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Over the Rainbow

June is Pride Month, which means that queer events are taking place right around the world. The curator Christiane Erharter works at the Belvedere and is an expert for queer art.

Here, she explains to you why it is important for museums to examine their collections from a queer perspective. And to support queer artists.

What is queer art?

I see it as being strongly rooted in a feminist artistic practice that began in the 1960s. The aim was to shake off role models, liberate the body and depict it in a new way. Queer art often takes up the narrative at this point, searching for different ways of representing identity that are beyond gender norms. But it is also about the struggle for visibility and recognition. Queer art is much more than an investigation of sexual desire and isn’t only important for queer communities. As it examines content and political attitudes, it also aspires to make statements about society in general.

Christiane Erharter © Belvedere Wien, Photo: Ouriel Morgensztern

You’re responsible for the queering of the Belvedere. What do you do there exactly?

I introduce queer content into the Belvedere’s programme and address queer communities. But we also seek out queer aspects of our own art collection and of the history of the institution. The Belvedere and its grounds were built for Prince Eugene of Savoy. He is said to have had sexual relationships with men. So he can be interpreted as being queer. But we must be careful, because the concept of queerness didn’t even exist in the 17th and 18th centuries when he lived.

He simply couldn’t live openly as homosexual?

For centuries, homosexuality was even a prosecutable offence. The historian Andreas Brunner has studied Prince Eugene in depth. It has long been rumoured that Prince Eugene was gay. Brunner has taken the trouble to study historic sources in order to substantiate this scientifically. Brunner is, incidentally, also a city guide and offers walks based on Vienna’s queer urban history – which put the city in a fascinating perspective.

Oberes Belvedere / Belvedere 21 © Belvedere Wien, Foto: Johannes Stoll

So are there many queer artists in Vienna?

There is a very lively queer art scene. Philipp Timischl, Toni Schmale and Ana Hoffner have all had solo exhibitions in Viennese galleries and institutions. An important role is also played by some of those who teach at Vienna’s art universities. Renate Lorenz, Dorit Margreiter, Julian Göthe and also Ashley Hans Scheirl and Jakob Lena Knebl are powerful advocates of queer art. Next year, Scheirl and Knebl will also occupy the Austrian Pavilion at the Art Biennale in Venice. The Venice Biennale is one of the most important international art events. The fact that Austria has selected this pair is both a strong signal and a major accolade.

June is Pride Month. What does this mean?

This is related to the history of the Pride Parade or, as it is known in Vienna, the Regenbogenparade or Rainbow Parade. In Germany, one tends to speak of Christopher Street Day. In 1969, this street in New York was the setting for a demonstration by queers who were defending themselves against police brutality. Many members of the queer community were injured. Every June, Christopher Street Day commemorates these riots and countless events in support of diversity and tolerance take place around the world. This is why June is also Pride Month, one is proud of both one’s identity and one’s history. And is happy to show this.

What will take place in the Belvedere in artistic terms?

Many museums now offer a queer interpretation of their collections. There are queer guided tours, during which the queerness factor of certain works is investigated. We are also offering such tours. Besides this, we are organising a queer film festival, a magazine presentation and an installation in the Baroque garden: 1,600 primary school children have interpreted the rainbow on the initiative of the artist Ugo Rondinone. The result is the world’s largest rainbow picture – a symbol of hope, tolerance and diversity.