steirischer herbst ’88
Guilt and Innocence of Art

Peter Vujica

Festival dates

“Guilty are those who demand forgiveness and explanation from art for what they once committed themselves. Guilty is all art which complies with such desires. Guilty also is all art which, furious about the past, becomes blind for today’s disasters. And desecrators of art all those, in the west as well as in the east, in the north as well as in the south, who use such blindness. Great and innocent is all art that depicts and says what will or cannot be tomorrow. And guilty are all those who despise such art. Because, mostly it only betrays the horror which its determined opponents are about to provoke. Besides: Death comes as a master … not only from Germany.”
—Peter Vujica (original booklet translation)

For the fiftieth anniversary of the annexation of Austria, steirischer herbst was dedicated to the theme of Schuld und Unschuld der Kunst (Guilt and Innocence of Art). In the wake of the scandal surrounding the Nazi past of Kurt Waldheim, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which had triggered a long-overdue coming-to-terms with Austria’s own Nazi history, the festival was also forced to take a stand. Commemoration of the Nazi victims already assumed a central position in the opening days: Herbert Zipper’s Dachaulied (Dachau Song), after a text by Jura Soyfer, who died at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, premiered on the Kasematten stage on the Schlossberg.

The opening play at the Schauspielhaus, Grüße aus Theresienstadt (Greetings from Theresienstadt) by Ulrike Migdal, dealt with prisoners at the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, who were forced by the camp management to perform poems, cabaret texts, satires, and songs to mislead visitors from the Reich and abroad about the catastrophic conditions in the camp. The film symposium was dedicated to Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, the controversial director of Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland (Hitler: A Film from Germany; 1977); Christine Frisinghelli, the later artistic director of steirischer herbst, curated the photography exhibition Die Rache der Erinnerung (Revenge of Memory), with works by Christian Boltanski, Hannah Collings, Seiichi Furuya, and others.

The focus of the core program was the exhibition Bezugspunkte 38/88 (Points of Reference 38/88), curated by the art historian Werner Fenz, for which steirischer herbst occupied the urban space of Graz for the first time. Sixteen international artists were invited to examine fourteen locations in which Nazism had been inscribed. They included the main railway station, the Hauptplatz, Am Eisernen Tor, the Rosarium, and the university. This exhibition was very clearly not about “furnishing” public space with sculptures, but instead about critically examining and perceiving these locations and spaces through art.

Bill Fontana created a sound sculpture at several points of reference, which sought to oppose the Nazi regime with “the eleven most beautiful sounds in the world” for the duration of the festival.1 The residents of Graz, however, assessed the sounds differently: starting on the first day, the police and newspaper editors received a wave of demands to put an end to the “nuisance at taxpayers’ expense.”2 Even though Peter Vujica made a hotly debated compromise to reduce the volume and duration of the piece, indignant citizens ended the transmission by cutting through the loudspeaker cables. The installation of flesh-colored panels by Werner Hofmeister in front of the headquarters of the former Reichskulturkammer (Reich Chamber of Culture) and Peter Baren’s human mannequin titled Echo of Histyria at the Uhrturm (clock tower) were vandalized several times.

The strongest reactions were provoked by Hans Haacke’s contribution. On the Platz Am Eisernen Tor, he reconstructed the triumphal column that the Nazis erected there in 1938 around a historical Marian column. The work was titled Und Ihr habt doch gesiegt (And You Were Victorious After All) and decorated with Nazi insignia including the swastika and the imperial eagle as well as the inscription “The Defeated in Styria—300 dead Roma and Sinti, 2,500 dead Jews, 8,000 political prisoners who were killed or died in prison, 9,000 civilians killed in the war. 12,000 missing persons, 27,900 dead soldiers.”

