Lisl Ponger, <i>The Vanishing Middle Class</i>, Installation view, Photo: Michael Michlmayr Lisl Ponger, <i>The Vanishing Middle Class</i>, Installation view, Photo: Michael Michlmayr Lisl Ponger, <i>The Vanishing Middle Class</i>, Installation view, Photo: Michael Michlmayr Lisl Ponger, <i>The Vanishing Middle Class</i>, Installation view, Photo: Michael Michlmayr Lisl Ponger, <i>The Vanishing Middle Class</i>, Installation view, Photo: Michael Michlmayr Lisl Ponger, <i>The Vanishing Middle Class</i>, Installation view, Photo: Michael Michlmayr

Lisl Ponger has long explored the constructed nature of (cultural) identity, our—often stereotypical— ideas about and images of the "other," and the associated questions of visual representation. Her art frequently engages with the academic disciplines of ethnology and anthropology, whose methods and politics become manifest in the collection and exhibition practices of ethnographic museums.

In the Secession's main hall, Ponger will be realizing a project she has wanted to do for a long time: the Museum für fremde und vertraute Kulturen [Museum for Foreign and Familiar Cultures], in short MuKul. The plans for her own (ethnographic) museum represent a culmination of the interests that underlie her art. Although the museum is fictional, its design is based on painstaking research and precise observation. It is an almost disturbingly detailed recreation of real ethnological museums, a growing number of which have recently adopted names such as world museum, museum of cultures, and the like. The exhibits are identified with inventory numbers and places and dates of purchase, and the museum has object and section labels as well as panels listing the museum staff and all lenders. In a bow to popular demand, there is even a Photopoint in the lobby where visitors can pose for pictures in front of a backdrop.

Lisl Ponger presents two exhibitions in the four exhibition rooms of the MuKul: The Vanishing Middle Class, a show that undertakes what is known as "salvage ethnology" by recording and documenting as many facets as possible of the life of a population group whose future is in peril, and the special exhibition Lisl Ponger. Wild Places with a number of photographic works the artist created between 2000 and 2010.

The exhibition about the disappearance of the middle class is divided into rooms that address particular issues such as "The Rise of the Western Middle Class," "The Middle Class in Peril," "From Playing by the Rules to Gaming the System," "Exhibits for Posterity," and "The Emerging Middle Classes." In addition to the historical development of the middle class, the show examines its relation to democracy and capitalism in its neoliberal form—with a particular focus on the effects of tax havens and the banking crisis—as well as newly emerging middle classes in countries such as China. It presents a wealth of illustrative materials, including real and counterfeit branded products serving as status symbols, historic photographs, postcards from tax havens, life masks taken from members of the middle class, board games, coins, and cash envelopes.

The design of the two exhibitions is firmly in keeping with the conventions of different cultural institutions: the artist's photographic works are presented in a room kept in a neutral white and illuminated by equally neutral lighting, whereas each room of the exhibition The Vanishing Middle Class, from the walls to the bases on which the glass cases rest, is painted in a distinctive color, and the lighting is orchestrated to heighten the aura of the exhibits.

By treating the Western middle class as an object of study in the same way that, even today, exhibitions make a spectacle out of "exotic" peoples or ethnic groups in remote parts of the non-Western world, Ponger's show strikingly illustrates how many museums operate; the resulting exercise in deconstruction invites critical engagement with these mechanisms.

Lisl Ponger was born in Nuremberg in 1947 and lives and works in Vienna.

Exhibition architecture and graphic design: Toledo i Dertschei
Invited by the Board of Directors of the Secession
Curated by Jeanette Pacher


Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 7 p.m.
Yvette Mutumba in conversation with Lisl Ponger

An event of the Friends of the Secession

The art historian Yvette Mutumba is research curator
for Africa at the Weltkulturen Museum, Frankfurt am Main.


