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“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
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 which is repeated. The record of Vienna’s Jewish artists was intentionally suppressed; for the non-Jewish women, a variety of circumstances broke the chain of repetition (exhibition, reproductions, writing) from which art history is made. A number of the resurrected reputations resulted from efforts of the artists’ families, who produced books and exhibitions; others resulted from work by Austrian scholars, beginning in the 1990s.
A chapter is devoted to the exhibition organized by the Association of Women Artists in Austria (VBKO), which received state funding in 1908, The Art of Women, which included 300 works by Renaissance to contemporary artists. Held in the Secession (the book includes an exhibition plan and several installation photographs), it was organized by two VBKO members who had six months to find work in museums across Europe. It is especially surprising to read about this exhibition in light of the major impact of Women Artists, 1550-1950, an exhibition half that size which Linda Nochlin and Ann Sutherland Harris organized in 1976. The art historians spent five years researching essentially the same material as had the women in 1908, and acknowledged that much of it was new to them. A history certainly interrupted.
Purdue University Press is to be congratulated for publishing this book through its series on Central European Studies. It is extensively illustrated with works by the women artists and their male colleagues as well as with many valuable views of exhibition installations, showing the women’s work in situ. It is unfortunate, given the unavailability of much of this material, that the format could not have been larger and the illustrations better-printed, although some suffer from the necessity of being reproductions of reproductions – that being all that remains of missing works. It is hard to raise funds for a book about artworks that are not well-represented in major museums nor likely to have a significant commercial market. But it tells an important story about aspects of art and its history which are still current.
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
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." 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.
_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._ 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
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
the canvas over naturalistic illusion) progressing through the
postimpressionists, down to Jackson Pollock and the heroes of
abstract impressionism. To begin with, as Johnson duly notes,
Greenberg's Franco-centric definition of Modernism does not fit the
Central European (particularly Viennese) context, which tended to
retain narrative elements and the decorative: a form of "nascent
abstraction [which] came to be seen as the opposite of Modernism"
precisely because of its frilly feminine connotations (p. 11). Here,
Viennese architect and cultural critic Adolf Loos's famous dictum
that "Wherever I abuse the everyday-use-object by ornamenting it, I
shorten its _life span_.... Only the whim and ambition of women can
be responsible for the murder of such material" comes to mind.
Johnson's point is not only that Viennese modernism differed from the
cookie-cutter variety, but that imposing Franco-centric definitions
of Modernism on Vienna likewise marginalizes women's participation in
a distinct brand of modernism, never as autonomous or self-critical
of its medium as Greenberg would have liked. In this regard, Johnson
provides rich case studies of international Modernism's
cross-fertilization with the "homegrown" Viennese variety. For
example, the still-life represented a particular forte for
expressionist painter Helene Funke, paralleling the Fauves' and
Cubists' enthusiasm for this genre, whereas it tended to be neglected
by other Austro-German expressionists. Broncia Koller's work,
moreover, shows the local penchant for combining figuralism with
stylized surface decoration, mediated through references to Fauvism
A broader critique in Johnson's work is how the seemingly
straightforward story of modern art presented in the "white cube"
space of museums has only served to reify both the "band of brothers"
modernist myth and its omission of women. As Johnson correctly
insists, "[t]oo often, the work is expected to rise to the surface on
its own, but curators (and art dealers) who serve as the gatekeepers
of art museums and gallery spaces have rarely acknowledged that the
space itself can enhance or alter the work of art itself" (p. 13). In
a scathing yet justified critique of an interview with curator Kirk
Varnadoe, in which issues of quality and stylistic innovation were
insinuated, Johnson pointed the finger at MoMA's complete exclusion
of women artists in its 1986 rendition of the "Vienna 1900" show.
Sadly, suggesting that the "necessary evil" of corrective studies is
still imperative, far too little has changed since 1986, as I argued
in reviewing the Neue Galerie's 2011 "Vienna 1900: Style and
Identity" show. Clearly, the issue is not quality but, as Johnson
accurately surmises, a lack of active scholarly and institutional
intervention in preserving the memory of women artists, an issue only
compounded by the destruction of works and sources during the world
Structurally, the book is divided into three parts. The first five
chapters spotlight successful women artists, highlighting their
public exhibitionary records and history of their posthumous erasure
from the limelight, which Johnson frames in terms of their exclusion
from paternalistic mythologies of father-son plots. The shorter
second section (chapters 5 and 6) offers a brief look at women's art
institutions, focusing on the critical reception of Association of
Austrian Women Artist's 1910 "Art of the Woman," a landmark
historical retrospective of women artists' works which dwarfed
Nochlin and Ann Sutherland-Harris's more famous 1977 retrospective.
