Never again war and yet there was art

Minister for Culture Ostermayer opens exhibition at the Leopold Museum

Vienna - "Never again war!" Dr. Elisabeth Leopold’s passionate plea was met with enthusiastic agreement among the visitors to the opening of the exhibition "AND YET THERE WAS ART!". The Federal Minister for Arts, Culture, Constitution and Public ServiceDr. Josef Ostermayer attended the opening and delivered a short speech on this exhibition dedicated to the fate of Austrian artists during World War I.

Commemorating this "sad 100-year anniversary", Ostermayer spoke of the different experiences suffered by artists and indeed by all people during the course of the War. The energy summoned at the beginning of the conflict and the surging nationalism were soon followed by disillusionment, by a difficult time full of anger and confusion, by the "disappointment of war" as Sigmund Freud put it in 1915. The minister quoted one of the most eminent opponents of the War, Stefan Zweig, who was convinced that "no event has ever destroyed so muchthat ispreciousin thecommon possessionsofhumanity,confused so manyof theclearest intelligences". Ostermayer reminded audiences of the "importance of a peaceful relationship between people and states".

As pointed out by LeopoldMuseum Director Franz Smola, the exhibition at the Leopold Museum is one of many examples of art presentations during this commemorative year 2014, another of them being the recent exhibition "The Avant-Gardes at War" at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn. Uwe M. Schneede, the curator of the Bonn exhibition, contributed an important essay to the catalogue accompanying the Leopold Museum’s presentation “AND YET THERE WAS ART!“. Smola explained that while the close international ties between artists came to an abrupt end in 1914, eminent art continued to be created regardless. He said that it was thanks to the genius collector Prof. Rudolf Leopold that the museum had been able to draw on almost unlimited resources for this exhibition. He concluded that it was a priority to link the Leopold Collection II more closely to the museum in the future, for the Leopold family’s private collection provided a wealth of outstanding loans for the museum’s exhibitions.

Referring to Alexander Demandt’s “Undone History”, the exhibition curator Ivan Ristic posed the compelling question "what if?". What if Serbia had not been issued an ultimatum, what if the Serbian nationalists had merely pelted Franz Ferdinand with tomatoes, what if a reformed Danube Monarchy had continued to exist? He called all these questions of what might have been a part of life. He quoted Nietzsche, who spoke of “smooth ice” as a "paradisefor those who dance with expertise", and extended his special thanks to the international contemporary artists who enriched the exhibition. The curator Stefan Kutzenberger stated that the hundreds of guests in attendance proved that "the work was not done in vain". He felt that the presentation had turned out wonderfully and that this was by no means self-praise, as such a project was always the result of the concerted efforts of innumerable hands and heads. He compared the artists who kept working undeterred during the War with the tragic hero Don Quixote, who continued to travel the country as an errant knight at a time when there were no longer any knights except him. Some artists continued to further their careers during World War I. Schiele, an original genius in the Romantic sense, tried ceaselessly to organize exhibitions and to promote his own works.

In keeping with her opening plea "never again war", Elisabeth Leopold called the presentation a firm anti-war exhibition. She said that Albin Egger-Lienz encapsulated the suffering, the carnage, the blind, the deaf, the cripples and the millions of dead as a result of a merciless war in his epochal work “Finale”. She called his fields of corpses allegories of this unspeakable tragedy. AND YET THERE WAR ART! despite all the horrors of the War – the maxim of the exhibition at the Leopold Museum.

The Federal Minister Dr. Josef Ostermayer was accompanied by Dr. Florian Schulz and Dr. Sirikit Amann, advisors for arts and culture, as well as Matthias Euler Rolle, the minister’s press spokesman. Also in attendance were the head of the arts division and the culture divisionDr. Michael Franz, MQ director Dr. Christian Strasser, as well as the director of the KHM Dr. Sabine Haag.

The hosts, Leopold Museum Managing Director Mag. Peter Weinhäupl, the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Leopold Museum Dr. Helmut Moser and the members of the Board of Directors of the Leopold Museum Dr. Diethard Leopold, Dr. Andreas Nödl and AK director Mag. Werner Muhm, entered into animated conversations with the exhibition’s contemporary artists Paola De Pietri, Veronika Dreier, Raluca Popa, Franz Kapfer, Dmitri Gutov, Marko Lulic and Rasa Todosijevic as well as with guests and fellow artists Prof. Florentina Pakosta, Linde Waber and Gerda Leopold. Among the visitors were two contributors to the exhibition’s catalogue, Dr. Carl Kraus and MMag. Stephan Pumberger. Leonore Boeckl, the collector Toyoko Hattori, the publisher Niki Brandstätter, the restorer Mag. Manfred Siems and many others were also spotted among the crowd.

Wonderful musical accompaniment was provided by the Hathor Quintett, made up of Stephanie Ko, Valerie Leopold, Ekaterina Timofeeva, Huan Lin and Noemi Cavallo, who performed the 3rd movement from Dmitri Shostakovich’s piano quintet in G minor with great virtuosity.

Following the opening, Director Weinhäupl invited honored guests to the Palais Strudlhof, once the villa of Count Berchtold, who wrote the ultimatum to Serbia in the salon still boasting its original paneling. Mag. Thomas Just, the director of the Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, delivered an introductory speech on the historical significance of this venue. Guests included Dr. Benedikt Spiegelfeld, the architect Markus Spiegelfeld, the families Huber and Zimpel, descendants of Gustav Klimt, as well as the exhibition’s architect Arnold Pastl (archiguards).

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