The new exhibitions  

Painting that bucked the trend
curated by Hans-Peter Wipplinger

With some 250 works comprised of paintings, drawings, prints and sculptural pieces, this presentation constitutes the most comprehensive overview to date of the loose "WIRKLICHKEITEN" artistic group, which at the end of the 1960s was formed by Wolfgang Herzig (1941), Martha Jungwirth (1940), Kurt Kocherscheidt (1943-1992), Peter Pongratz (1940), Franz Ringel (1940-2011) and Robert Zeppel-Sperl (1944-2005).

These six heterogeneous artistic characters held their first joint exhibition under the title "WIRKLICHKEITEN" at the Vienna Secession in 1968. The show, which was designed by Otto Breicha, proved to be an unexpected success and the talk was of "The debut of Handke generation in the Austrian visual arts" and "A type of new CoBrA group". As opposed to the stylistic directions of the period, which were dominated by the Viennese school of fantastic realism and abstractionism, as well as emerging avant-garde tendencies such as minimal and conceptual art, which declared painting to be obsolete, the WIRKLICHKEITEN pursued "open" painting that was far removed from academic dogmas and the tyrannies of fashion.

A considerable number of the exhibits in this show are not only on public display for the first time, but are also making their debut in print. A richly illustrated accompanying publication with content that is as profound as it is entertaining and around 350 colour images, offers an invitation to in-depth perusal. Apart from articles from Silvie Aigner, Brigitte Borchhardt-Birbaumer, Daniela Gregori, Susanne Längle, Rainer Metzger, Thomas Mießgang, Florian Steininger and Hans-Peter Wipplinger, the catalogue also contains historical texts from Otto Breicha and Alfred Schmeller, as well as contributions from literary companions of the "WIRKLICHKEITEN" such as Peter Handke, Elfriede Jelinek and Friederike Mayröcker, and last but by no means least, from the aritists themselves.  

Sean Scully - painting as an imaginative world appropriation
curated by Peter Baum

Sean Scully, who was born in Dublin in 1945, currently numbers among the leading exponents of absolute, non-figurative painting that is influenced decisively by the use of colour. The paintings, which are composed of simple, geometric, fundamental elements consisting of rectangles, squares and bar-like stripes, are based on a strongly emotional, impasto painting method that is both intensive and differentiated.

The painting process, which is carried out openly by the artist and accompanied by tension occupies a place within each of his works. These consist of large formats with the impetus derived from differentially charged, dense brushwork, directed as an exciting block-like drama, or small, sensitive and lyrical water colours as a subtle and charming "Kammerspiel".

Seventeen paintings and four watercolours form the contingent of the exhibition of the artist at the Museum Liaunig, which will last from April 26th to October 31st. The exhibition is to be accompanied by a large-format catalogue.

Almost 200 one-man shows in Europe, the USA and Asia, the global presence of important works in a similar number of museums and public collections, as well as a bibliography that corresponds with this reputation, serve to underline the status of this exceptional Artist.

Glasses from 1500 to 1850
curated by Regine Kovacek

The enlargement of the museum building now also allows the presentation of the glass collection of the Herbert Liaunig Private Trust to a broader public. In a purpose-designed room and exhibition showcases, glasses from various epochs are on display. The exhibits range from the beginnings of artistic, European glass in Venice to the products manufactured for the Congress of Vienna and the wealthy patrons of the Bohemian spas.   

The splendour of the Renaissance is best illustrated by the tazza from the service of the Medici popes. During their reigns such fine, transparent glasses were regarded as being as precious as gold and gems. Indeed, potentates such as Ferdinand of Tyrol had to request the Doges of Venice for the temporary loan of their famed glassblowers, as they were more or less permanently resident in Murano.   

While it was only possible to paint these fine glasses or score them with diamonds, in the 17th century inventive alchemists not only invented gold ruby glass, but also changed the glass flow in such a way as to facilitate the manufacture of a hard, thick glass for engraving with a copper wheel, which first and foremost commenced a triumphal progress north of the Alps. This advance is represented in the exhibition by a glass art incunabulum in the form of a sheet from the engraver Caspar Lehmann, which has returned after twenty years on loan to the British Museum in London  

However, it was not only these inventions alone, but also technical improvements such as water-powered cutting works that greatly eased the workload of the “Hochschnitt” (high face) goblet engravers in Silesia. Apart from rock crystal pieces, the extremely complex works from Friedrich Winter of Hermsdorf number among the most coveted objects of the time.  

The cultivated nobility and princes of the period created artistic and curiosity cabinets in their palaces and such glasses were a source of great wonderment. Indeed, the glasses of the 17th and 18th century afford a fascinating insight into European history that is just as diverse as the methods employed by the various masters and the manner in which they were sponsored by their patrons.

