About steirischer herbst

Every autumn since 1968, steirischer herbst (“Styrian autumn,” in reference to the region of Styria in southeast Austria) has provided a platform for new productions, provoking and shaping public debates in various forms across disciplines and media. Reinventing itself many times over, the festival has always redefined the terms of the conversation about what culture might mean in a changing contemporaneity.

From its beginnings, steirischer herbst stood out as one of the world’s few interdisciplinary art festivals. Fostering dialogue between the arts by combining aesthetic positions with theoretical reflection, the festival’s various editions have integrated visual art, music, public art, theater, performance, new media, literature, and everything in between.

Part of what has made steirischer herbst unique is its engagement with Styria and the city of Graz. As such, it has regularly featured work that delves into the city’s uneven present and its complex, sometimes troubling past.

The festival pursues a critical agenda and supports practices that are engaged and engaging without simply being a platform for alternative politics. Instead, it aims to turn Graz into a stage upon which art’s unique imaginative potential—its capacity to tell wild stories and shift shapes, to make impossible conjectures and poetic jokes, to take over spaces and occupy the imagination—is on full view.

About the Retrospective website

steirischer herbst emerged in the context of the postwar European neo-avant-garde and bears similarities to documenta, founded thirteen years earlier. Both were local initiatives located at the border to the East (which in Austria was more permeable than in Germany) and in the context of a Nazi past that hadn’t been completely accounted for. Unlike documenta, steirischer herbst was meant to be an interdisciplinary festival, and its director was not called a curator. Perhaps that is why it is not yet included in the history of curating, which has become an important if not the foremost part of contemporary art studies in the last years. This website, initiated in 2021 under Ekaterina Degot’s directorship, is meant to fill this gap and give credit to the rich history of curatorial approaches—often in-between visual art, performance, theater, and music—that were developed in steirischer herbst.

The Retrospective website is built upon the database of the Archive website, launched in 2017 (in German only), and fleshes out this structure with much visual material as well as a whole layer of textual analysis of different curatorial periods and approaches. This includes the early years when there was no single director and 1967, when the festival was not yet officially founded but de facto already existed. The texts about curatorial periods as well as the overviews of individual editions were written by independent curator and critic Eva Scharrer, who surveyed documenta’s history as well. The website will be continued for future editions and will enlarge its Video Library for as long as actual archival work will progress.

Website structure and methodology

steirischer herbst was and remains a heterogeneous festival with a continuously changing structure, in particular the relationship between projects created by local institutions and the core program signed by a director or curator, which has become more prominent over the years. The website tries to reproduce this heterogeneity while at the same time allowing for comparisons. The list of events for each edition is based on its program booklet and maintains its structure, order, and categorization. Texts about individual projects are also taken from these booklets (or guidebooks for 2018 and 2019). These were not always credited.

The search function represented a particular challenge, as work categories were constantly being renamed. Some directors relied on the traditional division between visual art, theater, music, and performance, while for others it was crucial to avoid it. The festival theme (which became a fixture after 1987) was called “Leitmotiv” under Veronica Kaup-Hasler. Till 2017, steirischer herbst might have included separate exhibitions, while afterwards the core project was considered one exhibition scattered across town as individual installations, performances, or interventions.

The current classification is based on the 2017 Archive website, which shows this period’s priorities, also used to interpret older editions. We decided not to change this on the Retrospective website to preserve the legacy of the previous curatorial period, but nevertheless renamed certain categories to align them more closely with practices in the visual arts. In “categories of production” (Produktionskategorien), “commissioned works” (Auftragswerk) were combined with “premieres.” “Genres” was renamed “art forms” (Kunstformen) and now also includes “performance.” New categories were added to “project type” (Art des Projekts) to label projects (performance, concert, exhibition, etc.) as they were by the festival’s curators in 2018–2020. The category “series” includes regular event series in steirischer herbst’s program and festivals within the festival, of which only musikprotokoll has remained a constant presence since 1968, while others had a shorter life. Short texts about these series, written by Barbara Seyerl, part of steirischer herbst’s curatorial team since 2019, give more insight into these—often innovative—curatorial parts of the festival.

