Self portrait of Trude Fleischmann with her camera
articles, Via Vienna

A Casual Defiance of History: The secret of Trude Fleischmann

Trude Fleischmann self portrait with camera
Trude Fleischmann self-portrait, 1928 (Wien Museum)

Why are outstanding women often forgotten or overlooked? Fortunately, Trude Fleischmann is not quite a secret anymore due to an extensive and masterfully-presented exhibition at Vienna’s Wien Museum—which thoroughly solidified her position as one of the most important Austrian and Jewish female photographers, as well as showcasing her as one of the most significant photographers of the 20th century.

Fleischmann launched her career at a time when Austrian women had just begun to assert themselves socially and professionally. She began her four-year course of photography studies in 1913 at Vienna’s Institute for Photography and Reproduction Techniques, just five years after the institute had opened its doors to women in 1908. Photography was an overwhelmingly male-dominated field, and leading photographers often disparaged women’s contributions: Influential Viennese photo-journalist Hermann Clemens Kosel even stated that women brought “the moral seriousness of art into absurdity”.

The exhibition, Trude Fleischmann –The Self-Assured Eye (Der selbstbewusste Blick), covered Fleischmann’s Vienna period from 1920-1938, highlighting her exceptional studio portraits along with Alpine landscapes and street photography. The portraits show Fleischmann’s mastery of her art and a unique identification and understanding of her subjects. Her studio (at Ebendorfer St. 3 near City Hall) was the scene of many parties for her well-connected circle of friends, and frequented by the many artists, performers and intellectuals whom she photographed.

Fleischmann and her colleagues were in touch with the social, political and artistic movements afoot in Europe at the time. A significant part of this was the emerging status of women, growing out of necessity. During the World War I, with workers scarce, women took over traditionally male professions. After the war ended these women, many of whom were Jewish, continued their careers, exerting their independent spirit. Trude Fleischmann gave shape to this new self-assured woman with the revealing portrayals of her contemporaries, the success and popularity of her studio, and the devotion to her craft.

Portrait of writer Karl Kraus, with his hands centered in image
Portrait of writer Karl Kraus; photographer Trude Fleischmann, 1930

At times expressive and bold, sensitive and delicate, personal and serious, Fleischmann brought not only her subjects’ images onto the printed photograph, but their personality and essence as well. She deftly combined her finely-tuned sensibility with the emerging technology, notably in her choice of composition and cropping to accentuate personal or identifying characteristics of those captured. One notable example–and one of my favorites–is an image from 1930 of Austrian writer and journalist Karl Kraus, in which the writer’s hands take precedence, his enigmatic face off to the left and largely cropped out of the frame.

Outstanding among her portraits are the motion studies of modern dancers, capturing the dynamic, sculptural poses and avant-garde costumes of this era of expanding female liberation, as the women proudly express their emergent personal and artistic freedoms. The portrait of Austrian stage actress, the Countess of Carnarvon Tilly Losch (née Ottilie Ethel Leopoldine Losch) is particularly enthralling, posed as ‘Princess Teablossom in the ballet, Whipped Cream’ (sounding like a ballet that would’ve enthralled Edward Gorey). The exhibition also includes the provocative nude portraits of the of dancer Claire Bauroff — photos considered scandalous in their time; upon public presentation in Berlin in 1925, they were censored and confiscated by the police. Advertising the 2011 exhibition, a larger-than-life image of the nude and relaxed Bauroff adorned the outside of the Wien Museum, in a casual defiance of history.

Trude Fleischmann exhibition catalog
Exhibition catalog cover with Fleischmann’s photo of dancer, Claire Bauroff.

The exhibition followed Trude Fleischmann’s flight from Vienna to New York City, following the Anschluss in 1938 (Hitler’s annexation of Austria), when the studios of other Jewish women photographers began to be “Aryanized” or their names and identities “deregistered.” These contemporaries included other successful Viennese photographers such as Edith Glogau, Grete Kollin, Trude Geiringer and Edith Barakovich, who were also shown in the exhibition, giving a taste of what yet lies to be discovered. In 1940 Fleischmann opened a studio in Manhattan’s theater district at 127 West 56th Street, successfully adapting to her new home and expanding into street portraiture. Just two years later she became an American citizen. Eventually she relocated out of the city into Putnam County, in the village of Brewster, New York. Now more than twenty years after her death in 1990, this was the first major exhibition of Fleischmann’s photographs, described by co-curator Anton Holzer as one of leading “forgotten women photographers.”

Beautiful photo of the silhouettes of a horn player and a dancer in front of a large window
Ernst Matray (dancer, choreographer, actor and director; seated) and Katta Sterna (actress and dancer) by Trude Fleischmann

“Strange as it sounds,” Holzer explains, “Trude Fleischmann was recognized in her time, but today as a reference point for young photographers, she is still a secret.” In the aftermath of World War II and the diaspora of Jews throughout the world, the pre-war lifestyle and culture that had flourished in Vienna was lost, as was even the memory of their very existence — not only with the destruction of photographs and negatives, but with the lost lives of the friends, family and relatives who knew the women and their work.

