Andrew Mezvinsky is a 33-year-old Jewish-American artist who chose to live in Austria’s capital of Vienna for the past five years. Jewish-Austrian photographer Erich Lessing, 92, also lives in the European city on the Danube, having escaped to pre-state Israel in 1939 before returning to his hometown following World War II.
“Two artists who are very, very different but who are both fascinating artists” is how Jewish Museum Vienna Director Danielle Spera described Lessing and Mezvinsky at a Jan. 20 media preview of an exhibition featuring their work at the Austrian Embassy in Washington.
The exhibition, which runs through March 18, features historical photographs taken by Lessing, including perhaps his most famous picture taken in 1955 at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Leopold Figl is depicted showing the Austrian Independence Treaty to a cheering crowd. The treaty brought an end to the Allied occupation of the country.
Lessing’s daughter, Hannah, curated the “Lessing Presents Lessing” photography exhibition. She is secretary general of the General Compensation Fund for Victims of National Socialism and the Fund for Restoration of Jewish Cemeteries in Austria.
“How am I going to choose from 40,000 pictures? What is it that I want to show? And I started with memories of my youth when we traveled to Israel. Beautiful landscape pictures,” Lessing said of deciding which of her father’s famous photographs to showcase.
Hannah Lessing is also involved in the redesign of the Austrian exhibition at the Auschwitz concentration camp, located in Block 17 since 1978. Her grandmother was deported to Theresienstadt and died in Auschwitz.
Mezvinsky’s multimedia art installation “A Good Day” is based on Primo Levi’s autobiographical account of survival in Auschwitz. The exhibition’s title is taken from a chapter in Levi’s book Survival in Auschwitz (If This Is a Man). The chapter details a sunny day at the end of winter when the prisoners get some relief from the cold.
The Philadelphia-born artist guided the assembled media on a tour of his works, including the animated and interactive series of drawings that envisions a parallel world to the horrific reality experienced by the slave laborers of Auschwitz.
“Symbolism and the idea that a bucolic scene can represent much more than just a romantic place, but the idealized life of what you could have that was the connection for me with Primo Levi in this chapter of this book,” said Mezvinsky.
Spera curated Mezvinsky’s exhibition.
Helena Hartlaur of the Vienna Tourist Board, who presented a slideshow of Vienna, and Wolfgang Waldner, the newly appointed Austrian ambassador to the United States spoke.
For information on the exhibition Erich Lessing. Andrew Mezvinsky at the Austrian Embassy, visit austria.org/lessing-exhibit.