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Thomas Bernhard and the Theatre


This exhibition (04.11.2009-04.07.2010), which marked the twentieth anniversary of Thomas Bernhard’s death, offered a comprehensive survey of his work for the theatre. It focused in particular on the two Austrian cities where his plays had their Austrian premieres: Salzburg and Vienna. Looking at five plays first performed in these two cities, the exhibition illustrated central aspects of Bernhard’s work for the stage. The main focus was on how Bernhard created and developed 'Der Ignorant und der Wahnsinnige' ('The Ignoramus and the Madman', 1972), 'Die Macht der Gewohnheit' ('The Force of Habit', 1974), 'Der Theatermacher' ('Histrionics', 1985), 'Ritter, Dene, Voss' (1986), and 'Heldenplatz' (1988). These plays deal with art and artistic life in the context of an age hostile to art, with the futile struggle for perfection and dominance, with power and obsession. They are also about Austria: about the National Socialist past and its continuing effects, but also the current condition of the state and its actors.

Numerous documents from the estate of Thomas Bernhard, as well as sketches and stage photographs, helped to illustrate one of the most exceptional careers in the history of Austrian literature and theatre – with spectacular triumphs on stage and notorious scandals. The exhibition also brought home to visitors the vital contributions to Bernhard's success made by some of the period’s most important theatre artists: by the director Claus Peymann, by the stage designer Karl-Ernst Herrmann, and by celebrated actors such as Bernhard Minetti, Traugott Buhre, Marianne Hoppe, Kirsten Dene, Bruno Ganz, Wolfgang Gasser, Martin Schwab, or Gert Voss, among others.

In addition, the exhibition documented the way different aspects of lived reality converge in Bernhard’s plays: the world of the circus, of theatre and music, as well as Vienna’s chattering classes, Austrian politics and contemporary history. Bernhard’s final play 'Heldenplatz' was at the centre of one of the country’s biggest theatrical scandals, and its impact on media and politics was extensively documented in the exhibition.

The exhibition was curated by Martin Huber and Manfred Mittermayer, designed by Peter Karlhuber, and devised in collaboration with the Thomas Bernhard Archive and the Thomas Bernhard Private Foundation.


Thomas Bernhard and the Theatre
Companion Volume

"Österreich selbst ist nichts als eine Bühne" - Thomas Bernhard und das Theater