When the Washington Post describes a photographer as a living legend, it pays to sit up and take a look at the photos and journeys that underpin such a tribute. And you can do so at the Alec Soth exhibition at the Kunst Haus Wien.
- Features works from across Soth’s oeuvre
- Also photos from his latest 2019 series, I Know How Furiously Your Heart is Beating
- Runs Feb 27 – Aug 30, 2020
- See also: Kunst Haus Wien visitor & ticket info
“Photography is a language”
(Alec Soth, Two Towels, 2005. From the series: Niagara, 2006. © Alec Soth / Magnum Photos)
The presence of Soth’s works in prestigious collections (think MOMA, New York) and exhibitions around the world reflect his importance as a photographer, artist and witness of the American and individual condition. As such, the opportunity to see a solo exhibition of his photos represents quite a treat for visitors to Vienna.
Soth’s series often have the feel of a photographic road trip, capturing the characters, emotions, lives and scenes found in rural and suburban USA; photos of a time, a place, a landscape, a story, a society or simply an emotion or individual.
Those latter two motifs stand out particularly at the exhibition. Even though most of Soth’s portrait subjects know they are being photographed, their emotional range covers everything from disinterest and equanimity to defiance and joy.
The highlights for me were of individuals whose attention appeared to be directed toward other matters than having their photo taken. The body is turned to the camera, perhaps, but the face, eyes or mind look elsewhere.
The exhibition features several of Soth’s famous photographic series, including:
- Sleeping by the Mississippi: what Soth himself described at the exhibition preview as a “lyrical project”, photos emerging as he drifted through the middle of America. Repeating motifs, such as “flight”, link photos together with a subtle and deft touch
(Soth’s photo, Johnny Cash’s Boyhood Home, Dyess, AK, reminded me of the Emil Nolde farm landscapes in the German Expressionism exhibition at the Leopold Museum.)
- Niagara: from gorgeous shots of the falls to wedding portraits
- Broken Manual: an examination of the desire to run away from civilisation, as reflected in the men that do so (it’s pretty much always men) and their rural refuges
- Songbook: what began as a storytelling project before morphing into a collection of photos documenting individuals and community…and the interface between the two
The Songbook photos reveal more movement and energy than the muted colours and subjects of many of Soth’s earlier photos. Although taken in 2012 to 2014, many of the black and white works also seem to evoke an earlier time and place. Look, for example, for the Lil’J and the Spiritual Boys live band photo.
- …and (for the first time in Austria) Soth’s latest works from I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating.
This new series stands apart from its colleagues, since the photos represent a collection of independent, one-on-one engagements between photographer and subject, rather than a themed collection. Equally, Soth appears to defy the well-trodden path of ageing (I speak from experience), given these latest photos seem curiously brighter and more optimistic.
Dates and tickets
Enjoy Soth’s wonderful photos from February 27th to August 30th, 2020.
You do have the option to buy a ticket just for the exhibition. However, the same building has the marvellous Hundertwasser Museum in it and a combination ticket* for both costs just €3 more at the time of writing. If you’ve any affection for colours, innovation, environmental architecture and abstract art, then do the museum, too.
Alternatively, a Vienna Pass (my review) gets you into both museum and exhibition once.
How to get to the exhibition
Just scroll down to this same section on the main museum page for travel tips.
Incidentally, Soth’s work made another notable appearance in Vienna at the Albertina’s 2021 American Photography exhibition.
Address: Untere Weißgerberstraße 13, 1030 Vienna