Paper Is White, Isn’t It?

The Jewish Museum Vienna presents a new special exhibition entitled ”Paper Is White, Isn’t It?”, showing a selection of the rich stocks of the museum’s archives. With the presentation of these objects, the visitors will have the opportunity to gain an insight into the history of the donations made to the museum and its collections. But the objects also depict the history of Jewish Vienna. This exhibition provides a first glimpse of the hitherto inaccessible archives of manuscripts, graphic art and photographs at the Jewish Museum Vienna. The traces of the papers collected here lead us back to human lives. The first section of the exhibition is devoted to the founders of the old Jewish Museum and to the history of the two Jewish Museums of Vienna. The second section is designed as a trip through Viennese history as documented by the archives. 

The archival stock dates back to the inauguration of the first Jewish Museum worldwide on 1 November, 1895, in Vienna. In the beginning, the collection was housed in Rathausstrasse 13 in the first municipal district of Vienna; in the following twenty years, it changed its domicile three times. More than 800 persons and institutions collected several thousands of objects over a period of 45 years. A look behind the scenes, at the founders of the Museum, reveals a lost Viennese and Central European lifestyle whose representatives included, amongst others, Sigmund Freud. In 1938 the Museum was closed by the National Socialists. What remained of its stocks after their expropriation and distribution amongst Viennese museums and libraries is now shown for the first time in 60 years.

A comparison of the stocks of the old Jewish Museum and the donations made in the past few years makes it very clear that the point of emphasis of Judaica collections has shifted as a result of the shoah. While before the turn of the century the collecting of representative ”Jewish antiques” was given priority, today’s donors are more interested in conserving the memory of known or unknown persons.

The selection of objects for the exhibition ”Paper Is White, Isn’t It?” draws on the remainder of the stock of the old Jewish Museum, the Max Berger Collection, archival material of the Jewish Community of Vienna as well as on numerous donations and purchases made since the late 1980s. It comprises works of art, illustrated manuscripts, hand-drawn maps, documents, posters, press and family photographs. Walking through the exhibition rooms, the visitors can lose themselves in a wealth of archival details and learn to view Viennese history from a largely unknown perspective.

Curator: Werner Hanak