Natural Histories

Candida Höfer Zoologischer Garten Paris II, 1997. Courtesy Bildrecht Wien, 2017
The exhibition “Natural Histories. Traces of the Political” at the MUMOK in Vienna explores representations of nature in reference to social processes and historical events. The works on show undermine both ideas of nature as a realm disconnected from history and the fiction of an unchanging, natural concept of history. Looking at various themes, they illustrate the mutual interrelations between nature and history beyond all romantic idealization of either.


On three exhibition levels, the presentation spans a period from the 1960s to the present. It shows that art that takes a critical view of contemporary issues and systems, that refers to colonialism and its consequences, to totalitarian ideologies and military conflicts, and also to social transformation brought about by political system change is still highly relevant today. “Nature as an Oppositional Field in the Neo-avant-garde” is the first section of the exhibition and features works that include the dimension of a critique of history and society in their reflections on the conditions of artistic production and reception. Examples include works by Marcel Broodthaers, Joseph Beuys, Hans Haacke, Mario Merz, Hélio Oiticica, and the artist groups Sigma from Romania and OHO from Slovenia.

Jonathas de Andrade, ABC da Cana / Sugarcane ABC, 2014. Courtesy Jonathas de Andrade and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano
Jonathas de Andrade, ABC da Cana / Sugarcane ABC, 2014. Courtesy Jonathas de Andrade and Galleria Continua, San Gimignano
“Nature in the Colonial and Postcolonial Contexts” is a section where representatives of the next generation of artists make use of traditions in the critique of colonialism and also the neo-avant-garde’s critique of society and history, updating these for their own contemporary environments. A critical and analytical view of colonial and postcolonial history can be seen in works by Jonathas de Andrade, Matthew Buckingham, Andrea Geyer, Stan Douglas, Candida Höfer, Christian Philipp Müller, Isa Melsheimer and Margherita Spiluttini. “Natural Processes and Dynamics in History” features works by Anri Sala, Ingeborg Strobl, Lois Weinberger, Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan, which all address changes in or the transformation of public and historical places by natural processes. Nature grows back and over everything – and is thereby an indicator of historical dynamics.
Mark Dion, Ethnographer at Home, 2012. Courtesy Mark Dion and Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna
Mark Dion, Ethnographer at Home, 2012. Courtesy Mark Dion and Georg Kargl Fine Arts, Vienna
“In Genocide, Persecution, Flight, and Resistance” representations of nature are also features of works that address genocide in totalitarian systems and military conflicts. The history of Nazi terror and the Holocaust is considered in works by Heimrad Bäcker, Mirosław Bałka, Tatiana Lecomte, Ion Grigorescu, and Christian Kosmas Mayer. The section presents further works of Christopher Williams, Sandra Vitaljic, Sanja Iveković, Sven Johne, Alfredo Jaar and Nikita Kadan. The exhibition is completed by two external projects by Christian Philipp Müller and Mark Dion Associated. In Three Sisters Corridor Müller explores the import of plants as an aspect of the appropriation of foreign culture and nature.
Marcel Broodthaers, Un jardin d’hiver II, 1974
Marcel Broodthaers, Un jardin d’hiver II, 1974. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art, New York, photo John Wronn
His installation of vegetable plants and fruit trees of American origin was first created in 2006 for the monastery garden in Melk, where it has remained and been cultivated. For this exhibition, it will be restaged in Vienna’s Museums Quartier. Mark Dion is showing The Tar Museum in the nearby Vienna Natural History Museum. This work displays stuffed and tarred animals on transportation boxes, offering a picture of nature destroyed that also highlights a specific phenomenon of perception and repression.

23 September 2017 – 14 January 2018
Natural Histories. Traces of the Political
Museumsplatz 1, Vienna

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