POLITICAL POPULISM at the Kunsthalle Wein, Vienna

Political Populism is an exhibition curated by Nicolaus Schafhausen at the Kunsthhalle Wein in Vienna.

“A spectre is haunting the globe—the spectre of populism”: Let us start the introductory lines to Kunsthalle Wien’s upcoming exhibition with a populist formulation, one that perverts Marx and Engels’ famous opening lines of the Communist Manifesto. Political Populism—by its very title—plays on the power of words; the promise of a simple premise that, in truth, stretches far beyond the limits of its boundaries. In this sense the title employs the precise rhetoric of many populist parties, however the exhibition itself seeks to undermine this through content: the wide-ranging articulation of issues and responses associated with the complex and contested concept of populism.

Reading newspapers, watching television programmes and in general following current affairs undeniably transmits the feeling that something is boiling up inside the “democracies” that govern the world. This something is the populist threat. From Moscow to Shanghai, from Helsinki to Madrid, from Athens to Reykjavik, the media at home and abroad is identifying the rise of populism. Political Populism brings together a variety of international artistic responses to different populist forces at work today. Both playful and serious, subtle and provocative, the works included illustrate a differentiated picture of the political situation in particular countries and worldwide. Through their artistic positions, the artists often draw attention to the fact that in a globally networked world we share common challenges and problems. The works can be viewed as a commentary on the subject, a subversive second level, an analysis, or a footnote. Above all, they reveal how omnipresent political populism has become. Even in the field of high culture, simplistic manipulation has intensified. We endeavour, in a more or less obvious way, to provide for popular attention and success.

Social media, advertising aesthetics and media production put forward political contents and slogans with a progressive appearance often by the means of artistic, art historical references. Poster campaigns, YouTube clips aimed specifically at young people, TV formats or pop concerts, present political issues and make prejudice socially acceptable—and belong as much to modern media life.

The exhibition Political Populism challenges us to comprehend the tensions inherent in a simplified populist worldview and to consider artistic articulations of this phenomenon. Many of the works show the complexity of issues involved and slow down developments which are handled as populist in the public debate. The exhibition questions our relation to populism, and proposes counterarguments to the populist usurpation of important social issues.The exhibition includes work by artists: Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Saâdane Afif, Darren Bader, Keren Cytter, Simon Denny, Christian Falsnaes, Evgeny Granilshchikov, Flaka Haliti, Rosemary Heather, Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff, Anna Jermolaewa, Johanna Kandl, Erik van Lieshout, Minouk Lim, Goshka Macuga, Jumana Manna, Mián Mián, Marcel Odenbach, Ahmet Öğüt, Trevor Paglen, Hito Steyerl, Jun Yang

Curatorial assistants: Juliane Bischoff, Eleanor Taylor

A reader focusing on different aspects of populism will be published in conjunction with the exhibition.

The exhibition is accompanied by a manifold program of readings, screenings, discussions, and performances. Marking the start of the program is a lecture by philosopher, curator, and director of RITS | School of Arts (Erasmus University College Brussels) Dieter Lesage on 18 November, titled On Art and Populism. Lecture for a Small Audience.

Further, a series of events are scheduled for the opening of Poltical Populism on the 6th and 7th of November 2015. Participants and the opening program will be listed under www.kunsthallewien.at.

On Art and Populism. A Symposium
28-30 January, 2016
A three-day symposium will take place at the end of the exhibition and will be dedicated to the meaning of contemporary art and its challenges within this context: contemporary art is often viewed as elitist, inapprehensible, and heavily based on references. Facing this is the demand for exhibitions that appeal to the public and address broad sections of the population, as well as a demand for a general popularization of art. Which role can and should art take on this scenario? And is it at all art’s mission to have a mission?

Kunsthalle Wein – Museumsplatz 1 1070 Vienna
Opening 6 November from 7pm