The exhibition was the continuation of a movement begun in the 1980s and 90s to recover the remaining and underrepresented contributions of Jewish culture in the years between the wars, as Austria then began to deal with this dark chapter of its history. “Forgetting is not a natural process,” Holzer emphasized. While much of the culture from that time has been lost there is still much to rediscover as we continue to reaquaint ourselves with these distinctive women, such as Trude Fleischmann, and the expressive lifestyles of those she photographed.

Photographs on the wall of a Trude Fleischmann exhibition
A room of the exhibition at the Wien Musuem.
Entrance to exhibition on Trude Fleischmann in Wien Museum
Trude Fleischmann exhibit, Wien Museum

* This piece was adapted from an article I wrote for The Vienna Review.

Lush green trees provide welcome shade in the Vienna Kagran school gardens.
Via Vienna

Vienna’s Secret Garden

A quick moment to let you in on one of Vienna’s hidden pleasures: The Kagran Gardening School! Yes, really it’s beautiful as you walk through gardens in different themes, such as the Greek garden, through a sunny field of bright purple flowers, along the Zen garden, to my favorite, the Claude Monet Garden of Impressionism. It’s like walking into a living Monet painting, green and floral and fragrant all around you.

Flowers reflected upon the beautiful still water in a living Monety Garden of Impressionism in Vienna

 

It’s also not really a secret: The Schulgarten Kagran is open to the public on the first Thursday of the month from April – October (from 10-18) at 22., Donizettiweg 29. Their email: post@ma42.wien.gv.at. Check it out and share some pics!!!!

 


A beautiful fountain lined with flowers and trees in Mallorca, SpainSpanish Garden
Fountains and flowers and rows of orange trees fill the King’s Garden of Palma, on the beautiful Mediterranean island of Mallorca, Spain.
Available in prints and posters.

More prints & gifts available in my  online flower shop.

Architectural detail of a woman's face above an entrance in Vienna
Via Vienna

Finding Beauty in the Journey – Via Vienna

If I were to give only one recommendation about Vienna, it would be to walk! Yes, you can get around the city surprisingly quickly via public transpo, but the beauty here isn’t just in the palaces, parks and museusms, but in the details of the city itself.

I love noticing the little things on my way somewhere. Wherever I am I like to find beauty in the journey! These photos are from the street Kirchengasse in Vienna’s fun Neubau District, packed with interesting shops, cafés and bars.


Closeup of an aged facade in Vienna with the sculpted image of a woman's face
Face of Vienna Wooden Keepsake Box Link to buy: http://bit.ly/2AGxMWr

 

Check out my shop for more Vienna photography featured on prints and specialy items!

Nur mit Wind mit Zeit und mit Klang, Anselm Kiefer
articles, Via Vienna

The Alchemy of Anselm Kiefer

A few years ago I was asked to write an article on an Anselm Kiefer exhibition in Vienna. I approached the job and the artwork with great trepidation and uncertainty. Upon seeing the exhibition, I became immersed, enthralled and transfixed. I felt small, yet a part of everything. I felt connected:

“It is utterly beyond our power to measure the changes of things by time… Time is an abstraction at which we arrive by means of the changes of things; made because we are not restricted to any one definite measure, all being interconnected.” – Ernst Mach
Horlogium - Anselm Kiefer
Horlogium, Anselm Kiefer, 2003 (oil, emulsion, acrylic, and plaster plants on canvas)

A dark and turbulent scene displays the power of nature in shades of grey and blue; sea and shore converge. The elements collide, blend and swirl in a transitory, impassioned dance. A leaden book attached to the canvas floats in a tempestuous sky, as a reservoir of achievements in knowledge or imagination. Memories to revisit, perhaps, that humanity has for so long elevated above nature, as if it can somehow be separate from what it is merely a part. The book open to a page that can never be read, never be understood.

I encountered this striking painting from artist Anselm Kiefer at the Essl Museum, in a contemporary building located in a in a quiet little town just outside of Vienna, Austria. Even with the pleasant natural lighting of the gallery falling through the skylights, the works of art–grand in dimension, darkness and decay–command an overpowering presence. I wasn’t sure what to think of Anselm Kiefer’s work at first, although my first experience of his work was through viewing pieces on the internet. Not remotely in line with experiencing his work in person, physically…with senses. 

Upon first entry into the airy exhibition space, I was overwhelmed by the massive, contrasting presence of this piece, Nur mit Wind mit Zeit und mit Klang [Only with Wind with Time and with Sound], the title taken from the Ingeborg Bachmann poem, “Exil”.  I felt tiny–just an element, helpless to nature’s kinetic mysteries and diversity. But I also felt a part, a part of nature, a part of the elements, a part of change; a part of the mysteries of life and art and time.

