Was Painter Carl Spitzweg the Erwin Wurm of the Biedermeier era?

A Leopold Museum exhibition juxtaposes the past and present with two artists famous for their satirical takes on everyday social norms.

Somewhat obscure in his time, Carl Spitzweg is celebrated today as one of the great visual humorists of his era, documenting the human foibles around him with an unerring eye.

Carl Spitzweg-Erwin Wurm
Der Buecherwurm © Museum Georg Schäfer, Schweinfurt

As art turned its gaze away from religious, mythical and historical motifs towards domestic, middle-class scenes, the self-taught former pharmacist Spitzweg became a sort of Norman Rockwell of early 19th century Germany, particularly well known for his ironic depictions of everyday Biedermeier life and a disregard for pompous authority. However, his fondness for the small town idyll always shines through the mockery, even for the buffoons he loved to expose: His bourgeois family sweating away under the midday sun in the countryside in Der Sonntagsspaziergang (The Sunday Outing) may be completely out of their element, but not unlikable. And his most famous work Der Arme Poet (The Poor Poet), is still touching today, depicting a starving artist in his rooftop garret, plugging holes in the roof with an umbrella and fuelling his oven with his own manuscripts.

130 years after his death in 1885, Spitzweg finally gets his first comprehensive retrospective in Austria with a special focus on his satirical works, fortified with works by contemporary Austrian sculptor and photographer Erwin Wurm, a scathing social critic in his own right. Known for often involving random visitors at his exhibits, Wurm has them pose with everyday objects to create “one minute sculptures.” Also of note are his “fat sculptures,” where middle-class status symbols like cars and single-family homes are furnished with features of obesity. Sharing a similar vibe despite the wide temporal gap, this show features about 100 works between the two artists and is proof positive that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Carl Spitzweg – Erwin Wurm. Hilarious! Hilarious?

Through June 19, Leopold Museum

Open daily 10:00–18:00, Thursdays to 21:00


Nicolas Kristen
Born and raised in Vienna, Nicolas studied journalism and is now trying to become a good writer and journalist.

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