Alfred Kornberger
(Vienna 1933 – 2002 Vienna)

Alfred Kornberger was born in Vienna on 3rd of July 1933. He descended from a bourgeois suburban working class environment.
The artistic talent of Alfred Kornberger was already evident in his exceptional performance at the school. Kornberger himself recollected how his artistic interest was first awakened by a classmate when he was twelve years old. However, without a high school finishing diploma and given the limited financial resources, it was impossible to think of entering the Art Academy. It was obvious therefore that Kornberger had to first take on an apprenticeship and he learned the trade of a lithographer.

Youth and years of study

Starting with the age of sixteen, Alfred Kornberger attended courses at the Artistic Adult Education School of the City of Vienna under the directorship of Gerda Matejka-Felden. His talent was noticed and in 1951 the works of the then seventeen-year-old were shown in a group exhibition of the students of the Artistic Adult Education School at the Vienna Messepalast. In addition to works by Kornberger, landscape works by Otto Muehl were also displayed, who rose to great prominence ten years later after founding the Viennese Actionism. In a journal article an unknown critic supported these »worker artists« who despite their great talent could not attend the Academy because of their professional activities.

In 1952 Kornberger was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in the master class of Robin Christian Andersen and he did his examen in 1956. From 1955 on the first exhibitions follow, including the first single-show at the Austrian State Printing Company in Vienna, 1956. In 1957 Kornberger applied for a scholarship awarded by UNESCO for a one year stay in Bangkok, the capital of formerly Siam, now Thailand. The scholarship was thought for artists whole over Europe and unexpectedly the scholarship was given to Kornberger. The high costs for travelling which were not included in the scholarship were shared by the president of the Culture Association, Manfred Mautner-Markhof and by the City Councilman of Vienna, Viktor Matejka.

After his return, the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna devoted 1958 an extra exhibition of Kornberger's works from Siam and the show was accompanied by a big catalogue which was rather extensive for those times. In this catalogue all the exhibited works with twelve oil paintings and forty-four works on paper in a variety of techniques were listed. The exhibition poster was designed by Kornberger himself, as well as many more posters of other Kornberger-exhibitions where the talent of the artist in graphics and lithographics came in handy.

The 60s with the first international exhibitions

Soon after his return from Thailand, Kornberger moved into his own studio with a very large studio room in Vienna, on Währinger Straße 91, in the district of Währing. The artist spent as much time as possible in this studio and kept the socializing with colleagues, gallery owners and museum curators outside of his studio to a minimum. In that time Kornberger only occasionally participate in group exhibitions and opportunities for solo exhibitions were quite rare in any case. In 1959 follows the first international solo exhibition in Stockholm where the Sturegalleriet from November to December exhibited paintings and paperworks. The next solo-show was held by the Graphic Cabinet of the Yugoslavian Academy in September 1963 with the titel „Alfred Kornberger. Paintings and Drawings“.

In June 1964 follows then again the Austrian State Printing Company, which organized another Kornberger exhibition in their showrooms in Vienna Wollzeile with the title „Alfred Kornberger. Oil Paintings 1958-63“. One year later in 1965, the Galerie Kontakt in Linz presented the exhibition „Alfred Kornberger. Oil Paintings“.

1967 Alfred Kornberger took part in an exhibition at the Kunsthaus Krems. On this occasion he showed for the first time his „machine-like construction“, which he considered inferior to human feelings. According to an article in the Journal of Accident Prevention in 1967, Kornberger encountered the thematic of the machines and technique through his work on graphical commissions from the company Accident Prevention Services. In an extensive solo exhibition, which the Kulturhaus Graz dedicated in August 1969 to the works of Alfred Kornberger, the machine images were also the focal point of the exhibition.

The 70s with the birth of son Christian Kornberger and with the new studio

In 1971, Kornberger's son Christian was born. Only two months after the birth of the child the family moved into a new apartment in Vienna on Aumannplatz Währing, Währinger Straße 162, where the new apartment was comfortably within the walking distance of the studio. The former studio apartment now was used exclusively for work. The separation of the living and working areas, allowed an intensified professional work with nude models. From this moment on Kornberger worked more intensely with female nude models, which were to occupy the dominant position in the subsequently mature works of the artist.

