Obituaries | 31. Januar 2022

Brigitte Kowanz (1957-2022)

by Danielle Spera
© Danielle Spera
The Jewish Museum Vienna mourns the passing of Brigitte Kowanz (1957–2022). Giving space to light was the unique Austrian artist’s motto. She studied at the University of Applied Arts and later taught there as a professor from 1997 to 2021. At the beginning of her artistic career, she collaborated with Franz Graf, until she turned to light and the physics of light in the 1980s. She concerned herself with the speed of light, with language and its translation into codes, as well as with the Morse code. Glasses and mirrors became components of Kowanz’s art, with space and mirrors permeating each other in her art pieces. Brigitte Kowanz received many awards for her work, including the Austrian State Prize for Visual Arts. Together with Erwin Wurm, she represented Austria at the Venice Biennale in 2017.

I was particularly happy that Brigitte Kowanz immediately agreed when I asked her to make the Jewish Museum Vienna outwardly visible as a Viennese landmark at its location on Dorotheergasse. Brigitte Kowanz described the idea of accentuating the house with a light installation as follows: “After some consideration, I decided on the Hebrew script, which I find especially interesting. Its symbolic quality prompted me to base the installation entirely on this form of writing.” Brigitte Kowanz designed a neon script that stretched across part of the length of the façade: “Museon,” spelled out in Hebrew letters. Financed by the Friends of the Jewish Museum Vienna, it can be seen from afar on Dorotheergasse and will always be a reminder of the great Austrian artist.

As a professor of transmedia art at the University of Applied Arts, Brigitte Kowanz supported the Jewish Museum in a very special project: Together with our team, she closely accompanied Lukas Kaufmann’s light steles, entitled OT (Hebrew for sign or symbol), which stand throughout Vienna as symbols for the 25 Viennese synagogues destroyed during the November Pogrom of 1938.

For me, Brigitte Kowanz was not only one of the most interesting and outstanding artists, but also a longtime friend. In the spirit of optimism in the 1980s, the Wunderbar, the Schoko and other legendary bars of the art scene served as our meeting places. The fact that the Jewish Museum brought us even closer together in family terms was a very special way of rounding off our friendship. Brigitte’s son Adrian did his alternative civilian service at the museum with a lot of commitment, which also passed the good emotional connection on to the next generation. Our heartfelt condolences go out to him and the family. Brigitte stood out in the art world with her particularly lovable, calm, considerate and intelligent way. She will always remain unforgettable for me.