An era of work and (artistic) creativity
intrinsic to the Sculptors’ House,
the home of the ‘Symposium of European Sculptors’,
is coming to an end!
KARL PRANTL (1923-2010), the doyen of abstract sculptureand founder of the globally renowned symposium concept of St. Margarethen, whose exemplary ‘Sculptors’ House’, the home of the association, is under threat.
In August, the ‘Symposium of European Sculptors’ (SEB) was deprived of its home – the exemplary Sculptors’ House on the hilltop in St. Margarethen in Burgenland. An eviction notice brought by the Esterhazy Holding (under its General Director Dr. Stefan Ottrubay), which required that the ‘property’ should be immediately handed over to Esterhazy, the landowner, was confirmed by the OGH, Austria’s Supreme Court.
The judgement exclusively addressed the Sculptors’ House as a rental object and ignored the real substance – the unique symbiosis of art, architecture and the natural environment. Embedded in the complex sculptural oeuvre that graces the hilltop in St. Margarethen, which was created in several phases after 1959 and gave rise to an ongoing, international movement, the Sculptors’ House is a place of communication and a ‘think tank’ whose impact continues to be felt far beyond the confines of St. Margarethen.
The issue at the heart of the court proceedings was the recurring problem of how to deal with the reciprocal rights and, hence, the right to have a say, of the diverse owners of listed objects. The courts failed to take advantage of the opportunity to draw up a general rule that could be applied to this right to have a say and left it to the owners to resolve the demoralising daily disputes about who is responsible for what and who has to agree to which measures involving the object that they jointly own, in this case a protected art ensemble. The urgent need for a ruling in such matters is demonstrated by not only the stone sculptures of St. Margarethen.
In the constant conflict between economic and artistic interests it is probably assumed that the association, with its exclusive commitment to artistic ideals, will eventually run out of steam in the face of the economic power of the Esterhazy Foundation. Have we in Austria, in line with the general trend, also now arrived at a new crossroads at which “the rights of the more powerful are confirmed”?
Establishing this contentually demanding connection between ‘Social Sculpture & Nature’ (Joseph Beuys) would have been an extremely interesting legal challenge! But it appears, does it not, that this isn’t an issue in Austria? That non-profit is unceremoniously converted into profit in the interests of the landowner? That the contemplative home of an association is to be degraded to a foyer of ‘The New’? We are from the new Austria!
Such particularly challenging situations as this, in which freely-accessible artistic and natural environments have encouraged this synergy for decades in a wide variety of ways – supported by great public interest and public money – appear too complex to understand, even for an Austrian judicial system whose role is to defend the rule of law.
Now the stone sculptures, which still belong to the SEB, are ‘hovering’ in a ‘listed space’ and are increasingly being appropriated by the ‘Esterhazy Opera Empire’ in line with the demands of the market and with the new logo ‘PIEDRA’. The artists and creators of St. Margarethen would turn in their graves!
In an age of kitsch, profit and folksy patriotism, a process such as that which is currently taking place in St. Margarethen represents an irretrievable loss of autonomy in terms of both artistic creativity and communication. It lacks any sort of (art) historical factual justification and can only be described as a ‘hostile act’ of authorship that runs counter to the symposium concept.
Over the course of the past few years, a wide range of valuable symposia and events took place in the Sculptors’ House, triggering a wider debate on the ‘matter in hand’. These included the ‘International ChoreoLab Austria,’ the ‘Literaturraum im Bildhauerhaus’, cross-media workshops and conclaves organised by prominent universities in the areas of art and architecture, all of which found the location conducive to the generation of new ideas about communicating knowledge.
As Chairperson of the association the choreographer Sebastian Prantl (the son of the sculptor and founder) now faces the difficult task of countering the appropriation of the sculptures – in the form of a misplaced ‘museum-like optimisation’ – by a private holding with its own marketing interests. (The newly operating car park on the hillside does not bode well for the future.)
A total of 120 international artists created over 150 sculptures from the special calcareous sandstone in St. Margarethen in the years after 1959. Seen as a whole, this is an art historical work which is beyond comparison. Today, around 50 of the sculptures can still be found where they were created, distributed across the south-western slope of the hill.
- A superordinate and yet to be created ‘AUSTRIAN ART TRUST’ (together with an upgraded AUSTRIAN FEDERAL MONUMENTS OFFICE, IMAGE RIGHTS…. and the AUSTRIAN GALLERIES as partners and guarantors…) would provide a solution that could follow a discussion between equals.
- The Province of Burgenland and the Federal Government are urged to work with the SEB to ensure that this unique artistic and natural environment remains freely accessible to the public as part of the ‘Neusiedlersee UNESCO World Heritage Site’.
- The ‘European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018’ was proclaimed by the European Union (EU) as a year of awareness of European history and identity. Its objective is to highlight to society not only the role of cultural heritage but also the importance of preserving and protecting this and ensuring that it remains accessible. St. Margarethen would be a prime example of substantive art-historical and multi-generational reappraisal and sensitisation!
