzweg, for it prevents a more complex and progressive interpretation of Spitzweg’s works and thinking, which – as the approximately 100 exhibits illustrate – must also include an analysis of social hierarchizations and power relations, an examination of gender relations as well as the subtle questioning of harmony in an ostensibly ideal world.”

The epoch-spanning and dialogue-based exhibition concept is divided into individual thematic chapters. In the first exhibition room, Carl Spitzweg’s small-town renderings, which are carried by precise and detailed depictions, enter into a dialogue with Erwin Wurm’s 2010 work Narrow House. Only at first glance do Spitzweg’s works resemble idyllic cityscapes populated by people dressed in folkloristic attire, including guards, musicians, singers and female protagonists.A closer inspection reveals feudal, hierarchic, patriarchal and authoritarian structuresreferring to a system of bigoted restraints characterized by the definitions of morals in Spitzweg’s times. This impression of petty constraints is also conveyed by Wurm’s work Narrow House which, invoking the artist’s parental home with changed volumes and proportions, is a reflection on the social narrowness of past decades.

Many of Carl Spitzweg’s works reveal his subversive attitude towards the powers of the state, be they customs officials, guards or citizen soldiers. The unemployment of uniformed officers during peaceful times following the Napoleonic Wars encouraged Spitzweg to create grotesque depictions, for instance of knitting guards. Spitzweg was also unafraid to address the corruption and injustices of the police state. The topicality of these themes is illustrated by Erwin Wurm’s 2010 work New York Police Cap Gold showing an oversized police cap and inviting beholders to stand underneath this symbol of a constitutional state, which appears both protecting and threatening.

Further sections of the presentation are devoted to Carl Spitzweg’s passion for depicting contradictory characters which reveal the artist not only as a chronicler of his time but especially as a sensitive psychologist. These include apparently pious monks who have retreated from civilization to lead ostensibly ascetic lives in their hermitages, where they in actual fact pursue a rather hedonistic lifestyle. Renderings of scholars, at times heightened into almost whimsical depictions, were used by Spitzweg to ironize the belief in science of his times. Further characters encountered in his oeuvre are philistines such as “Sunday Hunters” enjoying their leisure time activities and “Schoolmasters” straying from the straight and narrow not only in the literal but also in a moral sense.

“Amidst threatened idylls we encounter manifold broken characters in Spitzweg’s scenes. The artist greatly sympathized with these loners and odd characters (…) who always appear shrouded in a cloak of resignation and resistance when going about their at times bizarre everyday business. The fact that Spitzweg’s protagonists were often classical anti-ideal types generally not deemed compatible with the established system is all the more remarkable as he created them in a climate of political restoration and conformist behavior following the Congress of Vienna in 1815”, writes Hans-Peter Wipplinger in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition.

Spitzweg’s anti-heroes find their equivalent in Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures and other works which, like Spitzweg’s paintings, often combine situational humor with a socio-critical message. The common denominator of both artists’ oeuvres is – as the exhibition illustrates – a critically-reflected humor which is deployed as a weapon and shows everyday life from a different perspective, thus evoking complex dimensions.

The opening of the exhibition in the presence of Erwin Wurm and his wife Elise Mougin was attended by, among other guests, the German ambassador in Vienna Johannes K. Haindl, who delivered one of the opening speeches and was accompanied by his wife Regina Haindl, the members of the Board of Directors of the Leopold Museum Elisabeth Leopold, Agnes Husslein-Arco, Helmut Moser and Carl Aigner, as well as the museum’s Managing Director Gabriele Langer.

Further in attendance were the exhibition’s cooperation partner and main lender Fritz Ritzmann, the president of the foundation of the Museum Georg Schäfer Schweinfurt, the collectors Rudolf and Edith Breuninger, Rudolf and Elisabeth Geymüller as well as Sonja Leimann and Hella Pohl (Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac).

The Leopold Museum’s Director Hans-Peter Wipplinger also welcomed the collectors Diethard and Waltraud Leopold, the General Manager of the Austrian Post and Head of the Leopold Museum’s Circle of Patrons Georg Pölzl and his wife Eveline Pölzl, the chairman of the Wiener Städtische Versicherung and president of the Association of Friends of the Leopold MuseumDkfm. Hans Raumauf, the artist Christian Ludwig Attersee and his wife, the CEO of the Kunstforum Ingried Brugger, the director of the mumok Karola Kraus and former mumok-director Edelbert Köb, the president of the Vienna Secession Herwig Kempinger, the artists Daniel Spoerri, Heinrich Dunst, Ingo Nussbaumer, Jakob Gasteiger, Hubert Schmalix, Roland Kollnitz, Manfred Wakolbinger, Anna Heindl, Alois Mosbacher, Lorenz Estermann, Peter Sandbichler and Constantin Luser, the film director Michael Haneke, the professors Burghart Schmidt and Allan Janik, the banker Karl Arco, real estate manager Johanna Arco, the neuroscientist Ricardo Aviv, the surgeon Arthur Bohdjalian, the CEO of the Dorotheum Martin Böhm, the pastor of St. Stephen’s Cathedral Toni Faber, the artistic director of ImPulsTanz festival Karl-Regensburger, the chairman of Sozialbau AG Josef Ostermayer, the former minister Nikolaus Berlakovich, dentist Roberto Lhotka, Heinrich Mautner-Markhof and Caroline Mautner-Markhof, ISMH director Martina Lillie, the doctor of internal medicine Prof. Siegfried Meryn, the CEO of Korn Ferry Christoph la Garde and real estate broker Ramona la Garde, as well as the gallery owners Christine König and Ernst Hilger.

Further guests at the opening included, among many others, the art collectors Margot and Roman Fuchs, Barbara Grötschnig (Vienna Insurance Group), the CEO of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Sabine Haag and the director of the Salzburg Museum Prof. Martin Hochleitner, Alfred Weidinger (Belvedere, designated director of the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig), the Albertina curator Antonia Hoerschelmann and manager Eva Maria Höfer, as well as the industrialist Adrian Riklin (Alcar Holding), lawyer Axel Audrel (Dorda Brugga Jordis), Antonis Stachel (curator of the Sanziany Collection), Franz Pichorner (KHM), Sylvia Eisenburger-Kunz (Gesellschaft der Freunde der bildenden Künste), the gallery owner Cornelis van Almsick, the photographer Hubertus Hohenlohe, Birgit Vikas (Kunsttrans), Katarzyna Uszynska (Neuer Kunstverein Wien), Christian Weiland (Across Business Development) and Larissa Weiland.

CARL SPITZWEG – ERWIN WURM. Hilarious! Hilarious?
25th March to 19th June 2017
Open daily, except Tuesdays, 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays open until 9 pm, in June open daily.

Guided tours with the curator of the exhibition Director Hans-Peter Wipplinger on Thurs, 30th March 2017, 6 pm, as well as with Franz Smola, Curator of the Collection, on Thurs, 11th May and Thurs, 8th June 2017, 6 pm.
Guided tour with the artist and curator as part of an exclusive opening with Erwin Wurm and curator Director Hans-Peter Wipplinger on Wed, 19th April 2017, 6.30 pm (registration:

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue comprising 224 pages and 150 illustrations published by Walther König publishers, edited by Hans-Peter Wipplinger with essays by Stefan Kutzenberger, Franz Smola, Burghart Schmidt, Hans-Peter Wipplinger as well as a Spitzweg biography by Esther Hatzigmoser. Available at the Leopold Museum Shop for 29.90 Euro.


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