Monday, April 28, 2008

The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism - Part 2

Johann Muschik followed the development of the Vienna School Of Fantastic Realism since it's early years. Already in 1947 he recognized the significance of these artists and spoke of a Vienna School in one of his reviews. At first it was thought of as a branch if Surrealism, but Muschik felt uncomfortable with this label. He wrote in 1950: "Fuchs and Lehmden are labeled Surrealists. Unfathomable; at least as far as Lehmden is concerned. What he wants to show us is clear and obvious, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the confusions of Breton and his group."
Muschik praises Hausner in 1951: "The Ark Of Odysseus ..... is free of irrationality and filled to the brim with rational observations ....." Muschik eventually coined the term Vienna School Of Fantastic Realism, under which these artists became known world wide. He explains the term as such: "These Painters are Realists for their attention to detail, fantastic is the juxtaposition, the scene. One cannot call them Surrealists, though they evolved out of Surrealism, because missing is the absurd, the preference for paranoia, trance and hallucination."




IRU 1961-69







But the term Fantastic Realism did not find universal acceptance, nor did the artwork described as such. The director of the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna denounced the term as contradictory: an exhibition organized for that gallery in 1959 had to do without this description. Critical reviews misinterpreted the Vienna School on many occasions, describing them and their work as narcissistic, egocentric neighbor-scarers, a waste of talent, etc.

The artists of the Vienna School did not form a tightly structured movement, but retained their individuality. Friends since the days at the Vienna Academy, their relationship did not exclude occasional disagreements. It was just such a disagreement between friends that prompted Ernst Fuchs, together with Arnulf Rainer, to form a counter movement in 1951, called Hundsgruppe which, after one exhibition, was disbanded the same year. In 1959 Fuchs, Rainer and Fritz Hundertwasser published the Pintorarium Manifesto, reminiscent of dadaism in their proclamations against the public school system (should be abolished), the Academy and similar non-conformist ideology, as well as zany ideas such as imposition of a public dress code (only brightly colored clothing may be worn).

The rebellious nature of Fuchs provided the needed adrenalin to keep the group from complacency. In 1958 he founded his own gallery in which he exhibited fledgling young artists, and thus kept the movement alive by introducing fresh blood. In the years between 1958 and 1962 the circle around the principal artists of the Vienna School expanded radically and continues to do so until this day. The success of the 1959 show in the Belvedere (the former residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy) was, in spite of the squabble over what to call it, as well as adverse criticism, phenomenal. Muschik relates that the (for the standards of these days) very expensive catalogue was sold out in no time at all, and only one previous show, Van Gogh, had a higher attendance figure.

The breakthrough for Fantastic Realism eventually came in 1962 during an exhibition of 23 artists representing the Vienna School Of Fantastic Realism at the Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Exposition). Being part of a show called Surrealism - Fantastic Painting Of The Present, the Vienna School was confronted with the elite of International Surrealism, and came out with flying colors. The Parisian Art Review Arts (article by Pierre Cabbane, July 1962) wrote that: "The Austrian Painting makes the Fantastic a living art". Earlier that year, the Vienna School was praised at an exhibition at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris by Cabbane and the critic Raymond Charmet (Arts, March 1962). The following year Gustav René Hocke wrote the foreword for a catalogue for an exhibition in Rome. In 1964 Wieland Schmied, a renown German critic and historian, wrote a book titled Malerei des Phantastischen Realismus / Die Wiener Schule. The disputed name Fantastic Realism was thus officially accepted.

A show organized by Wieland Schmied in 1965, after being shown in Hannover at the Kestner Gesellschaft, where Schmied was director, traveled throughout Germany. The art critic H.Th. Fleming of the Hamburg daily newspaper Die Welt wrote:

This exhibition, organized by Wieland Schmied, is a first-class event. The show opens a hithero overlooked, strangely fascinating and magic world, and at the same time provides a stimulus to take a fresh look at the problems and possibilities of painting, and to re-examine its present day established criterion. ........ Above all, they (Vienna School) are breaking with the (since Cecanne) dominating demand for a 'peinture pure', which should be free of literary, symbolic and psychologic content. For them, there is no opposition between categories. They do not believe that 'formal art' reaches a higher rank when it lacks literary content. ...... as much as we can easily detect their influences, from the old Masters to the classics of Surrealism, they are in no way backwards or eclectic, their provoking stillness is exciting and their clarity breathtaking .....

Similar enthusiastic reviews appeared throughout Germany. Thus, the Vienna School Of Fantastic Realism established a name for itself on a broader basis in Europe, eventually internationally; their artists being represented in established galleries throughout Europe, assuring financial success as well.

In 1972 a monumental exhibition, containing 100 paintings by the five artists of the Vienna School was organized by the Museum for Modern Art in Hyogo, Japan, with the generous help of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper conglomerate. This followed in the wake of several international exhibitions such as in Los Angeles in 1966, New York, Boston and San Francisco in 1968, and a big retrospective show, Die Entwickling der Wiener Schule in Vienna, also in 1968.

From the catalogue text of the exhibition I learn that the Vienna School had considerable success at a previous show in Japan in 1965, and that there were already a number of Japanese artists which were heavily influenced by the Austrians. The Japanese art critic Itsuro Sakazaki in his contribution to the catalogue observes the considerable influence of Klimt and Schiele, and remarked that Klimt studied Ukiyo-e painting; he also likens Schiele to the Japanese painter Sharaku. With this 1972 show in Hyogo it seems the Vienna School comes full circle, and no doubt their success in Japan was at least partially due to the recognition of their traditional craftsmanship, which retained some of the oriental elegance, so much in vogue during Klimt's time.





For the complete annotated article, go to my webpage here:

1 comment:

Kuniyoshi_Cat said...

I just recently found your blog and enjoy both your art and your content. Fantastic realism is one of my favorite genres and I started a tribute to Mati Klarwein on Myspace, Mati Tribute. I also added you to my links in my tribute blog to Utagawa Kuniyoshi, KuniyoshiCat. I'll be checking back regularly and reading your content.


Matt [H.A. Ware]