- Should not the quarry of St. Margarethen – as the ‘cradle’ of and material depot for Vienna – have long since been reserved as the exclusive source of stone for St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Ringstraße (in the same way that, for instance, Milan Cathedral also has its own quarry in order to guarantee any future restoration work)?
FRIEDERICKE MAYRÖCKER (Poet)
….. “there are countless examples of people being turned into stone. Thus, at midday, at certain hilly places in the region, a breeze is said to blow, whose breath immediately transforms entire herds to stone. The stones will scream” …..
(Aus einem Stein entsprungen: Aus einem Verwandtschaftshimmel: on Karl Prantl’s work in stone)
FRIEDRICH CERHA (Composer)
The ensemble of stones on the hilltop in St. Margarethen created under the aegis of the Symposium of European Sculptors, which was founded by my friend Karl Prantl in 1959, is the most conspicuous documentation of a movement for renewal in our cultural life that was established during this period on the initiative and under the responsibility of Austrian artists in every field (the founding of the ensemble “die reihe” in music and “Forum Stadtpark” in literary and intellectual matters) and that opened the door to international cultural circles.
The entire complex of stones in this natural setting exudes the collective formative will of its creators and, aside from the artistic value of the individual elements, represents a significant piece of Austrian cultural and contemporary history. Leaving these in their present form and allowing them to be experienced in a way that does justice to their spirit appears to me to be the inescapable duty of those responsible for conservation in Austria.
HANA SEIFERTOVA (Art History, PhD)
The brilliant idea of Karl Prantl – the founder of the international sculptors’ symposia – of creating a fitting artistic and natural environment at the hill site in St. Margarethen is unique. A location, with a powerful spiritual past, that engendered continuous development and annual gatherings of artists from every corner of the globe – Europe, America, Asia… The sculptors came as young people in search of essential artistic input that fundamentally influenced their future work. Many of them are now well-known artists. The idea of the sculptors’ symposium caught on around the world and, in keeping with Prantl’s example, led to a global, artistic network of symposia that has continued growing, internationally, to this day and lives on at many levels.
Sebastian Prantl, the current Chairperson in St. Margarethen takes care of artistic matters on the ground and enjoys both my wholehearted trust and complete authority regarding the sculptures of SEB – as has been repeatedly agreed internally by the association.
This applies specifically to the sculpture by my husband, the Czech sculptor Jiří Seifert, ‘Bell tower for Jan Palach’ from 1969.
The Sculptors’ House – minimalist and perfectly equipped to meet the elementary needs of the sculptor, organises the collective life of its occupants in an ideal way. A unique building, which fully corresponds with the symposium concept. This has given new, original substance to the selection of the Greek term ‘symposion’.
Does Austria possess any other globally important 20th-century monument? Is Austria home to a unique position from the 1960s – 1980s, which is being pursued today on an international scale and with enormous commitment by enthusiasts and experts from the field of art? Regarding such questions, Sebastian Prantl also has my complete trust and authority to act. He takes great care of the building, which he fills with challenging cultural activities. We should do all that we can to preserve this original artistic and natural monument and to ensure that it is used in a fitting manner, before it is too late.
MAKOTO FUJIWARA (Sculptor)
にある素材をもとに指導が始まった。1950年から60年にかけて ”非具象’’に公立校として非難が殺到した。側で見守るる教授には自由な空気があった。 外では学制改革の嵐が吹きまくっていた頃である。
( 画像添付 ）
その空気を浴びた五人の仲間たちがサンクトマルガレーテンの丘に集まった。青い空、広い丘の上には ich, Ich が個々を誇示している。シンポジウム10年の成果だがアトリエから出た作品展だ。空間を可視化する僕達の課題は違う。見えない大きな何かが見えてくる。
（ 画像添付 ）
‘Comercial greed’ does not only destroy the exemplary Land Art Position of ‘The Japanese Line’ but also diminishes the highly valuable stone material for Vienna’s St. Stephen Cathedral and other landmark position for the ‘Vienna Ringstrasse’! The Repubilc of Austria must act!
MARCEL Fišer(Art History, MA, PhD)
Director of the Gallery of Fine Art, Cheb – GAVU
Please allow me to give to you my opinion on the potential threat to the hill site area of St. Margarethen devoted to the International Sculptors’ Symposium. I am myself an art historian whose dissertation work focuses on the history of symposia in their first phase of development - from their inception in 1959 in St. Margarethen, up until the end of the 1960s. The symposia very quickly became a world-renown phenomenon – by the end of the 1960s, they spread to Europe, Asia and North America and to almost all the artistic disciplines and became important accompanying events for Olympic Games (Grenoble ’68, Mexico city ’68) and World Fairs (Osaka ’70).
