20th February – 13th June.

Photographs by Hans Wilschut of the Austrian village.

This spring, Kunsthal Rotterdam is presenting the exhibition This is Hallstatt, kein Museum! featuring photographs that were made by Hans Wilschut between 2018 and 2020.

The tiny village of Hallstatt in Austria is Instafamous. Before COVID-19, it was annually flooded with millions of tourists, mostly from Asia. Armed with smartphones, tablets, drones and selfie sticks, they all came to shoot the exact same pictures of this photogenic Alpine hamlet. Wedged between snowy mountains and a glistening lake, the village looks like something out of a fairy tale. Wilschut became fascinated by the effects of Hallstatt’s appeal: from inconvenience to additional income. By the time of his arrival, mass tourism was already at an all-time high following the rumour that Arendelle, from the Disney film Frozen, was modelled on this village with its population of 780. Wilschut’s photographs show the picturesque hamlet while it is still bursting at the seams, right up to the point when the COVID-19 pandemic brings tourism to a halt and returns the streets to the local residents in 2020.

Hans Wilschut’s project captures the striking contrast; from tourists whose trolleys you can almost hear rattling across the cobblestones, to the completely quiet, locked-down world of COVID-19.  Whether wall-sized, very small, or in video loops, they all pass by at the Kunsthal. Tourists elbowing their way to THE scenic platform overlooking the lake versus empty streets. Long queues in front of the Salz souvenir shop (the area is known for its salt extraction) versus deserted locations where red and white barrier tape disclose something of the COVID-19 measures. The impact of loudly talking tourists – who are just a little bit too curious when peeping through windows and sitting on benches in private gardens – is palpable in the short film Wilschut made. Narrow streets, densely populated with people coming towards him in an ongoing stream, alternate with drone images of charming Hallstatt. Since March 2020, crowds are no longer an issue. The inconvenience has gone, but so has the income.

Photographer Hans Wilschutt

Hans Wilschut (Ridderkerk, 1966) is a self-taught artist. After a short course at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam, he started his career as a painter. Today, he has already been specialized in photography for over twenty years. Urban landscapes are often his subject of choice. He captures metropolises with great attention to perspective, both by day and by night. He does a lot of research in advance, and uses hydraulic lifts to achieve complete freedom and find the right viewpoints for his compositions. Wilschut usually produces his work on large formats; his photographic works are rich in detail and almost feel like paintings. In his urban still lifes he explores themes like globalization, migration and urbanization. He captures the impact of human behaviour, usually without photographing the people themselves. For his project about Hallstatt, Wilschut widened his gaze, also pointing his lens at the behaviours of the tourists that arrive in droves. Wilschut’s work is included in the collections of institutions like the Nederlands Fotomuseum Rotterdam, Musee d’Elysee Lausanne, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Fries Museum and, most recently, Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. .

Up until the 1960s, Hallstatt could only be accessed by boat. Tourism came into vogue after the completion of a road. But the destination’s popularity only really started to grow when the Salzkammergut region, which is home to Hallstatt, was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997. And for good reason. Already since the bronze age, the extraction of the valuable commodity salt had been bringing the village enormous prosperity. Wilschut’s photo works show many Asians visiting the ‘Austrian Arendelle’. And these not only include fans of Frozen. In 2006, the first stream of tourists was brought on by the South-Korean television series Spring Waltz, which was partly shot in Hallstatt. And in 2012, one year prior to the release of Frozen, a Chinese mining company built a life-sized replica of Hallstatt in Guangdong province. The imitation village, that cost 850 million euro to build, is now a popular holiday resort for the Chinese and has led tourism in the direction of the real Hallstatt. But it wasn’t until Hallstatt was finally also associated with Frozen that the village evolved into a true tourist attraction.