Finally, the last chapter, "1900-1938: Erasure," takes strides to
retrieve Vienna 1900 from a historiographical no-man's-land distant
from the mid-century cataclysms, to trace the stories of women
artists in exile and under National Socialist persecution. Chapters
1, 4, and 6, previously published in article form, will be familiar
to readers already acquainted with Johnson's work, as is the
influence of her work on humor. Yet these chapters have been
significantly modified and read seamlessly within the context of the
book. It should be emphasized, however, that the de facto inclusion
of women artists that the author stresses was entirely informal.
Officially women remained barred from membership in the male artists'
leagues and lacked rights to sit on jury or hanging commissions; were
disadvantaged in being able to compete for scholarships and state
prizes (due to the timing of separate women's exhibitions); and
fought a long and bitter battle to gain admission to the Academy of
Fine Arts (1920/21). The major exception, as Johnson rightly
highlights, was the Klimt Group's progressive attitudes towards
including the art of women--and even children (for example, Franz
Cizek's influential _Jugendkunstkursen_ at the School of Applied
Arts)--in its exhibitions.
Johnson hits her stride in the formal visual analysis in chapter 1
("Writing, Erasing, Silencing: Tina Blau and the (Woman) Artist's
Biography"), chapter 3 ("Broncia Koller and Interiority in Public Art
Exhibitions"), and chapter 5 ("Teresa Ries in the Memory Factory"),
which rank as the book's strongest. Johnson uses the example of
Austrian impressionist Tina Blau (1845-1916), well known in
German-language publications and exhibitions yet unfamiliar to
English-language audiences, to lay the foundations of her argument
that the Vienna Secession's construction of identity was self-serving
and paternalistic. Blau possessed all the qualities one might hope
for in a modernist forebear: the stylistic innovation found in her
brushwork capturing the transitory qualities of light and color; her
confrontations with conservative authorities; and her early success
abroad. Blau's most famous canvas,_ Spring at the Prater_, now
hanging prominently at the Austrian Gallery Belvedere, proves her
point well. Almost rejected and then skyed at the 1882_
_Künstlerhaus exhibition for its daring impressionism and profusion
of light, only the comments of the French minister of fine arts
salvaged the picture from oblivion, to be eventually purchased for
the imperial collections. Overall, Johnson makes a convincing case
that Blau was selectively excluded from the Viennese modernist
ancestor cult because male Secessionists could not swallow the idea
of an "Old Mistress" as their artistic foremother, writing that "the
Secessionists ... never figured themselves as wrestling with or being
heirs to mothers" (p. 29). Worse, Blau has often been mistakenly
characterized as the student, rather than colleague, of Emil Jakob
Schindler, the landscape painter with whom she shared studio space at
the Prater. The fact that Blau was doubly Other in fin-de-siècle
Vienna, that is, as Woman and Jew, further problematized matters,
particularly after the Austrian institutions, including the Women's
Academy that she co-founded, were co-opted by National Socialists.
Johnson argues that during her own lifetime, as a successful public
artist fetching high prices, Blau consciously avoided connecting her
work to negative stereotypes (copying, impressionability,
fashionability) surrounding the feminine in art.
Johnson's further chapters masterfully compare the output of
once-prominent women artists to the works of their male colleagues,
likewise showing (as in the case of Blau) that women artists often
served as stylistic transmitters, disseminating the latest
developments in French postimpressionism among the Viennese
modernists. The chapters on Broncia Koller and expressionist Helene
Funke make excellent cases in point, although a paucity of surviving
biographical sources on Funke makes her portrayal slightly less meaty
than the others. Johnson's chapter on Koller, a Jewish painter siding
with the progressive Klimt Group after it seceded from the Vienna
Secession in 1905 and who was inaccurately memorialized as a
"painting housewife" due to her interest in interiority and active
role as patron, demonstrates the author's analysis at its most
original. In a manner reminiscent of feminist interpretations of
nineteenth-century French impressionism, in which feminist art
historians traced stylistic points of similarity and departure among
male and female artists, Johnson ingeniously traces Koller's
influence on younger artists, including Egon Schiele and Erwin Lang.
