Steirischer Herbst ’23, “Humans and Demons”
              Joshua Simon
              In the opening speech for “Humans and Demons,” her sixth edition as curator of Europe’s longest-standing annual contemporary art festival, Ekaterina Degot stated that the exhibition “is not about good and evil” but “status quo and evil.” This distinction informs the four main exhibition sites and programs deployed through the city, organized according to the trajectories of three historical figures—and one object—to live or pass through Graz during or after World War II. These are represented in each venue by a curatorial research installation: a collection of records owned by Nazi officer and jazz enthusiast Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, alias Dr. Jazz (1912–99); the personal archive of physicist Stefan Marinov (1931–97); an AI rendering of the Zürich-born Brazilian artist Mira Schendel (1919–88); and a copy of a 1925 postcard showing pacifists holding a banner on which the word “Friede” (Peace) was later changed to “Frieda” to avoid Nazi persecution. This year’s Steirischer herbst takes place against the backdrop of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, among the many lessons of which is that we never really left the twentieth century. In that context, and in such a historically saturated exhibition, the above installations are a brilliant move. They free participating artists from archival …
              Steirischer Herbst 2019, “Grand Hotel Abyss”
              Kylie Gilchrist
              The “Grand Hotel Abyss” is home to a cast of strange and varied characters, each sheltering from the raging incoherence of today’s world. Whether this lavish destination is a plush cover for paralysis or a temporary abode that opens to glimpses of something new is the knife-edged tension that the theme for this edition of the festival creates. Director and chief curator Ekaterina Degot’s opening speech at Graz’s stately Landhaushof engaged the courtyard’s imperialist architecture to reflect on the imbrication of art, power, and hedonism at the core of the increasingly troubled European project. Her words announced the red thread weaving through the festival’s program, which balances the spectacular and performative alongside research-driven exhibitions and discussions, as well as ephemeral interventions, throughout Graz and the surrounding Styria region. The opening extravaganza presented a carnivalesque counterpart to Degot’s trenchant speech, performatively reenacting the seductions of a lifestyle driven by pleasure, or Genuss in German. Genuss is something of an Austrian ideology, and visitors were invited to partake in this local variety of the value placed on aesthetic, culinary, and bodily enjoyment by the global elite—a commentary on the geopolitics of contemporary art running through the broader program. Festivities were hosted in the Neo-Renaissance …
              Steirischer Herbst 2018
              Adam Kleinman
              Although I forgot who was fighting, I clearly recall a statement made by former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman while providing ringside commentary. After weathering a devastating hit, a seemingly unfazed boxer smiled back at his opponent as if to show he could take it; Foreman, on the other hand, read the grimace and said it exposed how badly hurt the pugilist really was. Such feigned and pained smiles stretched eerily on my own face no less that twice while attending Steirischer Herbst, a multidisciplinary arts festival held annually since 1968 in Graz, Austria. To inaugurate the festival, and her five-year tenure as its leader, curator Ekaterina Degot presented an opening speech in the Europaplatz, a central square in front of the city’s train station. When in transit, polite strangers typically say “excuse me” to initiate conversation. Following this convention, Degot let forth a rhetorical line of questions with “Excuse me, do you know where the tram stop is?” and so forth. These banal queries then moved to far more serious and personal questions such as “Excuse me, are you for immigration or against it?” Degot then asked the crowd, numbering possibly over a thousand, “Excuse me, do you have Nazi …

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