Higher Powers

People, Gods and Elements of Nature
18 May to 15 August 2021

Our spring 2021 exhibition documents how different civilizations and historical periods believe(d) in the existence of higher powers.

Under the motto Seeing Across Cultures, around hundred artefacts – some never shown before – help us explore this highly-relevant subject, creating a space for individual associations, emotions, and surprising encounters.

Higher powers and how mankind envisages and depicts them has affected all known civilisations.

Natural forces, epidemics, or political systems still make us feel we are at the mercy of powers we cannot control but that nonetheless profoundly influence our lives, that change and determine them.

The exhibition presents eloquent examples selected from the holdings of the various collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, the Weltmuseum Wien and the Theatermuseum that tell of a belief in the existence of higher powers found in different civilisations and historical periods. Many of these works document the divergent ways in which this subject affected both religious practice and art. When selecting the objects, our focus was on interconnectedness and juxtaposing artefacts from diverse cultures.

The four elements – water, earth, fire, and air - have always influenced man’s existence.

Fire
Giuseppe Arcimboldo
1566

Costume for the element air in Il lutto dell’universo
Ernst Fuchs (costume design), Ernst Steiner (mask)
1977

Costume of the storm demon O´ma
Brasil, Tikuna, c.1830

Oxalá/Oxalufã
Antonio Alexandre de Sousa Teixeira
Brasil, 2016

They are perceived as both positive powers and threatening, destructive natural forces. The exhibition begins by exploring depictions of natural deities and juxtaposing them with classical myths, Christian perceptions and modern narratives.

Rulers have always used insignia like crowns, feather hats, and costly robes to document that their authority derives from gods.

A section of the show analyses the strategies and mechanisms employed by rulers to legitimize their authority by demonstrating that their status, activities, and actions reflect the will and influence of higher powers. They literally acted as a higher power in questions of jurisdiction, making decisions about life and death, as well as about war and peace.

All civilisations share a desire to connect to higher powers.

So called horoscope talisman of Albrecht von Wallenstein
Southern Germany, c.1600–1610

Retablo
Joaquín López Atay
Peru, 1970s

Puppet: Buddha in The dragon slayer
Richard Teschner
1928

One section of the exhibition examines attempts to get in touch with higher powers, and includes very personal loans from museum visitors. Humanity has always relied on rituals, prayers, and amulets when in need of help, protection, and succour. Male and female shamans, religious experts, and priests assisted and continue to assist us, acting as intermediaries and helpers for the imperilled. We try to get in touch with deities through their cult images, which are venerated and honoured with votive offerings, flowers, and chants: ecstatic dancing is another, slightly different form of contact explored in the exhibition.

Visit our spring exhibition Higher Powers to discover objects that offer happiness, strength, and inspiration and share your thoughts.

For a most recent take on the exhibition subject, we invited members of the public – you – to participate in this exceptional exhibition project by sending us texts and good luck charms. Visit the exhibition and share your ideas and thoughts about higher powers with us. We look forward to your contribution!

The following texts are the result of an online writing workshop organised in the run-up to the exhibition Higher Powers. Fifteen selected artefacts – five each from the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, the Weltmuseum Wien, and the Theatermuseum – served as inspirations for the participants to compose their own texts. We decided against providing any information on these objects to enable the authors to approach them free from preconceptions.

The resulting texts document associations, thoughts, and stories that stem from viewing the artefacts in the context of the exhibition’s themes; they bear witness to viewers’ thought processes and ideas. They are not labels in the traditional sense and were not produced in and by the museum. We hope these highly diverse entries will inspire visitors and open new vistas.
The education departments of the KHM-Museumsverband hope you will enjoy reading these texts.
We would like to thank all authors for their contributions.

The education departments of the KHM-Museumsverband hope you will enjoy reading these texts. We would like to thank all authors for their contributions.

Philipp Prosper(16)
Präsentation eines Erdbebens(5)
Gewitterlandschaft(8)
Landschaft mit Luftgeistern(7)
Für den Todesfall(5)
Venusfest(7)
Düsterer Tag(3)
Stabfigur des Feuergotts(5)
Kopfschmuck(14)
Kostüm der Luft(12)
Figur(7)
Maskenkostüm(2)
Gerichtsszene(6)
Oxala(3)

PATRONAGE

Precious artefacts on show in this exhibition are looking for a Patron!

Did one of the artworks in the exhibition charm, inspire, or move you? Become a Patron and ensure that our extensive holdings receive all the specialised restoration- and conservation measures they need to preserve them for coming generations.

350 €
Bes (Ancient Egyptian deity)
Ancient Egyptian, late period
5th–4th cent. BCE

150 €
Stage Design for the opera Nero
Carlo Brioschi,
1885

300 €
Harpocrates on a lotus lower, framed by magical inscriptions 
Roman, 
2nd cent. CE

650 €
Consecrated sword
Owner: Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria, son of Emperor Ferdinand I, ruler of the Tyrol (1529 – 1595)

2000 €
Indra
Nepal
14th cent.

250 €
Good Luck Charm ‘Ekeko’
Bolivia
1972

Become a Patron and remain connected with your chosen artwork forever, allowing you to recall again and again your personal associations with Higher Powers.

Do you want to become a Patron? For more information click here; or contact us at  kunstpatenschaft@khm.at or +43 1 52524 4037.

#BeTheHigherPower

Need a power boost? Then take on the role of a fearless knight. Do you want to ward off evil and protect someone? Then transform into the patron saint Bes. Or do you want to finally win over your secret love? Nobody can resist the goddess of love Venus.

Try our instagram filters right now, share your higher power with the hashtag #BeTheHigherPower and don't forget to tag our Instagram channel @kunsthistorischesmuseumvienna.

Try on Instagram / Try on Facebook

Our Spotify playlist for the exhibition

Discover a dedicated playlist for the exhibition on our Spotify channel - music about deities, nature, love, hope and many other associations with the theme of higher powers, from Madonna to Falco.

We are looking forward to your visit!