Opening: Fri, April 21th 2023, 18.30pm

Collected at any cost!

Why Objects Came to The Museum through National Socialism and How We Deal with Them

Sat, 22.04.2023 – Sun, 26.11.2023
One would think that provenance research and restitution cannot be exhibited – and yet we are doing precisely that. The exhibition deals with Nazi looting, justice and restitution. It presents the research into the acquisition and origins of objects in the museum and traces the status of the objects today. For the first time, the complexities of Nazi provenance research and restitution in Austria will be presented to the public in an exhibition. The main focus is the extensive Mautner collection, which the Volkskundemuseum Wien returned to its legal owners.
Public and private collections acquire objects in various ways. Like other museums, the Volkskundemuseum Wien also has objects that do not belong there because they were extorted, looted or seized from their owners under spurious legal (and racial) pretexts. In this exhibition, we look at the process of acquisition under the Nazi regime and the use of the objects by the museum before their restitution. One particular focus is the relationship that develops with objects and the different forms and effects this has. The Mautner collection is highly illustrative in that regard, having been donated for the most part to the Volkskundemuseum Wien after its restitution. It reflects the Mautner family’s close and long-standing connection with the museum and its stakeholders.
The progress of a collection is influenced by laws, administrative regulations and agreements, which are the result of political, ideological and social processes. They have had a decisive influence on the nature of the collections in the Volkskundemuseum Wien today. And it was these processes that determined the fate of the owners within the Nazi system, forcing them to flee and depriving them of their assets, existence and in many cases their lives. After the Nazi period, laws were passed under international pressure to organize reparations and the return of illegally acquired assets. It was not until 1998, just twenty-five years ago, however, that the Republic of Austria felt it necessary to promulgate the Art Restitution Act as the basis for the future restitution of looted objects in federal collections. The law was prompted by the seizure of two works by Egon Schiele in New York. The Commission for Provenance Research and Art Restitution Advisory Board provide the necessary structures for implementation of this legislation.
In 2015, the Volkskundemuseum Wien voluntarily undertook to operate according to the Art Restitution Act. Like other private institutions, it is not legally obliged to do so. The restitution of the Mautner collection was a result of this decision.
What is so special about the Mautner collection?
Members of the wealthy textile industrialist Mautner family have contributed to the development of the museum since its early days in various functions and through financial support and the donation of objects. As a result of their research interests and patriotic ambitions, they were closely connected with folklife studies in the museum, the association and in the promotion of heimat culture. The driving force behind folklife studies at the time was the idea of preserving objects and practices that had existed before industrialization and urbanization and improving or even redesigning them. Examples of this include the collection and research activities of Konrad Mautner (1880–1924), and the practical redesign of folk costumes by Anna Mautner (1879–1961). After 1938, Anna and other members of the Mautner family were persecuted as Jews under the Nuremberg Race Laws and obliged to flee. At the initiative of the museum, elements of their private collection in Vienna were seized and purchased at prices well below their real value by the director at the time Arthur Haberlandt. The objects included research documentation, clothing and pictures of folk costumes, decorated targets, song lyrics, furniture, pipes and pipe bowls, and photographs of folklife, particularly in the Salzkammergut. The objects from this collection were used frequently and without question in major exhibitions and publications.
In the 2010s, the Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art began to re-examine its complicity in Nazi policies and the questionable acquisition of many of the objects in it. To address the problem of the illegally acquired objects, the museum association decided to conduct provenance research and restitution in the meaning of the Art Restitution Act in cooperation with the Commission for Provenance Research.
This exhibition is the result of the express wish of the descendants of Anna Mautner to ensure that the collection, which was donated to the museum after its restitution, is still available to the public and for research. The entire restituted and donated stock will be on show. The 500 or so objects are arranged on basis of their cultural and historiographical aspects. The exhibition is intended for anyone interested in the origin of things in museums and in provenance research, and those who have questions about this subject or are concerned professionally with it. An extensive education and accompanying programme looks not only at the Nazi context but also at other aspects of the acquisition of objects by force – in a colonial context or in wars, such as the current war in Ukraine.

Virtual gallery on provenance research: A Museum – An Object – A Story
In a preliminary project, the Volkskundemuseum Wien collected contributions from all federal institutions with restitution obligations. The virtual gallery is online available und will be Part of the exhibition.

Download Folder (DE/EN)

Opening: Fri, 21.4.2023, 6.30 pm
Opening remarks by Stephen Mautner

Patron of honour
Alexander Van der Bellen
Federal President of the Republic of Austria

Kathrin Pallestrang, Magdalena Puchberger, Maria Raid
Lena Nothdurfter with the curators
Exhibition Design
Michael Hieslmair, Michael Zinganel
Exhibition Graphics
Theresa Hattinger
Technical Team and Media Production (in-house)
Paul Stöttinger, Patrick Widhofner-Schmidt
Cultural Mediation
Katrin Prankl, Katharina Richter-Kovarik
Johanna Amlinger, Gesine Stern
Print and Advertising Graphics
Matthias Klos
Margret Haider
English Translations
Nick Somers
We thank the team of the museum for the object handling and further support.
Volkskundemuseum Wien
Laudongasse 15–19, 1080 Wien
T: +43 1 406 89 05
F: +43 1 406 89 05.88

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August geschlossen