Peter Baum, the founding director of the Lentos Kunstmuseum in Linz, was an art critic, cultural journalist, and photographer for Austrian newspapers and magazines between the years 1962 and 1973. Throughout this time he documented the seismic changes in art and society during the 1960s and 1970s, which held such significance for Austrian art, focusing especially on performance, site-specific and architecture-related art. To mark the publication of his new book en face, Peter Baum has donated a selection of his photographs to the Belvedere’s collection, which now, in this Belvedere 21 exhibition, retell the story of its predecessor, the 20er Haus.
Ever since childhood Peter Baum had been interested in photography. In his school days he photographed well-known personalities, such as Burgtheater actors and actresses Attila Hörbiger, Josef Meinrad, and Judith Holzmeister. Later on, while working as a journalist, Peter Baum’s portrayals of artists and reportage photos were regularly published in many of his exhibition reviews for Austrian daily newspapers. Baum, now seventy-five, recently gave the Belvedere a striking selection of photographs he took between 1962 and 1973 at 20er Haus press conferences and openings.
When Peter Baum was appointed director of the Neue Galerie der Stadt Linz in 1974, he was just thirty-four, making him the youngest museum director in Austria. In 2004, exactly thirty years later, Baum retired as founding director of its successor institution, Kunstmuseum Lentos, on which he had exerted such a profound influence, and returned to his birthplace Vienna.
Between 1962 and 1973, Baum worked as an art critic and cultural journalist in Vienna and organized exhibitions for the Galerie auf der Stubenbastei and Galerie am Schottenring. When the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts opened in 1962, with Werner Hofmann at its helm, a new standard was set for art in Vienna. The museum was housed in Karl Schwanzer’s adapted former Austrian Pavilion from the Brussels Expo and came to be known as the 20er Haus. Hofmann and his successor Alfred Schmeller not only opened up Austria to the international art world but also incorporated the lively, expanding plurality of the art scene, just as Otto Mauer had been doing since 1955 at the Galerie St. Stephan.
Peter Baum photographed contemporary artists who made an appearance at the 20er Haus. When Arnulf Rainer spontaneously painted his face for the press conference of his major exhibition in 1968, Baum was on hand to portray him. One of these photographs illustrated his article about the exhibition in which Baum wrote: “Arnulf Rainer: A Provocateur of Extremes. A must-see exhibition at the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts” (OÖN, 20 September 1968).
“Rainer wanted to see the works. He liked all forty of the developed black-and-white portraits and wanted to buy them. Asked for a price, I quoted a very low sum in Schilling per photo, but at the same time, wanting to make the most of this opportunity, asked whether he would consider an exchange. His assistant showed me several drawings and I chose two. But these two early works were over seventy-per-cent more expensive than the price I had quoted. Arnulf Rainer wanted an additional payment, but I had my wits about me, and replied that, before, I had only told him the costs of processing the photos and, with the fee added, the price would be exactly the same. That appealed to him, and so, to this day, I am the owner of two wonderful Arnulf Rainer drawings,” Peter Baum tells just one of the many anecdotes about these images that are now valuable historical sources.
The exhibition at the Belvedere 21 starts with a group of photos capturing the opening of the Ernst Wilhelm Nay exhibition (1967); it shows the great Spanish avant-garde artist Antoni Tàpies at the opening of his show (1968) with Werner Hofmann, Director of the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, and a photo documentation of the Fernand Léger exhibition (1968). There are important visual documents reflecting the history of exhibition displays and trends in art, such as his scenes of visitors in the Haus-Rucker-Co exhibition LIVE (1970), views of the show Walter Pichler: Portable Shrine (1971), or the opening of Humanity in Space (1970). Images of the vernissage for Oswald Oberhuber: The Beginnings of Art Informel in Austria (1971) or photos and portraits from presentations of work by Roland Goeschl (1969), Arik Brauer (1971), and Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1972) are equally important as historical documents of their time. Last but not least, his shots of architect Richard Neutra’s visit (1969), the image of Peter Pongratz at the exhibition Adolf Loos for Young People (1970), concert photos from The Masters of Unorthodox Jazz, or Peter Baum’s portrayals of Elfriede Jelinek, H. C. Artmann, and Wolfgang Bauer, which were taken in 1970 at discussions, readings, and events held at the 20er Haus, all bear witness to the seismic changes in various disciplines during these years.