Sometimes an exhibition achieves the rare feat of offering something different, something gorgeous, something engaging, and something thought-provoking all at the same time. Like the exhibition by Maori artist George Nuku at the Weltmuseum.
- Integrates beautiful artistic creations with historical ethnographic artefacts
- An eclectic mix of installations addressing a range of issues
- Dynamic exhibition largely created on-site with the help of local volunteers
- A sociocultural journey that links themes, times, and locations
- Runs Jun 23, 2022 – Jan 31, 2023
- See also:
Oceans. Collections. Reflections.
(George Nuku; press photo © KHM-Museumsverband)
Sometimes you just have to immerse yourself in an exhibition that’s better experienced than described.
So consider reading no further and simply going along to the Weltmuseum to let yourself be carried along and away by the installations.
But if you do wish to learn a little more…
Born in Aotearoa – New Zealand, Nuku creates art that seems to travel through time, upholding and developing Aotearoan artistic tradition while stretching from carved amulets using natural materials to monumental installations made of modern-day plastics and polystyrene.
Nuku’s installations build links and bridges, for example between his works and ethnographic collections. Or they might reflect those connections that already exist, for example between natural and cultural worlds.
His exhibitions are site-specific and inclusive: built in situ with the help of local volunteers and demanding an unusual level of flexibility from the host museum. Exhibitions created in a spirit of collaboration, innovation and exchange.
So while the objects may appear “different” to our Eurocentric eyes, local participation in the process of creation allows us to feel intimately connected to the project.
That concept already brings us to one of the themes that runs through the George Nuku exhibition at the Weltmuseum: interconnectedness. I asked the artist what single message he would like visitors to take away with them. He said:
Everything is sacred
The installations – mostly carved polystyrene, engraved plexiglass and creations made from plastic waste – integrate with, for example:
- Cultural artefacts: we see a historical Maori prow, oar, and similar embedded in a plexiglass canoe, the carvings on the former and the latter sharing a common symbolism.
- The Viennese architectural past: Baroque-style frames seem intimately connected with Maori-style art.
- The museum’s own building: what Nuku calls “…a conversation with the architecture.”
- The Maori – Austria shared experience: enjoy, for example, contemporary presentation of images from the Austrian Novara expedition to New Zealand in the mid-19th century
- Culture and nature: New Zealand birds stand on a forest floor made of plastic waste
(George Nuku, exhibition view, Weltmuseum, Vienna © KHM-Museumsverband)
Many of the displays are quite beautiful, which raises a sense of guilt as you realise much of the material consists of the kind of disposable plastic that pollutes our land and, particularly, oceans.
Yet this is Nuku’s point: a wish to recalibrate our attitudes to plastic. Something that has worth is not thrown away. To see beauty in all things, perhaps: everything is sacred.
The objects indirectly touch on such issues as colonialisation or appropriation of cultural items…subjects the Weltmuseum has tackled before, of course, in such exhibitions as Dark Pairing and A Colonial Thing.
Yet, the overwhelming message is a positive one and strangely…unexpectedly…optimistic.
You come out not quite sure what you have seen and how it should make you feel. But it does make you “feel” and draws you into introspection.
It all seems so curiously life affirming. At times mysterious. At times a call to embrace and manage change as part of a universal continuum. Perhaps a call to take control of life and your life.
Your experience may differ but it will surely prove equally fascinating. Like I say, best to see for yourself.
Tickets, dates & tips
Allow Nuku and his team of volunteers to take you on a journey from June 23rd, 2022 to January 31st, 2023. Any entrance ticket from or for the Weltmuseum gets you inside.
The exhibition occupies different parts of the Weltmuseum landscape.
Although most of the installations use the dedicated special exhibition rooms, look for Nuku’s aerial COVID installation in the beautiful Hall of Columns, for example.
Nuku’s thought-provoking Bottled Ocean 2122 vision of future ocean life takes up residence in the nearby Theseus temple as well (free to view, but ends on October 9th, 2022).
Vienna’s 19th-century reproduction of a 5th-century Doric temple becomes a futuristic Atlantian landscape: a sunken room dedicated to natural divinities and populated by mutated ocean life. Deceptive beauty that acts as a warning (or appeal) in the context of continuing pollution by plastics.
Should you wish to explore that topic of plastic pollution of our oceans further, the Haus des Meeres aquarium and vivarium (where the fish are real) has a section dedicated to this topic.
And for more contemporary art that errs on the side of optimism, pop upstairs for the Weltmuseum’s Chaekgeori exhibition.
How to get there
Follow the tips in the main article for finding the Weltmuseum. The Hall of Columns and special exhibition rooms are immediately after the ticket counter.
Address: Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna