Alfred Hrdlicka. Unsparing! – Lower Belvedere, Vienna

Lower Belvedere, Vienna

Orangery, Lower Belvedere

Alfred Hrdlicka. Unsparing!
23 June to 19 September 2010

He was considered a sensitive berserk and referred to himself as ‘fossil’, ‘underground person’ and someone ‘excruciating himself to death’: the Belvedere dedicates its summer exhibition at the Orangery to Alfred Hrdlicka, one of the most important Austrian sculptors.

Alfred Hrdlicka

Alfred Hrdlicka
Thief of the Right , 1962/63
White Yugoslavian limestone
125 x 88 x 38 cm
Collection Würth, Künzelsau
© Angelina Siegmeth-Hrdlicka, Vienna, Photo: Belvedere, Vienna

Like hardly any of his contemporaries, this exceptional artist, who died in December 2009, reflected, in his overwhelming work, upon the political situation in his country. He constantly questioned the global distribution of power, not limiting himself to his immediate world of experience when he did so; moreover, he intensively dealt with history and world literature and its protagonists. His artistic products comprise expressive figural stone sculptures on the one hand and drawings demonstrating Hrdlicka’s artistic volition on the other. Hrdlicka never took the easy way, neither in his life nor in his work.

He was an uncompromising humanist, with his works visualizing even murder and terror, sometimes with shocking explicitness. “All art springs from the flesh,” was one of Hrdlicka’s favourite dictums. His most well-known and impressive works include those on the French Revolution, Pasolini, and Franz Schubert. In 1963 he caused an uproar in Salzburg when his Orpheus was acquired for the Small Festival Hall. In 1967 a ‘League against Degenerate Art‘ gathered in protest against Hrdlicka’s Renner Monument, which had been unveiled in Vienna. In 1970 he completed the Plötzensee Dance of the Dead for a Protestant community centre in West Berlin. In Hamburg, his Counter-Monument made in response to the local Warriors’ Memorial sparked heated discussions, as did his Monument against War and Fascism in Vienna’s Albertinaplatz (1988–91).

In 1990 the Belvedere organized the exhibtion Alfred Hrdlicka – The Art of Seduction in its upper palace, presenting drawings, watercolours, paintings, and sculptures. Twenty years later, Hrdlicka is honoured with the exhibition Unsparing! , a compilation of sculptural works from the 1960s. By means of seventeen selected stone sculptures, one bronze, and a monumental painting, the show at the Orangery illustrates Hrdlicka’s principal artistic manifestos.

Alfred Hrdlicka

Alfred Hrdlicka
Martha Beck after her execution on the electric chair , 1962/63
White Yugoslavian limestone
185 x 43 x 70 cm
Collection A. u. M. Brunner, Vöcklabruck
© Angelina Siegmeth-Hrdlicka, Vienna, Photo: Belvedere, Vienna

Alfred Hrdlicka

Alfred Hrdlicka. Unsparing!, 2010
Exhibition view
Photo: Belvedere, Vienna

Alfred Hrdlicka

Alfred Hrdlicka. Unsparing!, 2010
Exhibition view
Photo: Belvedere, Vienna

Like Oskar Kokoschka, whom he admired, Alfred Hrdlicka was doubly gifted. Having initially been trained as a painter under Albert Paris Gütersloh and Josef Dobrowsky, he took to drawing and printing at a very early stage in his career. It was first and foremost printing that served him as a suitable means of expression for his social and political statements and made him known far beyond Austria’s borders. Having completed his education as a painter, Hrdlicka switched to Fritz Wotruba’s sculpture class in 1953. Hrdlicka’s early stone sculptures, such as Male Torso from 1954, which is on display in the present exhibition, are reminiscent of Wotruba’s works of the late 1920s.

Throughout his life, Hrdlicka fathomed the formal possibilities of visualizing socially critical themes to the very limit. His critical thinking and his ability of eloquently expressing himself verbally allowed him to directly access all of the topics of global history. Yet in his sculptural work, his focus was on a few specific motifs he approached time and again, such as the depiction of the flayed satyr Marsyas, the motif of the Crucifixion, and narrative portraits of mass murderers and martyrs. In the exhibition, these themes are represented, among other works, by Marsyas I and Marsyas III, two versions of Martha Beck, who was sentenced death for murder and was executed on the electric chair, The Crucified Christ (1959), as well as the Thief on the Left (1962) and the Thief on the Right (1962/63).

Alfred Hrdlicka

Alfred Hrdlicka, ca. 1965
Angelina Siegmeth-Hrdlicka, Vienna
Photo: Fritz Miho Salus, Salzburg

The deceptive dissonance between the graphic, blatant themes and the Mannerist traits of their artistic realizations identifies Hrdlicka’s work as that of a highly sensitive artist who, in terms of form, walked along the line between antiquity-inspired Renaissance and the Baroque, but nevertheless uncompromisingly subjected the final modelling and creative process to his very own impetus.

Courtesy Belvedere, Vienna
Images © All rights reserved


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~ by Stampfli & Turci on August 23, 2010.

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