Spurred by the local press, the protests by the local population, which had begun during the installation of the column, continued. Under pressure from the state police, the swastika under the imperial eagle already had to be removed on the day of the press conference, with the artist deferring to this act of censorship in order not to violate the 1947 statute prohibiting it. Five days before the end of the festival, the artwork was attacked by arsonists. The fact that the historical Marian column was also damaged as a result was treated as the real scandal in the press—especially in the Kleine Zeitung.3

The highly aggressive, sensationalist propaganda (using terms such as “traitor” and “filth”) against several artworks—particularly those in public space—spoke out clearly against the theory of a mentally disturbed single perpetrator, and Peter Vujica also eventually resigned himself to this. The fact that the partial destruction of other artworks—including an audiovisual work by the IRWIN group at Graz University—was not commented on by the press and “quieter” works in Bezugspunkte (Braco Dimitrijević, Jochen Gerz, Norbert Radermacher) were ignored, went hand in hand with the general “canon” of negation.

Christine Resch, Kunst als Skandal: Der steirische herbst und die öffentliche Erregung (Vienna: Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik, 1994), p. 49.
Kunstpresse 5 (December 1988), cited in Resch, Kunst als Skandal, p. 49.
Ibid., p. 53.


The Guilt and Innocence of Art



Without a word


Fine Art

Autumn in the province

Autumn in Munich

Festival opening

23.09., 16:00
Opening/ Music
Premiere Herbert Zipper (USA): Dachaulied - Arbeit macht frei
Friedrich Cerha (A): Eine Art Chansons. (selection)
Premiere Otto M. Zykan (A): Engels Engel




Aula des BORG, Kindberg

Cafe Wien, Mürzzuschlag

Eisenwerk Breitenfeld, Mitterdorf

Forum Stadtpark

Galerie Bleich-Rossi

Galerie CC

Galerie Dürr (Stuck-Villa), München

Galerie Eugen Lendl

Galerie Freiberger, Mürzzuschlag

Galerie Griss

Galerie K

Gasthof Edlacherhof, Mürzzuschlag

Gasthof Temmel, Kindberg

Haus der Jugend

Hotel Kohlbacher, Langenwang

Hotel Post, Kindberg

Kammermusiksaal (Grazer Kongress)

Kirche St. Jakob, Krieglach


Kulturhaus Graz

Künstlerwerkstatt Lothringerstraße 13, München

Neue Galerie Graz

Neue Galerie Graz, Künstlerhaus

Oper Graz


Palais Attems

Palais Attems, Annenhofkino

Palais Meran

Refektorium des Münsters

Saal Steiermark (Grazer Congress)

Saal der Handelskammer Mürzzuschlag

Schauspielhaus Graz

Schloss Pichl, Mitterdorf

Schloss Trautenfels

Schloßberg, Universität Graz, Grazer Stadtgebiet


Schloßberg-Kasematten, Galerie H. + W. Lang


Stefaniensaal (Grazer Kongress)

Universität Graz



Programmbuch des steirischen herbst 1988: steirischer herbst Veranstaltungsges.m.b.H., steirischer herbst ’88 (Schuld und Unschuld der Kunst) (Graz:  1988)

Paul Kaufmann, 20 Jahre steirischer herbst. Eine Dokumentation (Vienna – Darmstadt: Paul Zsolnay Verlag, 1988)

→  Available here

steirischer herbst Veranstaltungsgesellschaft m.bH., Bezugspunkte 38/88 (Graz: steirischer herbst Veranstaltungsgesellschaft m.bH., 1988)

steirischer herbst Veranstaltungsgesellschaft m.bH., Bezugspunkte 38/88 (Graz: steirischer herbst Veranstaltungsgesellschaft m.bH., 1988)

Peter Pakesch, Grazer Kunstverein, steirischer herbst ’88, Graz 1988 (Graz: 1988)

Matthias Buck, International Landscape (Munich: Christoph Dürr Verlag, 1988)

Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum, 1988 Mit Blick voraus. Junge Kunst aus Österreich (Graz: Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum Joanneum, 1988)

steirischer herbst, Besucher (Graz: Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt Graz, 1988)