In memoriam Paul Peter Porges (1927–2016)
Until 1938 the Porges grocery store stood on the site of the present-day Wiener Stadthalle in Moeringgasse. In the hot summer months in the years before the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany, little Paul Peter would sit on the tiled floor amid the grocery products and draw pictures on beer mats—such as the Turkish siege as a game of soccer between Admira and Austria. His father enrolled him to study with Franz Cizek at the Vienna School of Applied Arts. Paul Peter Porges took the spirit of Moeringgasse and its inhabitants in the 1930s with him when he left Vienna for France in 1939 on a children’s transport: “Everyone knew everyone. There were fantastic characters, like the meshuggener, the crazy janitor, or the Egyptian lodger. I think he was a man with TB, and we kids would look in wonder at his spit.”
Photo (c) Peter Rigaud
Characters like these emigrated with him to the USA and populated his later drawings for MAD Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and even The New Yorker. He skillfully transferred his Viennese street wit into American graphic humor, helped by his great interest in American culture, particularly music. Before this, however, he had to make his way alone in France, brushing with death on several occasions, and escaping from a deportation camp in the south of France with the trash collection. Unlike the rest of the refugee group illegally crossing the border into Switzerland, he was not turned back by the Swiss authorities, because he had the good fortune to be under sixteen years old. After the war he attended the academy of art in Geneva, where he met his future wife, also from Vienna. Lucie Porges was later to become the most influential designer for the New York fashion label Pauline Trigère.
Arriving in 1948 in New York, Paul Peter Porges preferred the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses to the apartment of his parents, who had survived Theresienstadt. As a GI during the Korean War he began to draw for soldiers’ newspapers and was to become the most published cartoonist in The Saturday Evening Post. Bill Gaines discovered him in the 1960s for MAD Magazine, a cult American satirical magazine, for which Porges submitted over 200 cartoon stories and designed and published several books. He reached the acme of the American cartoon scene with his contributions to The New Yorker.
In the year 2000, the Jewish Museum Vienna organized a highly successful exhibition devoted to him and his wife entitled Style and Humor. Paul Peter Porges brought his 1937-style Moeringgasse wit from America back to present-day Vienna. And like a fin-de-siècle salon hostess, Lucie Porges began to establish a creative network between Vienna and New York that has given rise to a number of fruitful new projects. Both somehow found their way back to Vienna. Paul Peter Porges loved to direct his satirical wit in drawings and situational comedy against the city that had driven him out when he was eleven years old. On his way home at night in the empty streets of the city, the New Yorker in him could not but shake his head and comment: “Wow, Vienna, swinging city!”
When Lucie Porges died in 2011, an important link between Vienna and New York disappeared, but that was not all. Paul Peter Porges lost the driving force that gave him his spark. He spent his last years in quiet seclusion with the families of his two daughters Vivette and Claudia in New York and Jamaica. He died in Kingston on December 20 surrounded by his family.
For the Jewish Museum Vienna his death marks the end of an important shared history, but also the start of a new chapter. The Vienna exhibition moved to New York in 2001, although the opening planned for September 11 was canceled because of the attack on the World Trade Center on that day. In 2007 the Museum celebrated a gala happening with a legendary fashion show by Lucie Porges. The pullover that Paul Peter Porges wore from 1939 to 1945 became part of the permanent exhibition in 2013. And finally, the family donated the Vienna family archive and major works by Lucie and Paul Peter Porges to the Jewish Museum Vienna last year.