More ‘Style & Humor’

Lucie and Paul Peter Porges’ 80th Birthday Celebration

On The Town | Dardis McNamee | July 2007

Photo: Jewish Museum, Vienna

Lucie and Paul Peter Porges have led something of a charmed life – at least in retrospect. Viennese, Jewish and enormously talented, their uprooting in 1938 led them to Switzerland where they met and ultimately to New York where they married and thrived.  Lucie Porges became the design assistant and right hand to fashion queen Pauline Trigère, and Paul Peter a successful cartoonist for, among others, the Saturday Evening Post, Mad Magazine and the New Yorker – at the heart of the city’s vibrant creative scene.

In 2000, they exhibited for the first time together, in a show called "Style and Humor" hosted at the Jewish Museum in Vienna, the city of their childhoods, and the following year in their adopted home, New York. The first show opened just after the right wing Freedom Party of Joerg Haider had won a challenging 24% of the vote. The Porges came anyway. The following year in New York, the show opened right after the Sept. 11th attacks on the World Trade Center, again casting a shadow.

They were back in Vienna June 27, on the occasion of their 80th birthdays, with a more modest retrospective and an exuberant evening of entertainments and reminiscence at the Jewish Museum.

This time fate was with them. In the packed auditorium with two rows of standees trailing out into the corridor, museum director Werner Hanak and Der Standard‘s  Michael Freund addressed the couple surrounded by friends and family.

"Working with the Porges is what you might call in German ‘Freundlwirtschaft’ – usually translated cronyism, but I prefer ‘friendly takeover!’ " Freund teased.

What followed was what Hanak called a "Gala Happening," beginning with a trio performed by Klangforum Wien, leaders of the Viennese avant garde, a storm of turbulence, shimmers, and sharp gesture, perfectly synchronized and powerful.  Then came the beloved Viennese entertainer Michael Heltau, a long-time Porges intimate, reading from the stories of Kaffeehausliterat, Peter Altenberg.

The slide show that followed traced the two from childhood: Lucie sat on a tricycle looking bored, "until I saw some photos in fashion magazines. Then I was fascinated!" she said. "After that, I was drawing constantly, drawing, drawing, drawing." Another shot caught Paul Peter at a swimming pool with two friends, one of whom, now white haired and impish, rose to wave from the audience. They had fled to Poland, to Italy, to France and ultimately Switzerland. At 13, Paul Peter Porges, separated from his family, spent months wandering through the French countryside alone.

"It was fantastic!" he said in a stage whisper, "but don’t tell anyone…"

Along with his work for the famed New Yorker, Paul Peter Porges drew for the youth satirical monthly, Mad Magazine for over 25 years, shaping (or perhaps twisting) the tender minds of succeeding generations around the world. Lucie Porges first took her sketches to Pauline Trigère in 1951, who ("as much for my accent as my art -- we still spoke French with each other then.") with whom she worked for 43 years.

"Pauline and I were a great team," Lucie Porges said. "We would go together to buy fabrics; she would drape and I would sketch. I felt like an artist in residence; I never had the financial worries of having to run the business."

Which led us to the high point of the evening, a fashion show tracing her  through her own clothes. And as there are no models who are 5’4" like Lucie Porges, the stunning array of garments were paraded to the lilting, melancholy sweetness of French chansons, by the remarkably poised young teenage daughters of the extended circle of friends including, unannounced, two Porges grandchildren. Splashes of brilliant color or gold lamé swept up against chic and understated black skirts or slacks, shawls and berets, bright checks or wedges of lapel, dramatic but never gaudy. At their final entrance, each girl came in bearing two long stem roses for a sumptuous presentation bouquet. Wreathed in smiles, Lucie Porges then handed it to her granddaughter, to accept the hand of her husband of 55 years who led her out onto the floor for an anniversary waltz.

Porges’ Cartoon Cycle "From Dollfuss to Bush (1927-2007)" and other works from Lucie & Paul Peter Porges will be on display through Aug. 26. at the Jewish Museum, Dorotheegasse 11, 1010 Vienna. 

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    the vienna review July 2007