AUSTRIAN CONTEMPORARY ART AND POST-WAR PAINTING: THE ESSL COLLECTION

Excepts from Sonja Traar's text which complements the exhibition catalog.

 

With its nearly 5,OOO works, Agnes and Karlheinz' collection offers an unparalleled perspective of the artistic output of the 2Oth century and the turn of the 21st century. Austrian painting, dating from 1945 on, takes virtually center stage in the collection and is presented in an international context starting in the 9Os. Current trends make their appearance; the collection continuously grows, and in doing so also mirrors the collectors' personal preferences and interests.

In order to behold the works within a context pursuant to their content, the exhibition is divided into five realms or, shall we say, spheres of works.

Between object and abstraction
Stripping away the object until only pure abstraction remains seems a hesitant trend, one carried out individually since the early 2Oth century by artists. The object casts off all pretensions of pure imitation: at times still recognizable, at others merely conceivable through its title, until becoming extinct. The object becomes the vessel for bodies of color and shape, which become so extremely independent as to be self-sufficient.

Actionism
Viennese Actionism is a special Austrian phenomenon of a process- and action-oriented art of the 6Os. It is documented in the exhibition with works by two of its major practitioners: Günter Brus and Hermann Nitsch. As an answer to the political climate after World War II, a special kind of performance art (behind closed doors at the onset and frequently tinged with a theatrical flair) developed in Austria in the 6Os. The use of dead animals and self-mutilation, later presented in public, triggered a number of scandals. The exhibition includes two major, early works by Günter Brus and a Hermann Nitsch installation.

Rainer-Tápies
A similar context, one which pushed the envelope of the moods transmitted by paintings to date, serves as a framework to Arnulf Rainer's works. His over-paintings are frequently marked by Actionism. He is on a quest for new artistic solutions, for the disintegration of an solely result-oriented art. His work is placed in fascinating opposition to that of Antoni Tápies, which relies on a composition of shape and color of definite materials as a conveyor of its abstraction.

Painting lives
In the 8Os (after a phase of highly theorizational discussion of art, and coupled with the use of electronic media such as photography and video), a new, objective, and expressive access to painting again takes on meaning. The exhibition showcases works that have forged the path to the New Painting, like those by Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz. As documentations of a strong pictorial impulse, the paintings by Austrian artists Humbert Scheibl and Herbert Brandi allow for an intensified sensation of the worlds of color and shape. Martin Kippenberg and Franz West are present on the force of their pluralistic approach to the subject.

Aspects of the figure
The human figure is present in contemporary art with renewed gusto particularly since the turn of the 21st Century. The works on display by Alex Katz (an American pioneer), Katrin Plavcak, Muntean & Rosenblum, and Elke Krystufek reveal the various ways artists have addressed this issue. The renowned Austrian painter Maria Lassnig is present in the exhibition through two paintings in which her absolutely independent treatment can be evidenced. A lack of distance, social reality, and definition by the current generation on its standing in life, determine the works' highly variable content, as well as the denial of a narration (in Alex Katz). Gottfried Helnwein digresses from fleeting contemplation with his Self-portrait: the canvas on display prompts an immediate, impulsive reaction...

The Essl Collection's development is constantly focused on examining new aspects of the current artistic endeavor. This is a never-ending process, one constantly in flux and endlessly directed at new reference points.
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