For instance, while Schiele's _Portrait of the Painter Hans Massmann
_(1909) has typically been read as nodding to Klimt's _Portrait of
Frietza Riedler_ (1908), Johnson's side-by-side comparison posits a
close connection to Koller's _My Mother_ (1907), unveiled at the 1908
Kunstschau exhibition, in its staging and stylized background.
Similar arguments are made regarding Koller's role in transmitting
Van Gogh-esque influences to a younger generation of modernists.
Ironically, Koller's work was more "Modern" (according to Greenberg's
definition of painting as a self-critical autonomous medium) than
that of her male colleagues. Yet, unlike traditional feminist inquiry
(for instance Linda Nochlin's famous re-reading of images of leisure
and work through the authorship of Morisot's brush), Johnson stresses
that "finding a new aesthetic or center is hardly necessary" for
Koller because her work reflected themes of psychological
interiority, long acknowledged by the Schorske school as an important
leitmotif of Viennese modernism (p. 112). Nonetheless, it is unclear
which definition of modernism/Modernism Johnson ultimately privileges
here--the more homegrown Viennese variety or the international
variant. Ultimately, Johnson uses the example of Koller to show how
women artists were integrated into mainstream male institutions,
their works influencing and influenced by their male colleagues; and,
moreover, in Koller's case, serving as an organizational mediator
after the postwar fissure of the Viennese institutional landscape.
Likewise playing a leading role in Viennese _Raumkunst_ (spatial or
installation art) was applied artist and sculptor Elena
Luksch-Makowsky, a frequent exhibitor at the Vienna Secession and
fellow participant in the 1908 Kunstschau.
In the second section (chapter 6, "Women as Public Artists in the
Institutional Landscape," and chapter 7, "The Ephemeral Museum of
Women Artists") Johnson unfortunately closes and opens the book on
separate women's art institutions all too quickly. She limits her
discussion of Austrian women's artist leagues to the prewar period,
focusing largely on feuiletonistic reactions to the Association's
landmark 1910 "Art of the Woman" show, implying that the leagues ran
out of creative gas after World War I. However, it was only in the
interwar period that Austria's women's art movement reached its
institutional zenith, propelled by the institutional parity achieved
by Vienna's Frauenakademie in 1919 and the founding of a "female
Secession," which mirrored earlier disagreements about the value of
the applied and fine arts (for example, the role of _Raumkunst,_ or
installation art, which had provoked a rift between the Klimt Group
and rump-Secession at the end of its "heroic" period). Moreover,
while Johnson cleverly compares the Association's "Art of the Woman"
exhibition to Nochlin and Sutherland Harris's better-known 1977
retrospective, the author's dismissal of the possibility of a
feminine aesthetic obscures further parallels between the early
twentieth-century Austrian and 1970s American feminist movements in
the arts. Applied artist and designer Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka
provocatively raised the notion of a separate feminine aesthetic in
founding the Wiener Frauenkunst in 1926, a radical offshoot from the
Association particularly emphasizing women's connection to the
decorative, applied arts, and the importance of _Raumkunst_, boldly
declaring that "we are of the opinion that works made by women's
hands bear the stamp of their female origins in and of
themselves." While it is clear that the "Art of the Woman"
garnered misogynistic critical reactions which associated women's art
with copying, superficiality, and mere ornamentation, what was
ingenious about interwar Austria's female Secession's reaction to
such criticism was the way in which it reclaimed the discursive
territory surrounding _Frauenkunst_ and women's connection to the
decorative--and hurled such stereotypes back in the face of their
critics in a series of provocative public exhibitions in the 1920s
and 1930s focused around _Raumkunst_. Moreover, given that the lady
curators of the 1910 "Art of the Woman" show were notably silent on
the subject of female subjectivity, it is somewhat unclear how
Johnson concludes that "the women did not want to create a separatist
manifesto or credo" (p. 298). Overall, perhaps it would have been
useful to position the chapters on women's art institutions at the
beginning of the work, for if women artists were as fully integrated
into mainstream artistic life as Johnson's case studies would have us
believe, then this begs the question of why separate institutions
were even necessary. Was the Ministry of Education's support of such
leagues a red herring, that is, a measure ultimately designed to
cloister women at separate institutions, or did it fully support
gender mainstreaming? Why, if the misogynist criticism engendered by
"Art of the Woman" was as vehement as Johnson demonstrates, does the
author seem to imply that women's collectives were less dynamic than
the artistic boys' clubs that excluded them? Clearly, while Johnson
is correct in countering false notions that women artists lacked the
opportunity to exhibit their works publicly altogether, it is also
true that women artists could not become regular members (with voting
and jury rights) of the "Big Three" exhibition leagues until after
World War II. Thus, underlining the importance of creative
partnerships to Viennese modernism, most women who exhibited at the
Secession could only do so, to use Sabine Plakolm-Forsthuber's
phrase, under a sort of "male protectionism" (through a connection to
male relatives who were members). While cleverly borrowing Kutman
Atalug's theories on identity and race, Johnson maintains that
sociocultural constructions of gender can indeed be described as a
jacket, manufactured by others, which one wears or not; some Austrian
women artists put on this jacket more often than Johnson is
comfortable admitting. Even "Old Mistress" Tina Blau was not immune
to perceptions that her paintings of the Prater reflected a certain
female subjectivity (at least as her colleague Richard Kauffungen at
the Women's Academy interpreted them).