In a nut shell, the idea of a symposium is one of the most important items which Austria brought to enrich world culture. The concept quickly spread to Czechoslovakia through sculptors who participated in the previous symposium in St. Margarethen. There, it was quite literally the symbol of political and cultural freedom in the years preceding 1968 – it was no accident that they were all forbidden in the years immediately following Soviet occupation, and revisited only after the revolution of 1989. With the phenomenon spreading throughout the world, St. Margarethen became legendary, a pilgrimage site for modern sculpture. It is with great trepidation that I see it being treated without the respect it deserves. The relevant authorities and the cultural public of Austria should understand just how much cultural value they are losing.
PAUL SCHNEIDER (Sculptor)
Chairperson of SEB, St. Margarethen from 1989 – 1993; Initiator of the ‘Symposion on the border Germany & France’ - Saarland
From the very founding of the Symposium in 1959 the invited sculptors followed certain rules and practices. If one was invited to the Symposium, whether as a result of a recommendation or on one’s own initiative (it was always highly unconventional), one undertook at the very start to leave the resulting sculpture in the place in which it was created. It now belonged to the Symposium organisation. In most cases the site of the location was determined by the artists, as was the material and the idea. These unwritten rules were respected by every participant. We always saw ourselves as a community and took many decisions together. Once created, a sculpture is inviolable and may not be modified by outside organisations. That constitutes breach of copyright. Every work by a sculptor has an aura and is both a monument and a contemporary witness.
Given that innumerable sculptors’ symposia have emerged across the globe one can speak of a major artistic global movement. Many of the sculptors who belonged to this movement pursued this work with missionary zeal.
If one drives from Eisenstadt to St. Margarethen one can already see the hill site of Margarethen with its many “bright spots,” from far away. These are all stone sculptures from the quarry of St. Margarethen (calcareous sandstone). They were created over many years under the guidance of Karl Prantl. It is thanks to him that the hillside is not only famous but also very beautiful. It would be an outrage and a disgrace for Austria if this situation were to change as a result of material and touristic speculation!
SIMONE WILLE (Art History, MA, PhD)
Project leader: Patterns of Trans-regional Trails. The materiality of art works and their place in the modern era. Bombay, Paris, Prague, Lahore, ca. 1920s to early 1950s. Funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF)
The core idea for launching the European Sculptor Symposium in St. Margarethen were the desire to establish connections, to work and reach across frontiers and to establish aesthetic and formal positions within the changing space of the postwar era.
Between 1959 and 1975/76 international sculptors gathered here almost every year for several weeks with a like-minded spirit to create work under circumstances that are free from the constraints of the studio space and national confinement. While St. Margarethen served as a precursor for global initiatives of the same kind it also nurtured and articulated a new artistic subjectivity in an attempt to propose a unique, off-center along with a transnational mode of artistic operation.
In the summer semester 2018 I was able to work with a group of master students from the faculty of art history, University of Innsbruck, on a selected number of sculptures in both St. Margarthen and Pöttsching/Mitterberg. With the help of the Prantl Family we were able to gather information and unravel some historic treasures. The European Sculptor Symposium is an unjustly neglected project that needs to be discussed from various angles not least for its transnational artistic connections and its desire for active involvement with the world. To preserve the entire complex in its natural setting is of significance, not only for the study of postwar history of Austria but more so it will be of significance for the study of transnational space connections and geographies in motion.
Werner Pokorny (Sculptor)
Professor of Art at the State Academy of Art and Design, Stuttgart
Chairman of the Künstlerbund Baden-Württemberg
SEB in Sankt Margarethen, a documentation for sculpture with reach far beyond Austria: Karl Prantl was not just one of the most important sculptors of his time, but also developed a very important form of artistic exchange and collaboration with his symposion concepts and their national and international realization.
Through his many close national and international contacts, Karl Prantl furthermore realized the meeting, exchange and collaboration of important artistic positions in Europe, America and Asia and is certainly one of the most important persons responsible for the new directions and strengthening of sculpture after 1945.
The location of the "Symposion Europäischer Bildhauer SEB in St. Margarethen" is the international center-point of this movement which was initiated by Karl Prantl and whose preservation is of utmost importance.
Zuzana Husárová(Researcher and author in literary studies, PhD)
Digital Literaure and Literary Performance Comenius University, Bratislava, Slovakia
The Sculptors’ House in Sankt Margarethen has been for over 50 years a place and a symbol of artistic practice that encourages not only artistic genius but also supports any kind of collaboration. Symposia held at this genius loci spread to the world and delivered a message for a necessity of such a location, where artists can work with nature and enrich the land we live in. This is a treasure not only for Austria but for the whole European community.
Sebastian Prantl followed his father´s footsteps, but enhanced the potential of this place to include performative, literary, musical and visual arts, so that it truly became a house of collaborative arts and an essential art think tank. I spent there a week with my students from the Institut für Sprachkunst, Universtität für Angewandte Kunst in Vienna, in an artistic, performative and literary cohabitation and collaboration with a legacy of the Sculptors’ House and a heritage of international statues.
An attack on the area as it stands now is not only an attack on the building and its artistic milieu itself, it is an attack on the whole European artistic community. The legacy of the Prantls’ achievements should, in a progress-loving, art-supporting, humanity-centred society, prevail in the hands of the Prantl family.