The spectrum of high-face and deep-cut goblets, beakers and bowls extends from representative works for the princes with their exquisite tableware, to gifts for high-ranking personages and souvenirs as mementos of battles, hunts and festivities at the respective courts. Many significant events such as the Battle of Belgrade fought by Prince Eugene are depicted in masterly engraved goblets.      

The collection is rounded off by splendid glasses from Gottlob Mohn und Anton Kothgasser with their transparently painted views, which evoke the Biedermeier period and the Congress of Vienna with its aim of establishing a new order in Europe. 

In the spas of Bohemia the aristocracy and the affluent bourgeoisie were not only able to recuperate, but also have their portraits engraved by outstanding master craftsmen such as Dominik Biemann. The imperial family and numerous members of the nobility also numbered among his clientele, as well as wealthy families with children.   

The glasses on display form a representative cross-section through all of these eras, their special features, stories and the idiosyncratic personalities of the various masters of the art of glass, as well as the various techniques involved. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue. 

Portrait miniatures from 1590 to 1890
curated by Dr. Bodo Hofstetter

As the name suggests, portrait miniatures are hand-painted likenesses of the smallest and very smallest size with heights ranging from less than a centimetre to around fifteen to twenty centimetres and occasionally even larger.

From the middle of the 16th century to the time of the discovery and spread of photography in the mid-19th century, they fulfilled the task of providing the most life-like facsimile of a loved one that could be worn, or furnishing an impression of the appearance of a person that one did not know, but with whom one was to become acquainted (if the countenance in the picture rendered this prospect appealing). Therefore, well into the 19th century and long before the arrival of Internet dating, in what were generally arranged marriages prior to which the bride and groom had frequently never met, the exchange of portrait miniatures was the only possibility to assess the extent to which the couple found one another attractive.    

During the separation of people sharing a close relationship, above all pairs and family members, portrait miniatures served as a stand-in for the absent person rather like the wallet photo continues to do today. Therefore, miniatures played a significant role in times of crisis and warfare.   

Accordingly, it is striking that the Liaunig collection of miniatures contains an especially large number of likenesses from the politically turbulent times of the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell in the mid-17th century, as well as numerous portraits from the years of the French revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars between 1790 and 1815. 

Europe’s rulers also liked to distribute valuable (advertising) gifts, frequently in the form of orders encrusted with diamonds or precious, gold snuffboxes, which were decorated with a tiny portrait of the potentate. Naturally enough, the recipients quickly turned the gold and gems into cash at the nearest jewellers, but nonetheless retained the miniature, which although materially worthless, was a souvenir. 

Royal countenances are well represented in the Liaunig collection, not only through portraits of the Habsburgs, Empress Maria Theresia, her husband and daughters Maria Anna and Marie-Antoinette, as well as Empress Elizabeth, but also their political opponents such as King Friedrich II of Prussia and Emperor Napoleon of France.

Many of the French Bourbons are also present with numerous miniscule portrayals of Louis XV and his successors, right up to the last French king, Louis-Philippe from the House of Bourbon-Orleans.     

While the ordinary soldier who went off to war was generally unable to afford an expensive, first class portraitist to paint his picture for presentation to his loved one(s) as a final likeness, the ruling classes and the bourgeoisie had the financial means to be able to pose for the best painters of their time.

For example, Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767-1855) was not only a star in his French homeland. He worked initially as a court painter for Emperor Napoleon, but thanks to his flattering brushstrokes also remained popular with the emperor’s political foes and successors. He travelled to the Congress of Vienna and painted every one of rank and reputation. His portrait of the grand-duchess Maria Pawlowna, the sister of Emperor Alexander I, which was painted in Vienna in 1815 and is part of the Liaunig collection, can currently be admired in the Vienna Congress exhibition in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, where it is on loan until the end of June. However, Isabey’s likeness of Emperor Napoleon painted five years earlier in Paris is on display at the Museum Liaunig.

The leading miniature painter of the Viennese Biedermeier period was undoubtedly Moritz Michael Daffinger (1790–1849) and his most famous self-portrait is one of the treasures of the Liaunig collection. Until 1921 this picture was in the possession of the Daffinger family’s antecedents and then in the collection of the infamous financier Camillo Castiglioni (1879–1957). This Daffinger “selfie” is familiar to all Austrians of the pre-euro generation, as a copperplate engraving of the miniature served as the basis for the design of the last 20-schilling banknote.    