Such issues raised by _The Memory Factory_ will surely stimulate
lively scholarly dialogues. It is to be hoped that further studies
like this will highlight women's contributions to the field of
early-twentieth-century applied arts, as well as the educational
backdrop underlying these developments. Johnson is dead-on when she
calls the separation of the decorative from the abstract one of
Modernism's "biggest blind spots," an observation equally relevant to
female handicraft tradition reclaimed by feminist activists (both in
interwar Vienna and the better-known American feminist art movement
of the 1970s). Here, given stereotypes of female "craftiness" and
domesticity Viennese critics viewed women as particularly "at home"
in the applied arts. Indeed, during the interwar years, the sort of
inventive, avant-garde _Kunstgewerbeweiber_ satirized in Joseph
Roth's _Emperor's Tomb_ achieved a certain expressivity in the
context of functional objects, undermining the notion that "to be
'high' and 'fine' both women and art should be beautiful, but not
useful or functional" (as Patricia Mainardi argued in the context of
All in all, _The Memory Factory_ constitutes a tremendous
breakthrough on women artists in Vienna 1900, rethinking many of the
dominant paradigms of feminist inquiry and reframing the early
twentieth century as "hardly a monolithic culture of repression" (p.
14). It is as rich in documentation as it is in theory and secondary
literature, and raises many new questions not only relevant to
studies of Viennese modernism, but scholars interested in women art's
institutions more broadly.
. Throughout the review "Modernism" refers to the version of
international Modernism as defined by Clement Greenberg, stressing
the increasingly autonomous (i.e., abstract) nature of modern
painting, whereas "modernism" refers to the Viennese home-grown
variant of these debates.
. "VII. Ausstellung der Vereinigung bildender Künstlerinnen
Österreichs," _Der Bund_ 12, no. 2 (February 1917): 14.
. Since the publication of Schorske's compelling essays, scholars
have revised and expanded aspects of the his "failure of liberalism"
paradigm, pointing to Schorske's neglect of imperial patronage, the
particularly Jewish character of Viennese modernism, and women's
contributions as artists and muses. See James Shedel, _Art and
Society: The New Art Movement in Vienna 1897-1914 _(Palo Alto:
Society for the Promotion of Science, 1981); Allan Janik and Stephen
Toulmin, _Wittgenstein's Vienna_ (New York: Simon and Schuster,
1973); Steven Beller, _Vienna and the Jews: A Cultural History_
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); and Emil Brix and Lisa
Fischer, _Die Frauen der Wiener Moderne _(Munich: Oldenbourg, 1997).
. The author of numerous book chapters and articles on women
artists, Plakolm-Forsthuber is best known for _Künstlerinnen in
Österreich, 1897-1938 _(Vienna: Picus, 1994).
. Adolf Loos, "Ornament und Erziehung," in _Trotzdem: Gesammelte
Schriften_ (Vienna: Prachner, 1997), 177.
. Preface to the catalogue of the Verband bildender Künstlerinnen
und Kunsthandwerkerinnnen exhibit,_ Wiener Frauenkunst, in Wie Sieht
die Frau? May 17-June 29 1930_ (Wien: Jahoda & Siegel), 7.
