Critics’ Picks

Anna Artaker, untitled, 2018, death masks, dimensions variable.

Anna Artaker, untitled, 2018, death masks, dimensions variable.


Anna Artaker and Tatiana Lecomte

Währinger Straße 25 Collections of the Medical University of Vienna
May 9–October 6, 2018

This museum’s well-known collection of anatomical wax models from the Medical University of Vienna is brought into the present in this exhibition. Anna Artaker explores the legibility of the human face by exhibiting death masks from the Josephinum’s holdings as readymades. Without labels or commentary, faces from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries mingle in this untitled installation, demonstrating the impossibility of visually differentiating Aryan and Jewish peoples, despite ideas propagated by racist Nazi pseudoscience. Meanwhile, Artaker’s frottage Freud’s Tomb in London, 2018, thematizes more than just the exile of this famous graduate of the Medical University, evoking the Nazi persecution of all Jewish doctors in Austria.

With “Deconstructing Erna,” 2015, Tatiana Lecomte also addresses the absurdity of the idea of racial purity. For the series, she rephotographed portraits from the 1940s book series Das Deutsche Volksgesicht (The Face of the German People) by Erna Lendvai-Dircksen, blending the appropriated visages into new, distorted portraits. The artist also employs image appropriation in Meine erste Löwin #3 (My First Lioness #3), 2018. Here, she short-circuits historical photographs of safaris and medical illustrations with images from recipes and underwear ads. The formal methods of propaganda are invalidated by means of randomness.

With their show running at the same time as the collection exhibition “The Medical Faculty of Vienna 1938 to 1945,” Artaker and Lecomte negotiate history through presentation and mediation. The Josephinum’s invitation of both artists demonstrates a decidedly sensitive approach to the way topics such as persecution, genocide, and biopolitics are treated today.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.