The retrospective website also includes a Video Library (Mediathek)—a growing archive of documentary videos, artist interviews, and talks assembled from past editions offering a glimpse into the rich visual history and conceptual frame of the festival.

Note: Occasionally, English quotations from the bilingual booklets (published from 1985 onward) have been edited for accuracy.

Legal and financial basis of steirischer herbst

The legal and financial basis of steirischer herbst was unclear until 1974. Initially, there was only a decision by the Styrian provincial government to organize an annual series of events under the title “steirischer herbst” together with the City of Graz and the Austrian broadcaster ORF in the months of September, October, and November. In 1968, the Verein der Freunde des Steirischen Herbstes (Association of Friends of steirischer herbst) was created, which provided the festival with sponsorship from businesses.

In 1974, a legal basis for steirischer herbst in the form of a civil law partnership was created to coordinate the joint interests of the State of Styria and the City of Graz. According to this, the state and the city were contractually obliged as shareholders to supply the festival’s budget proper, that is, personnel expenditure, contributions in kind, as well as funds for its own events. The execution of the festival was thus financially transferred to them. A presidium, a directorate, and the position of an executive secretary were created. The presidium was a sort of supervisory board and consisted of four representatives of the State of Styria, three representatives of the City of Graz, the president of the Verein der Freunde des Steirischen Herbstes and one representative of the ORF, as well as the executive secretary. While the directorate, appointed for three years, was responsible for planning the festival in cooperation with the advisory committee, the executive secretary acted as an advisory member of both bodies and was responsible for general coordination.

In 1975, the Steirischer Herbst Veranstaltungsgesellschaft mbH (a limited liability company) was founded, which for the first time organized its own events. The first of these was the children’s and youth program open house. With the founding of the Veranstaltungsgesellschaft, which existed until 2005, steirischer herbst heralded an increasing centralization that led to the abandonment of existing series in favor of specially curated and thematically related events that were no longer strictly divided according to so-called genres or art forms.

In 1980, the decision was made to introduce the position of an (artistic) director, separating the responsibilities of the director from those of the commercial manager (executive secretary). Finally, from 1991, there was no longer an executive secretary, but the director was at the same time chief executive of the Veranstaltungsgesellschaft and secretary general of the civil law partnership.

In 2005 the structure of the festival changed again: after the State of Styria had made a considerable financial effort for its participation in the construction of the Helmut List Halle, it and the City of Graz decided to found a new limited liability company, the SH Kulturveranstaltungsgesellschaft mbH. This change came into effect in 2006 and the new company also took over the tasks of the Verein der Freunde des Steirischen Herbstes.

Today, the festival is owned two-thirds by the State of Styria and one-third by the City of Graz, which subsidize it proportionately in the form of shareholder grants. In addition, steirischer herbst receives financial support from the federal government, international grants, and income from sponsorship and events. The director is also the chief executive of the festival and is accompanied by the supervisory board.

Credits and Thank you

Publisher and Head of Project: Ekaterina Degot
Texts (Directors and Editions): Eva Scharrer
Project Coordinator, Research, Texts (Series): Barbara Seyerl
Managing Editor: Jeff Thoss
Head of Archive: Marlene Obermayer
Website Manager: Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga

Translations: Amy Klement
Copy editing English: Tas Skorupa
Proofreading German: Rainer Wieland
Proofreading English: Aaron Bogart
Picture and Video Desk: Iris Ströbel, Barbara Seyerl
Photographs of Publications: Clara Wildberger

Design: Grupa Ee
Web Development: Systemantics

Our special thanks goes to Henriette Gallus for the initial idea, the entire steirischer herbst team for their support, as well as the numerous photographers, artists, institutions, and persons who provided us with material for the retrospective.

Thanks to:
Brigitte Bidovec, Barbara Fränzen, Christine Frisinghelli, Roman Grabner, Horst Gerhard Haberl, Heimo Hofgartner, Kurt Jungwirth, Veronica Kaup-Hasler, Bernhard Lang, Tanja Milewsky, Heide Oberegger, Andreas Peternell, Wolfgang Reiter, Ulrich Reiterer, Thomas Trenkler

This page is based on the archival database of steirischer herbst, developed during the directorship of Veronica Kaup-Hasler and realized by Martin Ladinig, head of the archive for many years.