. Patricia Mainardi, "Quilts: The Great American Art,"_ Feminism
and Art History_, ed._ _Norma Broude and Mary Garrard (New York:
Harper and Row, 1982), 344.
Citation: Megan Brandow-Faller. Review of Johnson, Julie M., _The
Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900_.
HABSBURG, H-Net Reviews. November, 2012.
The Forward Newspaper
January 12, 2013
When writing of great Viennese artists, influential historians such as Carl Schorske in his landmark “Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture” do not even mention sculptor Teresa Ries (1874-1956), Impressionist landscape painter Tina Blau (1845-1916), and figurative artist Bronica Koller (1863-1934). But posterity can play strange tricks. And now, in “The Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900” author Julie Johnson makes a strong argument that these once-celebrated Jewish artists have been unjustly overlooked.
Johnson, a University of Texas art historian, notes how all three women shared a strong sense of self-worth and a penchant for making bold statements, and not only artistic ones. The Russian-born Ries was expelled from the Moscow Academy of Fine Arts for scolding a teacher who did not evaluate her classwork. After she was established as a celebrity sculptor in Vienna, Ries — whose admirers included Stefan Zweig and Mark Twain, who sat for a portrait — penned her 1928 memoirs, “The Language of Stone,” a powerful, feminist document. In it, Ries dismissed critics and museum-goers who claimed that her heroic, sometimes tormented marble carvings were influenced by Auguste Rodin: “That is often the first impression of lay people, somewhat in the way that for Europeans, all blacks look alike.” Ries further dismissed the “opinion that the man is necessarily the inseminator, also in art,” and added that her works, especially a once-famous statue of “Lucifer” actually preceded Rodin’s “Thinker,” which supposedly influenced it.
In a 1902 self-portrait, an oil on canvas now in The Vienna Museum, the statuesque Ries, garbed in her artist’s smock, strikes a haughtily prideful pose, challenging the viewer much as she challenged readers in her autobiography. The artist’s fiery temperament can be deduced from another passage from “The Language of Stone,” describing her 1909 marble sculpture “Eve” which depicts the Bible’s first woman in a cowering fetal posture: “I could not understand why the woman could not gain a better position in history, that the secondary role in the history of humankind seemed to suffice — woman, in whose womb humanity begins and ends! I could not understand why the women of my time were content to rely on the moody love-whims of men. And yet, this seemed to be the fate of women since the time of Eve, since the first sin.”
Blau, whose exuberantly soaring depictions of trees in Vienna parks brought a light-drenched palette to subject matter usually dealt with in somber Old Master fashion by contemporary male painters, was less public in her statements. Yet like Ries, she possessed a firm conviction of her own value.
In a 1900 letter to Auguste Schaeffer, a friend and teacher, Blau wrote: “If I were not a woman, my works would be viewed not only as independent but also ahead of their time in Vienna, just as they were in Paris and Munich. I am valued by my colleagues, but nonetheless when it really counts for me to be treated as an equal, to be honored and included because of the value of my work, I am always left out.”
Blau specified that she had never been granted any major public commissions, despite the fame of such work as her 1882 canvas “Springtime in the Prater,” an idyllic depiction of a venerable public park in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district which was purchased for the city’s Belvedere picture collection. This occurred, Blau informed Schaeffer, because of her work’s “outstanding painterly qualities” and not because its setting was a local sentimental favorite. Indeed, the high soaring trees in “Springtime in the Prater,” dwarfing a woman and young girl who have paused beneath them, seem to express energetically exuberant aspirations, not mere gemütlichkeit, that cheery coziness which is a key element of Viennese kitsch sensibility.
As for Koller, a painter of interiors who focused on domestic subjects, she was no mere “painting housewife” as she was dubbed by art critics, any more than Pierre Bonnard or Edouard Vuillard were painting house-husbands. A friend of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, Koller won rave reviews from the noted critic Berta Zuckerkandl, who was born in Vienna of Galician Jewish origin. In 1911, Koller painted a monumental portrait of the contralto Emilie Bittner, the wife of the Austrian composer Julius Bittner, a close friend of Gustav Mahler’s. In this splashily decorative painting, which juxtaposes the sitter against wildly patterned wallpaper, Bittner expresses Gertrude Stein-like sedentary solidity, cradling her belly with her arms.
