New art installation inflames row over Vienna’s statue of antisemite

Attempt to defuse a long-running dispute about a statue of mayor lauded by Adolf Hitler backfires as protesters claim it 'colourfully window-dresses' Jew hatred


Eröffnung der "Installation Lueger temporär" von Nicole Six und Paul Petritsch mit KÖR Kunst im öffentlichen Raum Wien, Kulturstadträtin Veronica Kaup-Hasler und Bezirksvorsteher Innere Stadt Markus Figl.

A well-meaning attempt to defuse a long-running row about a statue of a notorious antisemitic politician has failed to appease Vienna’s Jewish community.

The city recently unveiled a temporary installation near the statue of Kurt Lueger, the city’s mayor between 1897 and 1910. Lueger was a Catholic supremacist, greater German nationalist and political antisemite whom Adolf Hitler described as the German-speaking world’s “greatest mayor”.

The temporary installation was framed as an “artistic contextualisation” of the controversial statue, which has long been a flashpoint for protest and counter-protest.

But members of the Austrian Union of Jewish Students (JÖH) protested at its opening, holding signs that read: “Address antisemitism instead of colourfully window-dressing it!”
The JÖH’s action was the latest episode in a lively and often heated debate about the monument’s future that began in the summer of 2020 in the wake of protests and debates in Britain about memorials to slaveholders and colonialists.

After the monument’s base was daubed with the word Schande (shame), the city authorities decided to “artistically contextualise” it rather than remove it.

Vienna’s culture secretary Veronica Kaup-Hasler told the JC that while she is “truly embarrassed by and ashamed” of Lueger and his antisemitism, describing the monument as an “insult”, she remains critical of proposals to rid the city of the statue entirely.
Lueger, she said, “is a historical fact, and I can’t change historical facts. You cannot talk about something that isn’t there.”

She said she hopes artistic contextualisation will keep discussion about Lueger going “so that we might deal with our historical failures and historical guilt”. Removing the statue would be to “whitewash history”.

The JÖH has supported removing the statue, as have local historians, architects, artists and activists such as the Schandwache collective, which mounted a “vigil of disgrace” to stand guard over the graffiti daubed on it.

JÖH president Sashi Turkof said the new installation was a “cringeworthy mistake” that “belies Lueger’s antisemitism” and does nothing to challenge the “reverential nature” of the monument.

The Vienna Jewish community’s general secretary Benjamin Nägele told the JC that the Lueger monument in its current form is “intolerable”, but that the statue could either be removed or made subject to an act of “contextualisation that cannot be overlooked and makes clear that Lueger paved the way for political antisemitism”.

Mr Nägele added that the community is concerned about all statues and monuments honouring antisemites in Austria, all of which, he said, needed to be examined.

Lueger Temporary by the Austrian artists Nicole Six and Paul Petritisch is an enormous triangular wooden structure erected on parkland opposite the Lueger monument on Vienna’s Ringstrasse.

Upon the frame are affixed colourful wooden silhouettes representing other memorials in Vienna dedicated to Lueger — 16 in all. The artists aim to “extend the discussion about the monument to the entire city”, showing the “many different ways in which Lueger was inscribed in [Vienna’s] collective memory”.

Lueger Temporary will stay in place for a year, during which time a jury organised by the city will solicit opinions and then select a permanent contextualising counter-monument that should open in late 2023.

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