Sam Taylor-Wood, Bram Stoker’s Chair II, 2005, C-Print, 122 x 97 cm, Photograph Sam Taylor-Wood, © Sam Taylor-Wood,
Sammlung Essl, Inv. Nr. 5391.

Contemporary Photography Contrasted and Compared at Essl Museum

Andreas Gursky, Rimini, 2003, C-Print, 292 x 201 cm, © VBK, Wien, 2007, Sammlung Essl, Inv. Nr. 4850.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still (#81-A), 1978, s/w Fotografie, Ed. 2/3, 93 x 62cm, Photograph Franz Schachinger, © Cindy Sherman, courtesy Metro Pictures, New York, Sammlung Essl, Inv. Nr. 4324.


Essl Museum
An der Donau-Au 1
+ 43-2243-370 50
Contemporary Photography
from The Essl Collection

September 7-November 25, 2007

Since the first acquisitions in the late 1980s, the Essl collection of contemporary photography has grown to 1000 works by national and international artists. This exhibition offer an insight into the photo holdings of The Essl Collection.

More than 150 works by 40 artists are presented in six themes. The approaches and methods of the photographers encourage discussion and debate on the significance of contemporary photography as a fine arts medium.

The exhibition addresses several general photography issues:
• Has the relationship between information and manipulation in photography changed through the digital image editing? If so, how?
• How does narrative work in photography?
• What strategies of self-staging have artists opted for from the 1960s until today?
• How do artists react to social developments and changes such as globalisation, mass tourism, media overkill, sexual equality?

Objectively viewed — information versus manipulation When compared to other arts media, gaining access to photography seems to be particularly easy. Photography corresponds to our daily experience of seeing the world and repeats our reality. The images are, however, very much influenced by the photographer’s choice of position, field of view, colours, lighting. Particularly the processing of images in the lab and the modern-day options of digital editing offer infinite possibilities for manipulation.. The series of photographs of industrial objects taken by Bernd and Hilla Becher are exemplary of a detached approach to one’s subject. They always take their pictures under the same technical conditions, thereby trying to exclude as far as possible subjectivity and coincidence. But the students of Prof. Becher, such as Andreas Gursky, already use digital editing for their seemingly documentary photographs and thereby subtly manipulate the image content.

Man-made landscapes — nature photography Photographs of nature and landscapes owned by Essl Collection may be roughly divided into socio-political phenomena which are reflected in a landscape, as e.g. mass tourism (works by Andreas Gursky, Walter Niedermayr and Massimo Vitali), and a searching or contemplative observation (works by Elger Esser, Olafur Eliasson or Nina Pohl).

Inside/Outside – architecture and urbanity Photographs of architecture can be divided into the categories of anonymous everyday architecture (Matthias Hoch and Riccarda Roggan) and historically and architecturally important buildings (Günther Förg, Candida Höfer and Thomas Ruff). Common to all of these works is the rare occurrence of human figures. All photographers primarily focus on the capture of space.

The Exposed Body – body, public, society presents the body as a projection screen, an object of desire, a medium of expressing emotional states, all depending on cultural norms and restrictions. Beauty ideals and their reverse as well as cliché role models are issues explored in this context (the artists represented include VALIE EXPORT, Vanessa Beecroft, Sam Taylor-Wood and Santiago Sierra).

Artful individuality – self-dramatisation While female self-dramatists represented at The Essl Collection remodel and reinvent themselves beyond recognition (e.g. Cindy Sherman and Sophie Calle), male artists irritate by multiplying personas or by consistency of self-stylisation (Gilbert & George and Martin Liebscher). Although the self-styling does not tell us anything about the performers’ identity, it makes a statement about societal phenomena.

Telling stories presents strategies of narration in photography; the approach can be semi-documentary as with Nan Goldin, a compilation of evidence for a critique of post-colonialism in the case of Lisl Ponger, a comic-like approach to Australian image stereotypes from the 1970s in the case of Tracey Moffat, or a narrative fed from richly symbolic and surreal sources as in the case of Tim Roda.

“With this exhibition we would not only like to present the photographic treasures in our collection to the public, but we would also like to raise awareness of the importance of photography as a medium for creative exploration of our time,” said Karlheinz Essl.

The exhibition is complementted by an exhibition folder with texts and a comprehensive catalogue published by Edition Sammlung Essl. Contributions were supplied by Inka Graeve Ingelmann, Mela Maresch, Sini Zein, Verena Huber Nievergelt, Kerstin Stremmel, Sabine Schnakenberg, and a foreword by Karlheinz Essl provides an introduction. The folder is free; the catalogue is available for € 35.

Carsten Höller, Carrara Star and Roller Coaster Giant Wheel, 2005, C-Print, 190 x 118cm, Photograph Mischa Nawrata, Wien, © VBK, Wien, 2007, Sammlung Essl, Inv. Nr. 5228.

Omoko Sawada, OKAMI, aus der Serie Costume, 2003, C-Print, 80 x 100 cm, Photograph Mischa Nawrata, Wien, ©Tomoko Sawada, Sammlung Essl, Inv. Nr. 5032.