Lisl Ponger gives a tour of her exhibition The Vanishing Middle Class
Sunday, March 30, 2014, 4 p.m.


LISL PONGER, The Vanishing Middle Class

The Vanishing Middle Class

192 pages
Format: 165 x 222mm
Texts: James Clifford, Herwig Kempinger/Jeanette Pacher, Yvette Mutumba, Tim Sharp
Secession 2014
Distribution: Revolver Verlag
Available in the shop

Born in Nuremberg in 1947, works and lives in Vienna.

Selected solo exhibitions
2014 The Vanishing Middle Class, Secession, Vienna; Schöne Fremde, Kirchnermuseum, Davos; Dreams of New Worlds, Charim Galerie, Vienna; 2011 …it belongs in a museum (Indian(er) Jones III), Charim Galerie, Vienna; 2010 Werkschau XV, Fact or Truth, Fotogalerie Wien, Vienna; 2008 Lasst tausend Blumen blühen, Kunsthaus, Dresden; Happy Birthday, History, CUC, Berlin; 2007 Imago Mundi, Landesgalerie, Linz; 2006 Die Beute, Galerie Charim, Vienna; 2004 Place Myths, Galerie Charim, Vienna; Si j’avais eu l’autorisation…, Dak’art Off, Dakar, SEN; Phantom Fremdes Wien, Wien Museum, Vienna; 2001 AK Galerie, Vienna; 1999 Musée d’ethnographie, Geneva; 1996 Museum für Völkerkunde, Vienna; 1993 Fremdes Wien, Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna

Selected group exhibitions and film screenings
2014 Vienna Unveiled: A City in Cinema, MoMA, New York; 2013 The Collection #4, Belvedere, Vienna; in progress. Works from the mumok Collection, mumok, Vienna; 2012 Dark Side of the Moon, 9th Baltic Biennale of Contemporary Art, Szczecin, PL; Truth is concrete, Steirischer Herbst, Graz; Gata le nna, Walk with me, The Bioscope, Johannesburg; 2011 Beauty Contest, Austrian Cultural Forum, New York; Haut, Kunsthaus Hamburg; Repair Democracy – Ein Demonstrationszug, Kunst im öffentlichen Raum, Vienna; Fetish Modernity, Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, BE; 2009 Zur Tektonik der Geschichte, ISCP, New York; 2008 Recollecting. Raub und Restitution, MAK, Vienna; Typical! Clichés of Yews and Others, Spertus Museum, Chicago; Jüdisches Museum, Berlin; 2009 Typisch! Klischees von Juden und Anderen, Jüdisches Museum, Vienna; 2007 Documenta XII Filmprogramm, Kassel; 21 Positions, Austrian Cultural Forum, New York; 2006 Orientalism & Ephemera, Art Metropole, Toronto; Ottawa Art Gallery, Ontario; 2005 48th San Francisco International Filmfestival, San Francisco; Projekt Migration, Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne; Die Regierung, Wiener Secession, Vienna; 2004 Nomads & Residents, BAK, Utrecht; Der Black Atlantic, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin; Formate, MNAC, Bucharest; Tour-ism, Tàpies Foundation, Barcelona; Destiny Deacon / Lisl Ponger, Salzburger Kunstverein, Salzburg; 2002 Documenta XI, Kassel; 2001 Du bist die Welt, Künstlerhaus, Vienna; An evening with Lisl Ponger, Cineprobe, MoMA, New York

The exhibition of Lisl Ponger is sponsored by Arbeiterkammer Wien.

The Secession is supported by:
Erste Bank – Partner of the Secession
Wien Kultur
Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur
Friends of the Secession

Cooperation-, Mediapartners, Non-Cash Benefit:
Schremser – Das Waldviertler Bier
Ö1 Club


For further information and photographic material please contact:

Katharina Schniebs
Secession, Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession
Friedrichstraße 12, 1010 Vienna
Tel: +43-1-5875307-21, Fax: +43-1-5875307-34