Koller’s “My Mother,” an oil on canvas from 1907, is rather more mysterious and cryptic than “Whistler’s Mother” despite being a side-view of a maternal figure, like that famous 1871 painting. Instead of being an idle object of filial adoration like Mrs. Whistler, Koller’s mother is hard at work on embroidery, with three-quarters of her face turned away from the viewer. “My Mother” shows an Austrian Jewish woman defined by labor, whose personality and identity seem so totally absorbed in what she is working at that the most essential aspect of any portrait, her face, becomes of secondary importance.
Much as she innovated in portraiture, Koller imaginatively renewed another traditional genre in a 1910 “Still Life with Fruit and Parrot” which mixes inanimate objects, including pears and grapes, with a definitely animate bird which may contain a measure of self-identification. After Koller died of ovarian cancer in 1934, a painter friend described in a published obituary how he had not long before painted her, “palette in hand, white haired, with the face of a merciless bird who inspects the fruit of still life.” Whatever her subject matter, Koller’s inspired view of interiors had a quasi-religious aura, as she wrote to her husband in 1909: “My house is like a temple. Peace and quiet surround me here. May God preserve it. That is often my wish.”
By the time the 1938 Anschluss destroyed any such sacred tranquility, Koller and Blau were already dead, and Ries had fled to Lugano, Switzerland where she survived the war but never again returned to Austria. Even before the Nazis eliminated all evidence of Jewish creativity, these three artists had long worked in a parallel sinister context of rank misogyny. Johnson cogently points out: “As a woman and a Jew, [Blau] was doubly Other in the city where Otto Weininger’s ‘Sex and Character,’ which popularized theories of the inferior creative potential of women and Jews, had been a bestseller.” Such theorists abetted the continued postwar oblivion of Ries, Blau, and Koller, as did art historians who inadvertently also buried the subject. That a change is overdue is one of the valuable lessons offered by Johnson’s book.
Woman's Art Journal
Volume 34 #1Spring/Summer 2013The Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900 by Julie M. JohnsonPurdue University Press, 2012
Reviewed by Megan Brandow-Faller
Surmising the perils of separate women’s art institutions, an anonymous reviewer for one of Austria’s leading feminist periodicals quipped in 1916 that "the best success that one might wish of them is that they might no longer be necessary."
Julie Johnson’s 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. The Memory Factory flies in the faceof 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 theart exhibitionary complex of Vienna" (4- 5). Drawing case studies of five highly successful women painters and sculptors closely connected to the Vienna Secession—Tina Blau (1845–1916), Elena Luksch-Makowsky (1878–1967), Broncia Koller (1863-1934), Helene Funke (1869–1957),2 and Teresa Feodorowna Ries (1874–1956)—Johnson refutes the historiographical tendency to lump women artists into an aesthetic "room of their own," seeking explanations for women artists’ canonical exclusion in "anew center … whose themes have not always fit into the dominant narrative structures of art history" 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 Post- Impressionistic influences ahead of their male colleagues, in a more purely autonomous manner than Klimt and other allegorical painters, while exemplifying the Vienna Moderns’ 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: e.g., stylistic innovation, run-ins with conservative authorities, as well as acclaim abroad in advance of recognition at home. Similarly, Johnson shows how artistic personalities like the flamboyant Russian sculptor Teresa Ries created more than one succès de scandale. For instance, a well-known anecdote tells of Ries’s delightfully provocative life-size marble sculpture of a witch sharpening her toenails before the Sabbath attracting comment from conservative Emperor Franz Josef. Today, however, Ries’s work 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. Indeed, in light of Ries’s and other artists’ Jewish backgrounds, Johnson’s work serves to remind the reader thatfin-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 final chapter on the post-1938 erasure of these artists’ lives and legacies reveals, the seemingly innocent territory of Vienna 1900 intersects with Austria’s turbulentrelationship with National Socialism and the Holocaust more directly than scholars and the public have previously acknowledged. Historiographically and theoretically, The Memory Factory is as ambitious andcomplex as the book’s richly documented endnotes. The author’s methodology draws more from the arsenal of memory and Vergangenheitsbewältigung (‘coming to terms with the past’) studies than traditional feminist art historical inquiry. As such, Johnson privileges not only formal visual analysis, which indeed she does masterfully, but contextualized readings of nonvisual sources such as feuilletons,artist biographies, and humorous texts.
