A memorial to Austrian poet Josef Weinheber (1892-1945) stands in Vienna’s First District, the city’s business and historic core. While it honors his literary contribution to his homeland, there’s no mention of his Nazi past – or pro-Hitler works. But that may soon change.
A team of Vienna-based artists launched an “intervention” June 28 aimed at “recontextualization and artistic reconfiguration” of the monument, according to Eduard Freudmann, an instructor at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and one of the instigators.
“Weinheber wrote very explicit Nazi propaganda poems,” Freudmann told The Arty Semite by email. “We aim at sparking a debate about how to proceed with the contextualization and artistic reconfiguration of a Nazi monument. And we are prompting the City Secretary for Culture to launch the official procedure for an artistic reconfiguration.”
The “intervention” will mark the first public demand for changes to the monument and its accompanying text, Freudmann said. “Weinheber is a very polarizing figure in Austria, and many people are extremely apologetic about him and his Nazi activities,” said Freudmann, who is spearheading the “intervention” with Vienna artists Chris Gangl and Tatiana Kai-Browne. “We expect a large public discussion by austrian artists, writers, intellectuals to follow our intervention.”
Michael Kaminer: Why are Austrians more forgiving about Weinheber than other Nazi figures?
Eduard Freudmann: Austria has a long history of overlooking Nazi biographies. In the 1980s we even elected a former Nazi stormtrooper as our president, Kurt Waldheim. Nowadays Nazi crimes are not considered minor offenses anymore. The international pressure on Austria, specifically from the U.S. and from Israel, contributed to that change. However, cultural figures seem to be a protected species and Weinheber is one of them. Apologists across the political spectrum advocate for a strict separation of the art work from its author.