Safety Curtain 1998/1999

Reactions on Kara Walker's Large Scale Picture

Henriette Horny, Kurier, 10-11-1998

When opera is discussed in Vienna one goes into details. Even the safety curtain is a subject for discussion. Designed by Rudolf Eisenmenger in 1955, it has long been an eyesore for many people for both political as well as aesthetic reasons. Some wanted it removed and others wanted it conserved, arguing that it was part of Austrian history. The solution which has now been found has satisfied both parties. The safety curtain is no longer visible but it is still there. The tried and tested solution of camouflaging or covering has once again been used. A new picture has simply been mounted on the old safety curtain. A flexible solution which can be reversed at any time – a good Austrian tradition.

Georg Geyer, Tax consultant and opera-goer

There are now plans for the safety curtain of the Klagenfurt Stadttheater to be designed by a contemporary artist. I like the painting which is planned to be shown there much more than the silhouette design by Kara Walker at the Vienna State Opera. It is a pity that it is such a strange blend of the thirties and the present day. I would have preferred a clear statement for modern art in the 21st century.

Ulrich Weinzierl, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 13-11-1998

The picture is smoothly adapted to the elegance of the surroundings. Eisenmenger's gold patterns and the scaled-down Eurydice appear as direct quotations. The silhouette figures narrate history with a false bottom. Fairy tale elements show the abysses of European culture in its dealings with foreigners – a poisoned grotesque between Alpine charm and tropical forest. From the branch of a tree the young Moor holds out to Eurydice a coffee bean which is also open to a sexual interpretation, in the saxophonist with thick lips the Nazi poster for the infamous 1938 exhibition "Degenerate Music" returns. There is no lack of associations.

Lioba Reddeker, Federal Curator of Art

What's new at the opera? Or is this question heretical? The appreciation of opera – even when attending a new performance – mainly consists of the recognition of varieties of interpretation. Seen in this way an opera visit is mostly about the updating of the past and it is in this that its expertise is revealed. Against this the of being contemporary is explicitly contained in the concept of present day art. In comparison to the reproducing/performing arts it formulates the demand that the new should be understood as a current event and a radical offering to contemporaries with a definitive individual character. This is exactly what the safety curtain of the Vienna State Opera House has been doing for one opera season. In this context I would like to point to the great private commitment of "artpool" which has made it possible for the safety curtain to be newly designed over four opera seasons. Fine art initiatives like this are indispensable and certainly still much too seldom.

Johannes Lutz, Office worker

I find the fairy-tale scenery really beautiful. And Kara Walker goes about her critical business very wittily. This kind of war at arm's length for cultural hegemony in one of the headquarters of the Austrian soul – modern international art and political correctness against Austrian tradition and reconstruction myths – it gets on my nerves! All very Austrian.

A message left in the Opera

To the Director of the State Opera, as one can see the State Opera has descended to the level of an African jungle theatre. Why must an American artist and an international jury be engaged? Austria could also have produced a Punch and Judy show like this. Yours contemptuously, (signature illegible)

Ursula Hübner, painter and stage designer

Kara Walker is to be envied. There are not many artists who have such a large surface at their disposal for a picture unless they work in advertising. Her picture will certainly be looked at by people who are sitting quietly and waiting hungrily for the main course of the evening, the opera. Her picture is the amuse gueule to the rest, a gift from the house, and like this it should always be a precursor to the quality that one can expect. Walker's work is very poetic and clear. It does not sound like grand opera but more like chamber music – and that I like.