Highlights of the Bank Austria Art Collection
The Bank Austria Art Collection encompasses around 10,000 works and is one of the foremost collections of Austrian art. It begins in the late nineteenth century with historicism and Viennese art nouveau and places its central focus on post-1945 avant-garde painting and contemporary art.
The Georg Eisler Award founded in 1998 is one of the best honoured and remunerated acquisition awards in the country and an important platform for young, modern art.
A particular highlight of the collection is the comprehensive portfolio devoted to the classics of international photography. The Sammlung Fotografis contains icons of art photography from Alfred Stieglitz to Diane Arbus.
Historicism, Art Nouveau and Expressionism
Hans Makart's monumental mythological paintings (e.g. Death of Siegfried) mark the end of classical painting in the late nineteenth century, which was then superseded by impressionist and symbolist trends: Gustav Klimt's Nymphs (Silver Fish), 1902/03, is one of the supreme jewels of the collection – mystical female forms floating in glimmering, atmospheric green. Oskar Kokoschka's Cupid and Psyche, 1955, shows the great exponent of expressionism as a sensitive colourist: in delicate tones Kokoschka transforms the mythological scenery into a painterly expanse.
Post-1945 Avant-garde Art and Contemporary Abstraction
Following neo-surrealist movements (Fuchs, Brauer, Hutter, Rainer, Lassnig and more), abstraction asserted itself after 1945 as the avant-garde idiom in Austrian art and achieved an international reputation beyond the national borders. Promoted by Monsignore Otto Mauer, at the time the cathedral preacher of St Stephen's, from the mid-fifties Arnulf Rainer, Josef Mikl, Markus Prachensky and Wolfgang Hollegha presented their informal paintings in the Galerie St. Stephan. Markus Prachensky's Rouge sur blanc, 1959, is one of the foremost works of this period of a new dawn in non-objective art: painting as expression pure, as abstract expression.
Kurt Kocherscheidt is noted as a singular figure in the context of more recent abstract trends. The colossal picture Without Title of 1988 has a bright oval form on black ground. Despite a clear figure-background relationship, the concept of painting as painting predominates against figuration and representation of reality.
During the course of the 1980s, artists like Erwin Bohatsch and Hubert Scheibl evolved an abstract imagery that borders on the areas of radical and monochrome painting. Instead of the previous expressionist and figurative paintings, becalmed, painterly works were produced, with a transparent yet shimmeringly enigmatic atmosphere. Artistic formations represented by such artists as Gerwald Rockenschaub, Walter Obholzer, Karl Heinz Stöhle, or, from the young generation, Esther Stocker, continue the chapter of abstraction. Their pictures are shaped by geometry and construction.
Viennese Actionism and Performance: from Nitsch to Wurm
Hermann Nitsch's and Günter Brus's action painting starting in the early 1960s is a reaction to informal painting: instead of an abstract, "secularised" style of painting, their aim was to find concordance between art and life. Günter Brus's photographic cycle Aktion Selbstbemalung (Self-painting Action), 1964, is a symbiosis of performance and painting, an anticipation of Brus's tendencies towards radical physical actions carried to the extremes of self-injury as in Zerreissprobe (Endurance Test) of 1970. Hermann Nitsch's Schüttbilder ("Spilling Pictures") are sensuous, painterly elements of his spiritual and archaic Orgy Mystery Theatre.
Performance and the physical are central to the oeuvres of Valie Export and Erwin Wurm; two internationally established exponents of Austrian performance art with conceptional aspects. Wurm's One Minute Sculptures are contiguous to both actionist and sculptural parameters.
Figure and reality: from Lassnig to Brandl
Besides the dominant informal art of the post-war years and Viennese Actionism, there were major formative movements towards a type of representational painting. First and foremost is Maria Lassnig, who had already elaborated a singular concept of figuration in the early sixties. Lassnig implements her own psychological emotions in the work process of her Körpergefühlsbilder (Body Feeling Pictures): bruises, painful arms and legs, burning skin.
Attersee always places sensual eroticism at the centre of his monumental, figurative paintings, which is re-encountered on the one hand in motif – female nudes, flowers, buds and drops, on the other in a hedonistic flow of colour.
Herbert Brandl has devoted himself since 2000 mainly to the theme of the mountain – mighty paintings hovering between painterly openness and photographic faithfulness. "Painting on large-scale canvases is like conquering the Welswand mountain wall. No one is ever invulnerable to falling," as Brandl says. This underlines his self-critical and sceptical attitude to the rich traditions of painting as a medium.
Alois Mosbacher (Eisler Award 2002), formerly associated with the Neue Wilden in the eighties, shows tendencies in his more recent works towards a more palpable representation of realtiy, infed by the new media. His themes relate for instance to fantasy role-playing interpreted in sensitive painting. Current pictures by Maja Vukoje (Eisler Award 2004) also manifest a slightly surreal atmosphere: a fantastical faunal world with thrilling colour valency. Primarily the young artists have befriended the genre of figuration: everyday autobiographical happenings in the work of Katrin Plavcak (Eisler Award 2003) and Gerlind Zeilner (Eisler Award 2005), or youth culture in Muntean and Rosenblum. The objective representation of reality through the medium of painting is always at the centre of their work. In contrast, Bernd Koller (Eisler Award 2006) has opted for the water-colour technique; he uses it to paint sensitive and lyrical sheets associated with nature and springing from spontaneous reaction.
Icons of Photography
The Bank Austria Sammlung Fotografis is a rich treasury of more than 400 photographic works, ranging from the pioneering age of photography in the nineteenth century to pictorialism, straight photography, experimental movements of the avant-garde and examples of reporting photography in the post-war years and the present. Among them are photographic icons by Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Diane Arbus.