Historiographically, The Memory Factory represents an important contribution to the Schorske dialogue on Viennese modernism. In his classic collection of interdisciplinary essays Fin-de-siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture, cultural historian Carl Schorske attributed a blossoming of modern art, culture and literature to the disillusioned ‘sons of liberalism’ whoabandoned Late-Imperial Austria’s increasingly antagonistic political reality to find meaning in an aesthetic culture of feeling.For Schorske and his followers, the heroic trio of Klimt-Schiele- Kokoschka exemplified a generational struggle that exploded in Klimt’s wellknown walkout from the conservativeAustrian Artists Guild to found the Vienna Secession in (1897), an artists’ union dedicated to the Philosophy of Ver Sacrum, the idea of art as a sacred spring to rejuvenate modern life. Making women artists visible in the Schorske dialogue on Viennese modernism, a body of literature which has, accordingto 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 in Johnson’s study (3). Building on the pioneering studies of Sabine Plakolm- Forsthuber, Johnson’s book numbers among the first English-language works on women artists in the circles of the Vienna Secession.
Johnson, however, casts her net more broadly than just Vienna, rethinking women artists’ non-participation in the shaping of international modernism as defined by Clement Greenberg. As Johnson duly notes, Greenberg’s rancocentric definition of modernism does not fit the Central European (particularly Viennese) context, which tended to retain narrative elements and the decorative, a form of "nascent abstraction [which] came to be seen as the opposite of Modernism" precisely because of its frilly feminine connotations (11). Here, the Viennese architect and cultural critic Adolf Loos’s famous dictum comes to mind, that "[w]herever I abuse the everyday-use-object by ornamenting it, I shorten its life span…. Only the whim and ambition of women can be responsible for the murder of such material."Johnson’s point is, thus, that imposing a Franco-centric definition of modernism on Vienna marginalizes women’s participation in a distinct brand of modernism, never as autonomous or self-critical of its medium as Greenberg would have liked.
A broader critique in Johnson’s work, with as much relevance today as in 1910, when the Association of Austrian Women Artists curated a landmark historical retrospective of women artists’ works (which dwarfed Linda Nochlin and Ann Sutherland Harris’s more famous 1977 retrospective), is how the seemingly straightforward story of modern art as presented in the "white cube" space of museums has only served to reify women’s omission and the modernist band-of-brothers myth. As Johnson correctly insists, too often, the work is expected to rise to the surface on its own, but curators (and art dealers) who serve as the gatekeepers of art museums and gallery spaces have rarely acknowledged that the space itself can enhance or alter the work of art itself (13).In a scathing critique of an interview with curator Kirk Varnadoe, Johnson points a finger at MoMA’s exclusion of women artists from its 1986 rendition of the "Vienna 1900" show. Clearly, theissue is not quality but, as Johnson accurately surmises, a lack of active scholarly and institutional intervention in preserving the memory of women artists, an issue only compounded by the wartime destruction of works and sources.
The book’s first five chapters spotlight the women artists named above, documenting their public exhibition records and their posthumous erasure from the limelight, which Johnson frames in terms of their exclusion from paternalistic mythologies of father-son plots. Chapters Six and Seven briefly examine women’s art institutions, focusing on the critical reception of theAssociation of Austrian Women Artist’s 1910 "Art of the Woman" retrospective. The last chapter, "1900–1938: Erasure," takes strides to retrieve Vienna 1900 from a historiographical no man’s land distant from the mid-century cataclysms, to trace the stories of women artists in exile and under National- Socialist persecution.
Johnson hits her stride in the formal visual analysis in the early chapters titled "Writing, Erasing, Silencing: Tina Blau and the (Woman) Artist’s Biography," "Broncia Koller and Interiority in Public Art Exhibitions," and "Teresa Ries in the Memory Factory." She uses the example of Austrian Impressionist Tina Blau to lay the foundations of her argument that the Vienna Secession’s construction of identity was self-serving and paternalistic. Blau possessed all the qualities one might hope for in a modernist forbearer: the stylistic innovation found in her brushwork capturing the transitory qualities of light and color, her confrontations with conservative authorities, and her early success abroad. The story of Blau’s most famous canvas Spring at the Prater (1882; Fig. 1), now hanging prominently at the Austrian Gallery Belvedere, proves her point. Almost rejected and then skied at the 1882 Künstlerhaus exhibition for its daring impressionism and profusion of light, only the comments of the French Minister of Fine Arts salvaged the picture from oblivion, to be eventually purchased for the imperial collections. Johnson makes a convincing case that Blau was selectively excluded from the Vienna Moderns’ ancestor cult because male Secessionists could not swallow the idea of an "Old Mistress" as their artistic foremother, writing that "the Secessionists … never figured themselves as wrestling with or being heirs to mothers" (29). That Blau was doubly "other" in fin-de-siècle Vienna, i.e., as a woman and a Jew, further problematized matters, particularly after Austrian institutions, including the Women’s Academy that she co-founded, were coopted by the National Socialists. Johnson argues that Blau, during her own lifetime, as a successful public artist fetching high prices, consciously avoided connecting her work to negative stereotypes surrounding the feminine in art.
