A Woman With Purpose: Karola Kraus

A Woman With Purpose: Karola Kraus

Growing up with the artist Martin Kippenberger at the dinner table, it seems inevitable that you end up in the art world. Such was the fortune of Karola Kraus, director of the mumok, who has been running the Museum of modern art, Ludwig Foundation, Vienna, since 2010. As the longtime director of the Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Kraus had already devoted herself to contemporary art, surprising, compelling themes, and art education. She is now continuing this commitment in Vienna. We spoke with the Woman with Purpose about famous female collectors, her approach to art, and the exhibitions she is particularly looking forward to.

Ms. Kraus, what work of art do you look at when you wake up in the morning?

The first work I look at is a self-portrait by Martin Kippenberger. This painting has a special meaning to me because Kippenberger introduced me to contemporary art. The encounter with him prompted me to turn my passion into a profession.

How did you get into art? Or how did art come to you?

I am fortunate that art was part of my life from a very early age: my parents started collecting German Art Informel in the early 1970s. Our house in the small industrial town of St. Georgen in the Black Forest was a meeting point for artists and friends of our family who were interested in art. There were heated discussions about art that were to shape my life and that of my siblings. After the early death of our father, my siblings and I continued our father's passion for collecting together with our mother and began to gather works by artists of our generations. Since 2006, we have presented our collection in changing constellations in our art space, vacant storefronts, former retail stores, and public parks in our hometown.

You have been the director of the mumok in Vienna since 2010. Does it make a difference if a museum is run by a woman? What changes for female artists?

In recent years, my team and I have consciously pursued the collection policy goal of increasingly integrating works by female artists into the male-dominated areas of the collection - from Pop Art and paintings of the 1970s to contemporary art. In this way, central works by Evelyne Axell, Monika Baer, Tina Girouard, Sine Hansen, Jann Haworth, Tess Jaray, Jutta Koether, Kiki Kogelnik, Elke Krystufek, Lee Lozano, Ree Morton, Ulrike Müller, Miriam Schapiro, Sylvia Sleigh, Cosima von Bonin, and Maja Vukoje, among others, found their way into the mumok collection. It is also my ambition to support women at the mumok. More than half of the museum's employees are women and there is no gender pay gap. In general, however, one cannot derive any difference in the programming of a museum from the gender of the director.

Women may have gained influence in leadership positions in the art world. But what about private collections? Are there also more female collectors today?

It is gratifying that women are gaining influence at all levels of society and that even the art business is no longer exclusively in male hands. For example, the Vienna Federal Museums are run by ten women and five men, and there are very many female gallery owners who do excellent work. As far as important female collectors are concerned: historically, they have always existed. Just think of the Renaissance princess Isabella d'Este, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, whose collection forms the cornerstone of the Whitney Museum, Peggy Guggenheim, or your compatriot Hedy Hahnloser-Bühler, to name just a few.

What role does courage play in your job, and how has it helped you get to where you are today?

Of course, you need courage, assertiveness, empathy, and a good sense of new and promising artists and artistic developments. I admire my parents, who started to take an interest in German Art Informel without any previous training, which was not natural for the German province at that time.

Who is the artist who moves you the most at the moment?

I am currently working intensively on the works of the African-American rising star Adam Pendleton, who will be opening his first museum exhibition in Europe at the mumok in two weeks. We are currently in a highly intensive set-up phase that keeps the entire team on its toes.

You have also been a strong advocate of including more Eastern European art at mumok. Why is this important to you?

In light of its geopolitical location in the center of Europe, the mumok considered its mission very early on as adopting its USP as the bridging function between Western and Eastern Europe in its collection policy direction and therefore defined the expansion of the holdings of works from Eastern Europe as a central concern. But not only the collection has an outstanding focus on Eastern Europe. We have also been able to shine a spotlight on Eastern European art scenes with exhibitions of Július Koller, Nikita Kadan, and Emília Rigová.

Can you tell us about a project that you particularly enjoy at the moment and that you are particularly committed to?

When I first saw Elisabeth Wild's color-intensive collages at documenta14, I was so excited that I pulled out all the stops to organize an exhibition with the then 95-year-old artist. Wild, who incidentally also ran an antique store in Basel for years, was always looking for the perfect components for her collages, which she assembled from popular lifestyle and glossy magazines. The results are stunning works in DIN A4 format, reminiscent of cosmic visions and imaginary dream worlds.  In early May, we are now opening the exhibition Elisabeth Wild. Fantasy Factory. All the works on display were selected by Wild 2020 shortly before her death in collaboration with our curator Marianne Dobner. The exhibition is thus not only Wild's first comprehensive retrospective but also her last - a discovery for Vienna!

Karola Kraus in the exhibition "ANDY WARHOL EXHIBITS a glittering alternative". © Niko Havranek

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