Skip to content

Fantastic Surrealists
3.6.–10.9.2023

Opening:

Exhibition

For large periods in the twentieth century, Austrian art was interested in the unfathomable, the other-worldly, psychological depths, and often also in violence. This can perhaps be most clearly seen in the loose group of fantastic realists (Phantastische Realisten), which can be roughly dated from the 1950s to the 1980s. Given their dominance at the time, it is surprising that from today’s perspective they do not play a more central role in our cultural memory. On the other hand, today they are now seeing something of a renaissance, which can also be explained within the context of a new interest in different forms of surrealist movements.

With the exhibition Fantastic Surrealists the HALLE FÜR KUNST wishes to explore works from this surreal” movement both in terms of their original significance and their continuing relevance. 

Views

Anton Lehmden, Zwei Köpfe in einer Landschaft (Two Heads in a Landscape), 1949 – 1950

Oil on hardboard
4357 cm

Courtesy Artothek des Bundes, permanent loan at the Belvedere, Vienna

Text

For large periods in the twentieth century, Austrian art was interested in the unfathomable, the other-worldly, psychological depths, and often also in violence. This can perhaps be most clearly seen in the loose group of fantastic realists, which can be roughly dated from the 1950s to the 1980s, when they were not only highly influential within contemporary discourse but also held a large number of key positions within the country’s cultural institutions, while their works entered all of Austria’s important collections. Given their dominance at the time, it is surprising that from today’s perspective they do not play a more central role in our cultural memory. Many of their works are left to themselves in museum depots and are hardly seen in most presentations of permanent collections. On the other hand, today they are now seeing something of a renaissance, which can also be explained within the context of a new interest in different forms of surrealist movements.

But is this not a pun, whereby the fantastic element of realism actually means surrealism – or rather does not? Surrealism, a sustainable progressive movement since the 1920s, was only weakly established in Austria, and developed in different ways and with more reservation in comparison to its otherwise typically subversive energy. This reserved and weakened variant of surrealism, which we can see looking back, seems all the more paradoxical when we know that key issues relating to the mind, the body, subjectivity, and history or stories were explored and developed in theory and artistic practice In Austria with more rigor than almost anywhere else. One might think that here too a specific local historical shift took place in which some international developments do not come to Austria or some positions and contents are simply repressed.

With the exhibition Fantastic Surrealists the HALLE FÜR KUNST wishes to explore works from this movement both in terms of their original significance and their continuing relevance. We look at proponents of fantastic realism together with artists not hitherto seen in this context from both the preceding period (Walter Behrens, Éva Nagy, Kurt Regschek) and the time that follows the movement (Bruno Gironcoli, Walter Pichler), asking as to possible shared surrealist elements. Although these artists are mostly characterized by very different approaches that distinguish them from the fantastic realists, from today’s perspective of distance it is possible to recognize important commonalities that are based on the newly emerging interest in surreal, phantasmagorical movements for which particularly the Austrian context and its diverse history offers a rich body of material.

Corresponding with the simultaneous TARWUK exhibition, which can be seen to have similar content and a related place in the history of art, this exhibition also includes by way of dialogue a number of historically comparable positions from Croatia and former Yugoslavia that display a similar ambiguous history regarding international surrealism, and thus also further specifically regional features and characteristics with potential points of overlap. This combination is an attempt to conceptually bring together two local developments from beyond the western European (and mainly French) surrealist movement, also in order to show how these works can be of interest for the present day.

The exhibition is presented within a purposely designed form of display that shows loans from the collections of the Vienna Belvedere and the MSU Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb in a suitable frame. Works by some of the icons and predecessors and later followers of this loose movement” are contrasted with lesser-known works within a dreamy and otherworldly sequence. It may be that the act of perception within this space entails an updated surreal” gaze onto a hitherto established fantastic” picture and a seemingly specific Austrian history that then opens up to key Croatian positions and enables effects of mutual dialogue.

This Fantastic Surrealists project is intended to counter habitual art history and to update our view of a well-known artistic genre with new and expanded perspectives, in both the exhibition and also a correspondingly critical program of events as a discursive expansion. The fascination for positions that are not yet or no longer part of contemporary canons is a key element in the programming at HALLE FÜR KUNST. Discovery and rediscovery are central to this exhibition experiment about specifically regional trends in surrealism and its potential significance today.

Curator: Sandro Droschl