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Events 2009

Exhibition in the Cabinet

Anna Artaker
48 Heads of the Merkurov Museum

Opening: February 11, 2008, 7 p.m.

In her first solo show in Salzburg, Anna Artaker displayed images of death masks from the Merkurov Museum in Gyumri, Armenia that the Armenian Soviet sculptor, Sergei Merkurov (1881-1952), created of the heroes of the Soviet Union.

The title of the exhibition describes already what was shown and also refered to Kurt Kren’s film, “48 Köpfe aus dem Szondi Test ” (48 Heads from the Szondi Test - 1960). However, the photos of institutionalized psychotic people in Kren’s film were superseded by Merkurov’s plaster masks as bearers of presence and significance. Filmed as objects (16mm, b/w) and captured in two photographic perspectives (portrait and profile), the chronologically organized masks were both fragments of Soviet historiography and eerie faces of their (dead) heroes.

Sergei Merkurov studied under Auguste Rodin in Paris and got to know Lenin in exile in Europe. After the October Revolution he became an “official” sculptor of the Soviet Union, and until his death in 1952 he mainly created monumental sculptures of Soviet heroic figures. He also made death masks of over 300 of the most significant people in the Soviet Union including Lenin,
Sergei Eisenstein, Leo Tolstoy, and Maxim Gorky as well as party functionaries like
Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the feared Cheka secret police, or Andrei Zhdanov, responsible for the repressive policies on culture and censorship under Stalin. The museum, located in the house where the sculptor was born, collects about 50 of his death masks.

The portrait photos from the personality test developed by the psychiatrist Leopold Szondi (1893-1986) in 1937 were the source of material for Kurt Kren’s film “48 Heads from the Szondi Test” (1960). The test worked with 48 portrait photos, from which the participants selected people who appeared appealing and unappealing. Based on the selection of faces, which all belonged to mentally ill people in the psychopathological sense, Szondi attempted to deduce the test participants’ mental constitution. The staccato rhythm in which Kren presents the faces from the Szondi Test makes the intended viewing of the portraits impossible. By playing with the picture/image as a conveyor of meaning, Kren’s film challenges the attribution/registration of qualities in the human physiognomy.

Anna Artaker explored the iconography of (Soviet) propaganda based on the stylization of faces into hero masks through transferring the auratic death masks (“the last face”) into the (mass) media of film and photography. At the same time, she reflects on the mass media’s application of the auratic image based on the seemingly meaningful physiognomy of the mediatized personality. In this context, the mere image of the face fades out the content, because the subject’s traits are only allegedly inscribed upon it. Thus the impressions of the dead (more or less famous) faces point to the desire for evidence of meaning exactly where only illegible traces remain, upon those which making the invisible visible was imposed.

Anna Artaker, born in 1976, lives and works in Vienna. She studied art and philosophy in Vienna and Paris and works with image production in historiography and with the relationship of photography to its subject, i.e. the reality to which every photo refers (and that which it either represents, stages, idealizes, criticizes…).

Exhibition view, Salzburger Kunstverein 2009

Exhibition view, Salzburger Kunstverein 2009
Photo: Rainer Iglar, © Salzburger Kunstverein

Anna Artaker, 48 Heads from the Merkurov Museum, 2008, b/w-photo, portrait