Editorial by Sabine Folie
September 2023
Sabine Folie, photo © Elodie Grethen
Sabine Folie, photo © Elodie Grethen

Dear Friends of the Art Collections of the Academy!
Following the launch of our new exhibition series Considering the Collection & An Insert by ..., which got underway to great success with Willem de Rooij’s contribution to Dutch animal still-life painting and a showcase from the collection of the Paintings Gallery, we would now like to present another transhistorical exhibition that features works from all three collections of the Academy’s Art Collections as well as superb works from international museums and institutions, interacting with numerous contemporary art positions.
The theme of the exhibition History Tales. Fact and Fiction in History Painting has, rather unexpectedly, become highly topical, even frighteningly so, at this historical time of the much-cited ‘turning point’. Indeed, a geopolitical and economic equilibrium of values and forces appears to be out of step – also  triggered by the war in Ukraine – and a global shift of immeasurable proportions seems to be set in motion.
History Tales is about the evolution of a picture genre, namely history painting; it is about stories about history in which history appears as a point of identification or an ethical yardstick. Objective historiography is here often secondary, with the focus mainly on reading the past as an interpretive horizon for the present and a conceptual image for a possible future. The exhibition looks at facts and fictions in history paintings, anecdotes, inventions, transfigurations and critiques, deviations and counter-narratives to the history of official representation. The large-format history painting remains the exception. It serves as a matrix for demonstrating what 19th century history paintings in particular aimed to achieve: to impress with an immersive experience through their sheer size, to trigger an emotional involvement in the viewer and to inspire enthusiasm for the notion of origin myths. It was a time in which certainties began to crumble; no historical model of the future was in sight; and past eras were reflected as eclectic, proto-postmodern thought-provoking impulses – with all their reactionary risks and visionary experimental designs. The main focus alongside the large-scale history paintings is on models, oil sketches, illustrations and press graphics with their subversive power, the crisp vigour of original ideas, the surprise effect of a provocative anecdote, caricatures, and much more.
History Tales also looks at the history of identities and nations. What paradoxes of isolation and peacekeeping emerge from the nation-building process? How is the rise and fall of so-called civilisations depicted? How is the hubris of humankind rendered in allegory form? What sort of changes do the representations of myths, heroes, rulers and historical events undergo over the centuries? What changes are brought about by the invention of photography and film in the 19th century – a century in which forms of government underwent a tremendous transformation as a result of technology and industrial development, among others? And how do the avant-garde movements of postmodernism relate to this notion of infinite progress and territorial, nationalist aspirations? What forms of reflection and protest are offered? These are just some of the many questions raised, which the exhibition explores in its 13 settings.
For this exhibition we again offer a spectrum of information on various art education formats, an academic catalogue featuring essays by Maha El Hissy, Eva Kernbauer, Claudia Koch, Alexander Roob, René Schober, Bernhard Stiegler, Gudrun Swoboda and others, and a number of lectures as part of our Lektionen / Lessons series.
We view exhibition-making as a means of experiencing and learning, and we welcome your support for our projects, which aim to provide food for thought and hold the promise of engaging with the present through the reflective backdrop of the past.
So, let yourself be surprised.
We look forward to your visit at the Paintings Gallery.
With best regards,
Sabine Folie
Director of the Art Collections of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna,
with the whole Art Collections team