The Last Day
Photographs by Helmut Wimmer
2 March 2018 – 15 August 2019
Bassano Saal, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
In the Bassano Saal at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, there was an exhibition of a dozen photographs by Helmut Wimmer, going by the collective title of The Last Day.
Now ended, alas, it was an exhibition with an apocalyptic, revenge of nature flavour, but we can certainly expect to see more work like this as the reality, the overwhelming presence of climate change, hits home. Here we have the grand staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum – a Greek warrior raising his sword, the scene of myriad selfies – exposed to the elements, looking for all the world as though it is overgrown with earth and twigs and moss. We see, in one photograph, cranes – at least, I think they are cranes: they are birds with a stately, distinguished plumage at any rate – wandering through a room adorned with one of Velasquez’s portraits of an infant Hapsburg prince. A courtly scene that would not look out of place in a Werner Herzog movie.
In the Bruegel room (see below), the artist’s painting of a winter journey (or of a return from a hunt, I forget which) is visible on one wall – and you can spy others, the peasant not looking where he is going, say – snow is encroaching. Winter is coming.
In other photographs there are rooms that contain rocky cliffs, petrified trees, a lake reflecting (Monet-like) Renaissance masterpieces. And a few rooms are flooded with water, the waves crashing and swirling. There are a typical museum-goers in many of these photographs too, doing the usual museum-goer things. Such as looking at paintings intently, consulting catalogs and explanatory text, fiddling with their phones. Being alternately hyper-attentive and impervious to their surroundings. All of which, perfectly captured by Helmut Wimmer, seems about right. For wouldn’t that be what you would expect to happen?
For about the end of the world, they were never wrong, the Old Masters. How well they understood that the end of civilization (like Christ carrying the cross to Calvary in Bruegel’s great painting) would take place while people were doing ordinary, everyday things. Like, in a modern museum setting, looking at a picture or taking a selfie or – in the cafe on the first floor – mashing whipped cream into a Sachertorte.
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien is a wonderful museum which is not unlike the National Gallery in London. In that it has ramshackle charm and is organised in quite an hackneyed way, but you can forgive all that – and even the cafe located slap-bang in the middle of it, which the National Gallery has not yet thought of, thank God – because it is piled to the rafters with masterpieces. A treasure trove of great art, in fact.
Further details of The Last Day can be found here.
Helmut Wimmer’s website is here.
Details of current and forthcoming exhibitions at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien can be found here.