Exhibition explores the fate of artworks and artefacts between looting, displacement and restitution

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Exhibition explores the fate of artworks and artefacts between looting, displacement and restitution
Exhibition view, The Life of Things, 2024. Photo: Edwin Husic.

LINZ.- This exhibition of the Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz in Collaboration with the European Capital of Culture Bad Ischl - Salzkammergut 2024 explores the fate of artworks and artefacts between looting, displacement and restitution through contemporary artistic responses. The range of works on show curated by Hemma Schmutz and Markus Proschek tackle colonial looting and the sometimes questionable activities of collectors, address the state-planned theft of art and expropriations (“Aryanisations”) under the Third Reich, and examine cultural genocide through the displacement and destruction of cultural heritage.

“The Life of Things. Looted – Displaced – Salvaged“ is the third part of the trilogy of the project "The Journey of Paintings", presented by the Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz as part of the program line "Power and Tradition", in cooperation with the European Capital of Culture Bad Ischl Salzkammergut 2024. The town of Lauffen was deliberately chosen as the location for this exhibition – between November 1944 and the end of the war, collections from museums in Vienna were stored in the tunnels of the local salt mine in order to protect them from bombing. “History can never be fully appraised. Nonetheless, accurate recollection does mean repeatedly confronting and reviewing historical events. This is because they create the basis of both our own and the collective self-image upon which we draw in order to possibly be able to better assess the present and open up more rational spaces for action in the future“, Elisabeth Schweeger, Artistic Director of the European Capital of Culture Bad Ischl - Salzkammergut 2024, is convinced.

The show can be seen in the Altes Marktrichterhaus in Lauffen, which was recently revitalized by Peter LŲw, entrepreneur and chief curator of "The European Heritage Project". 14 contemporary positions negotiate the fate of artworks between looting, confiscation, restitution and reconstruction. “Totalitarian regimes have always strived for representation in order to consolidate their own rules and humiliate their defeated enemies, whose art and culture were appropriated through theft and destruction. Systematic art theft is a phenomenon that has been known since antiquity. It was a strategy that not only involved the transfer of valuable articles, but was also used as a way to legitimise cultural dominance“, explains Lentos director and curator of the exhibition Hemma Schmutz.

On display are internationally renowned, but also fresh positions: Said Baalbaki, from Lebanon, reflects with The Arm. One Hand Can't Clap (2011) on the destruction during the Lebanese civil war and his country's complex relationship to the culture of remembrance. In Sleeping Figure (2023), Austrian Oliver Laric deals with the transformation of ancient sculptures and questions of the reconstruction of cultural heritage. In The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (2018), Michael Rakowitz from the USA takes a critical look at the effects of the Iraq war on cultural heritage and reconstructs destroyed artifacts using packaging material and newspapers from the Middle East. Also on display are works by CATPC, a collective of plantation workers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, in collaboration with Dutch artist Renzo Martens. Works such as the film Plantations and Museums (2022) and the NFT Human Activities, The Balot NFT (2022), deal with the aftermath of colonial exploitation and the repurchase of former plantations. CAPTC and Martens are currently also exhibiting in the Dutch pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale. Works by Hera BŁyŁktaşÁıyan (TR), Maeve Brennan (UK), Ines Doujak (AT), Assaf Hinden (IL), Moussa Kone (AT), Nii Kwate Owoo (GH), Markus Proschek (AT), Anja Ronacher (AT), Dierk Schmidt (DE) and Philip Topolovac (DE) will also be shown.

“As creators of works, artists have an essential connection to objects and their contexts of meaning, and so are sensitised to their (mis)relations. In this respect the ‘right of things’ is an essential element of their artistic practice, and they can take on the role of advocate for those items that have been stripped of their original function and have become ‘dead’ objects in their reduction to artistic value. By doing so, artists can also provide the spark for new strategies on how museums and collections can deal with this burdened legacy and live up to their responsibility between restitution and the preservation of humanity’s cultural heritage”, explains curator & artist Markus Proschek, who himself is represented with two works in the show.

However, this exhibition consciously focuses on the immaterial value of objects: on the memories and (hi)stories that have been inscribed in them; on the dignity of the item that has been robbed of its community of meaning and degraded to a decorative object or status symbol; and on the societies that have lost the very objects that helped to shape their identity. A publication with texts by Christian HŲller, Sarah Jonas, Markus Proschek and Hemma Schmutz as well as an accompanying text by Elisabeth Schweeger will also be published by Verlag der Provinz to accompany the exhibition at a price of €15. Available on site, at the Lentos Kunstmuseum Linz or in the museum's online store.

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