Of the almost 300 miniatures in the Liaunig collection (tendency upward), a representative selection of 100 items painted in Europe between 1590 and 1900 is shown in this exhibition and these are documented scientifically in a catalogue with over 400 pages. In three years at the latest, another 100 portraits from the collection will replace the current choices. This is partly due to the fact that miniatures are painted largely using light-sensitive watercolours and therefore are only displayed publically at a handful of museums. Interested persons are generally only permitted to see individual pieces upon request in the study rooms, as is the case in the Louvre and the Albertina in Vienna. Therefore, the Museum Liaunig is one of the few institutions in the world and the only one in Austria, in which such large numbers of significant miniatures are accessible to the public. An achievement made possible by the very latest museum technology.   

Akan Gold 

This artistically and ethnologically unique collection of African gold, which can be viewed in an underground, purpose-built annex and during past years has already delighted the museum’s visitors, is seen as a counterpoint to the displays of contemporary art. This year, the attractively designed Akan Gold permanent exhibition will again be on display in the dark-blue, cuboid room with its spotlighted showcase landscape and accessible treasure chamber.   

The gold objects, which convince with their formal richness and expressiveness, represent important historical and artistic artefacts from various tribes of the Akan ethnic group, which lives in West Africa in the regions comprised by the southern half of Ghana and south-eastern Côte d’Ivoire. In the main, the roughly 600 items of jewellery and cult objects, which derive largely from the royal households of the Ashanti, Baule and Fante, date from the 19th and 20th centuries although some individual pieces are far older. However, whatever their age, in view of the geometry of their basic forms and elementary figurativeness, the pieces on show offer numerous possibilities for enlightening comparisons with the modern.   

The exhibits in the Liaunig collection, which include examples of all the most important types of Akan artefacts, display both outstanding aesthetic quality and a very high degree of craftsmanship, as demonstrated by the extremely fine and delicate waxed thread technique pieces. They provide an insight into the art and culture of the individual courts of the Akan and form one of the world’s largest and most significant collections of this type. Collections of comparable dimensions are only found in the British Museum in London, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and the Gold of Africa Museum in Cape Town.

The Akan Gold collection was documented scientifically by Doran H. Ross und Georg Eisner in the catalogue of the same name published in 2008.

Museum Liaunig about to reopen

Vienna/Neuhaus, April 22, 2015

The Museum Liaunig possesses one of the most extensive collections
of contemporary Austrian art since 1945, which is supplemented by leading representatives of classic modernism and exemplary works from international artists. In the reopening year following enlargement, five exhibitions await the visitor. Under the title "WIRKLICHKEITEN" (REALITIES) works from Wolfgang Herzig, Martha Jungwirth, Kurt Kocherscheidt, Peter Pongratz, Franz Ringel and Robert Zeppel-Sperl will be on display along with a one-man show by the Irish artist Sean Scully. In addition, the historic collections of decorated glass, portrait miniatures and the Gold of the Akan provide a conscious contrast programme to the presentations of contemporary art.

The refined museum building, which as if predestined by nature has been placed in the southern Carinthian landscape above the River Drau by the Viennese architectural team "querkraft", forms an appropriate architectonic and museological framework for the collections of the industrialist Herbert W. Liaunig. After a year of extension work, the private museum in Neuhaus/Suha, which has already been awarded the Austrian Museums Prize and the status of a protected building, is now about to reopen.

The original architectural concept, comprised of four striking structural elements has now been supplemented by a triangular room for special exhibitions with an adjacent atrium that in 2015 will be dedicated to Sean Scully's abstract paintings, as well as two underground presentation rooms and additional depot space.

From the main gallery, one enters an underground annex, wich contains an artistically and ethnologically unique collection of African gold objects from the 19th and 20th centuries. Behind this room for the presentation of the "Akan Gold", which was part of the original museum, new spaces have been added in which the collections of decorated glasses and portrait miniatures from the 16th to the 19th century are housed in a generous display case landscape.

Following the reconstruction work, a new artistic intervention has been integrated into the architecture from "querkraft", which has won numerous awards and is characterised by fair-faced concrete, steel and glass. As a counterpoint to Brigitte Konwanz's light installation in the exit area of the underground cube housing the gold collection, Esther Stocker has designed the corridor leading to the glass and portrait miniature exhibitions. Via this connecting passage visitors can also enter the impressive, circular sculpture depot, which is now accessible for the first time. A shop in the foyer als augments the museum's facilities.

The enlargement of the museum has also been accompanied by a change in its opening hours. It can now be viewed without a prior agreed appointment from Wednesday to Sunday between 10.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m. Guided tours through the contemporary exhibits will be available at 11.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. These are included in the price of admission, but participation is not obligatory. Children aged 12 and over are also most welcome.

Museum Liaunig: April 26th to October 31st 2015
Wednesday -Sunday  from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Guided tours at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. respectively
9155 Neuhaus/Suha 41, Austria, +43 (0)4356 21115  

Queries & contact
Elisabeth Wassertheurer
Museum Liaunig
9155 Neuhaus 41
+43 4356 211 15-15