Johnson masterfully compares the outputs of Koller and Helene Funke to the works of their male colleagues, demonstrating how women artists often served to disseminate the latest developments in French Post-Impressionism among the Vienna moderns. In her discussion of Koller, a Jewish painter who sided with the progressive Klimt Group after it seceded from the Vienna Secession in 1905 and was inaccurately memorialized as a "painting housewife" due to her interest in interiority and active role as patron, Johnson’s analysis is at its most original. In a manner reminiscent of feminist interpretations of nineteenth-century French Impressionism, in which scholars traced stylistic points of similiarity and departure among male and female artists, Johnson traces Koller’s influence on younger artists including Egon Schiele and Erwin Lang. For instance, while Schiele’s Portrait of the Painter Hans Massmann (1909) is typically read as nodding to Klimt’s Portrait of Frietza Riedler (1908), Johnson’s side-by-side comparison posits the close connection of its staging and stylized background to Koller’s My Mother (1907), unveiled at the 1908 Kunstschau exhibition. Johnson makes similar arguments regarding Koller’s role in transmitting Van Gogh-esque influences to a younger generation of modernists. Ironically, Koller’s work was more "modern" (by Greenberg’s definition) than that of her male colleagues. Yet, unlike traditional feminist inquiry (e.g., Linda Nochlin’s famous rereading of images of leisure and work in Morisot’s paintings), Johnson stresses that "finding a new aesthetic or center is hardly necessary" for Koller because her work reflected themes of psychological interiority, acknowledged by the Schorske school as an important leitmotif of Viennese modernism (112). Ultimately, Johnson shows how women artists were integrated into mainstream male institutions, their works influencing and influenced by their male colleagues, and, moreover, in Koller’s case, serving as an organizational mediator after the postwar fissure of the Viennese institutional landscape.
In limiting her discussion of Austrian women’s artist leagues to the prewar period, Johnson focuses on feuilletonistic reactions to the 1910 "Art of the Woman" show, implying that the leagues ran out of creative gas after World War I. In fact, Austria’s women’s art movement reached its zenith in the interwar period, propelled by the institutional parity achieved by Vienna’s Frauenakademie in 1919 and the founding of a female Secession that mirrored the very disagreements about the value of the applied and fine arts and in particular the role of Raumkunst, or installation art, driving a rift between the Klimt Group and rump-Secession at the end of its "heroic" period. Overall, perhaps it would have been useful to position the chapters on women’s art institutions at the beginning of the work, for if women artists were as fully integrated into mainstream artistic life as Johnson’s case studies would have us believe, then this begs the question of why separate institutions were even necessary. Clearly, while Johnson is correct in countering false notions that women artists lacked altogether the possibility to exhibit their works publicly, it is also true (as the author acknowledges) that women artists could not become regularmembers in the primary exhibition leagues until after World War II.
All in all, The Memory Factory constitutes a tremendous breakthrough on chronicling women artists in Vienna 1900, rethinking many of the dominant paradigms of feminist inquiry and reframing the early-twentieth century as "hardly a monolithic culture of repression" (14). It is as rich in documentation as it is in theory, secondary literature, and high-quality black-and-white and color illustrations of both well-known and marginalized works by women artists. Johnson’s groundbreaking work raises many new questions not only relevant tostudies of Viennese modernism, but to scholars interested in women and modernism more broadly. •
Megan Brandow-Faller is Assistant. Professor at City University of New Yorkat Kingsborough. One of her forthcoming projects is on female artists’ engagement with children’s art and artistic toys at the 1908 Vienna Kunstschau.