Nur mit Wind mit Zeit und mit Klang, Anselm Kiefer
Nur mit Wind mit Zeit und mit Klang, Anselm Kiefer, 2011 (oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, and lead on canvas)
Anselm Kiefer painting - Essl Vienna
A patron viewing the piece in the Essl

In his works Kiefer addresses the transience of memory, nature and civilisation along with diverse subjects, such as Norse mythology with TBC (Hödur) and the structure of the cosmos in Horlogium [Shooting Stars]. This latter piece leads my attention to the centre of the room and its accompaniment piece: Black tape on the floor squares off a section wherein lies fragments scattered around a stack of leaden books, Skulptur mit Sternen [Sculpture with Stars]. The books appear worn, their covers and pages abused with overuse, ready to exhale their restrained words into the aether.

TBC (Hödur) by Anselm Kiefer
Detail from Anselm Kiefer’s TBC (Hödur), with reflection of the exhibition room. The art appears more natural than its human environment. (oil, emulsion, shellac, branches, mistletoe leaves and soil on board)

I can understand why the museum’s founder, Karlheinz Essl, curated this exhibition on Anselm Kiefer himself. The pieces are all featured from his own personal collection and carefully presented “in order to make the power, radiance and spirituality of the works tangible and experienceable.”

Kiefer also takes inspiration from religion, with Samson and Ich bin der ich bin [I am who I am], and literature, including 17th century scholar Robert Fludd and the poet Paul Celan. Literary references appear in the title of some pieces, such Tönend wie des Kalbs Haut die Erde [Ringing out, as on the calf’s hide, the earth] from a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin, and are handwritten directly on some works of art themselves. The words of the poet cycled through the mind of the artist, mixed with the gritty elements of nature, blended and painted onto the tensile canvas.

Born in Donaueschingen, Germany on 8 March 1945, shortly before the end of World War II, Kiefer grew up amongst the ruins of the war, which ended up being his childhood playground as he used the rubble to construct little houses. This early influence in his life carried through in his artwork, such as his controversial use of themes relating to his country’s guilt and remembrance of World War II.

The cycle of growth, destruction and renewal is evident in work such as The Fertile Crescent, also featured from Essl’s collection. The Fertile Crescent being the area in the Middle East considered formative in the development of human culture, wherein early human civilisations developed. Here in Kiefer’s painting, mixed media on a colossal canvas show monumental ruins—civilisation decayed. Perhaps these ruins are only in a moment of transition, as time plays itself out into unknown possibilities.

“Ruins represent the future,” Kiefer states and then comments on his childhood: “The house next to our home was bombed to the ground. I never felt that the debris was something negative. This is just a state of transition, of change, of evolution. The postwar rubble and debris from the big cities cleared up by women, the so-called Trümmerfrauen [rubble women]—a term of almost mythological significance today—is what I employed to build houses. This debris has always been the starting point of something new being conceived.

”The fragility of the organic materials Kiefer uses accompanies the themes of decay, transience and renewal, the physical future of the pieces being uncertain. Besides lead, materials Kiefer uses include oil, acrylic and charcoal as well as more unconventional media such as soil, plaster and mistletoe leaves. In some works, branches, objects and sculpture are affixed to the front of the canvas, providing dimension to the textural surface. Art and nature reach into the controlled space of the museum, as if at any time they could pull you into their world for a change.

“In my pictures I tell stories to show what is behind the story. I open up a hole and I go through it.” – Anselm Kiefer 

Walking through the exhibition, winding through the rooms, I waver between observer and element—apart from, then a part of—as if we are all interconnected sculptures in transition, works by the greatest artist of the universe. Anselm Kiefer’s work would allegedly be contemporary art, but I find it to be of a timeless expression: The present in a dance with the effects of humanity and the past, the mysteries of mythology and the cosmos, and the uncertainty of decay and the future. Artwork that may not only cause one to question its meaning, but leave those questions never fully answered.

Kiefer’s art presents an alchemical, elliptical system: One of civilisation, recollection and fantasy affected by the mysteries of time and transformation.  Each work can be seen as an extract of this system—a moment caught as emotions and interpretations are released. The cycle of nature is endless; a work of art is but a glimpse of the eternal expressed.

Anselm Kiefer and his studio
Portrait of Anselm Kiefer, above, and the artist in his Paris atelier (© Renate Graf)

Exile

I am dead, a wanderer
no longer registered anywhere
unknown in the prefect’s domain
of no use in the golden cities
and the greening land
long dispensed with
and provided with no more
than with wind with time and with sound

I who cannot live among people
with the German language
this cloud around me
which I hold as a house
drifting through all languages

Oh how it grows dark
those dark sounds,
rain sounds
only a few fall
It will carry the dead into brighter regions

– Ingeborg Bachmann
translation via Project Muse


This piece was adapted from an article I wrote for 
The Vienna Review
All artwork in this post © Anselm Kiefer. 

 

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Also out now is a new 2018 calendar from beautiful Mallorca (in English, Spanish or German, of course, including the beautiful seaside view, below), plus my specialty items in Star Via – where you will find original poetry, photos and designs on prints, stationery, clothing, accessories, and other inspired items. Enjoy!

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