From November to December 1971 the Galerie Wittmann in Vienna's 13th district, presented an exhibition of the recent works of Alfred Kornberger. In 1973 the City of Vienna presented the competition „Man and the city“. 118 artists participated in this contest, including Alfred Kornberger. The winner of the competition was Karl Anton Fleck. The results of the contest were presented in the Festwochenausstellung from May to August in the Vienna Künstlerhaus. In June 1974, Alfred Kornberger for the first time had an exhibition at the Zentralsparkasse and Kommerzbank of the City of Vienna at the branch office in Gersthof near his studio. 

In 1975 Kornberger premiered at the Bezirksmuseum Währing in Vienna. Like the Zentralsparkasse this institution would also play an important role for Kornberger in the coming years. The artist increasingly turned to a limited local interest group that developed in the immediate vicinity of his studio. The artist attached great importance to good relations with local authorities, with the district council and, occasionally also the representatives of the city authorities. In spring of 1976 he started international exhibitions again, this time in Germany. Galerie Hoss from Stuttgart showed the exhibition „Nude today“ where only female nudes were presented.

In October 1977 follows the first exhibition of Kornbergers Landscapes with the titel „Back from vacation - drawings and paintings from the Waldviertel“ at the Districtmuseum Vienna-Währing. Since 1974, Kornberger and his family had been going regularly to the Waldviertel in Lower Austria, where he stayed in the area of Ottenschlag and Traunstein near relatives of his grandmother. The encounters with the barren landscape, the wide open fields and the endless horizon, which he visited during different seasons, inspired Kornberger to motifs that had until then hardly played a role in his work. In numerous pencil and crayon drawings Kornberger captured the topography of the landscape, their lonely farmsteads, deserted villages and sparse groups of trees.

The studio becomes the center for living and working

The concentration on the nude models from the beginning of the 70s went hand in hand with a stronger entrenchment in his studio. According to this, Nevenka Kornberger describes her husband as a man who did not want to be alone. He preferred to be surrounded by as many models, students and friends as possible. Kornberger preferred to have the public in his studio and held court in the studio at the same time. It was again and again the setting for cultural events such as like poetry readings and exhibitions, but also for large-scale artists' gatherings, in which art lovers, potential buyers, interior and local politicians were also present.

Alfred Kornberger regarded his studio increasingly as a public area, to which each and every interested person had access. From about 1980 Kornberger started to offer painting and drawing classes for beginners and advanced students that were available for a small course fee. The courses were made known primarily through advertisements in local media, such as the Bezirksjournal Währing or through the announcement of each new course program during the opening of exhibitions. For the beginners of his courses Kornberger set almost no requirements. The joy for creativity was the decisive factor which had to be encouraged. 

In his course programs Kornberger called for the bringing to life of the artistic forces without being intimidated by rules and norms, „Drawing and painting in the studio: I am convinced that many people feel the need to be creatively active- to live out life artistically - to experience themselves - to communicate. That is why, I appeal to all those who would like to draw and eventually paint, or have already been drawing or painting, have tried to communicate artistically, have tried to transform their impressions, be it line or color, who lost the courage and put aside the pencil and the, who had never taken up the tools before because they told themselves, I could never do it.“

Kornberger on: „I turn to all these art friends to help them to truly realize their artistic will. I want to teach them to see and to transform what is ›seen‹ into lines, surfaces and colors. The artistic program extends from the exact drawing up to free improvisation and work with colors, to finding and creating one's own personal expression. The courses are built on this principle and therefore appropriate for any willing person. I hope that one of these he course would also be of interest to you, and I would be glad to welcome you into my studio.“ Prof. Mag. Art. Alfred Kornberger.

The courses for beginners and the advanced students were apparently no great burden on the artist. They appeared rather to be an opportunity for him to work in a circle of informally formed group. The work in front of the models stood mostly at the center of his classes. Hence, the drawing techniques dominated the courses. Together with his students Kornberger produced drawings of the models one after another. During the sessions with model Kornberger sometimes worked obsessively under great time pressure to capture the subject in all its facets in rapid succession. In the fall of 1989 a branch of the Zentralsparkasse Vienna, Währing, presented the exhibition „Alfred Kornberger and his students“. On display were works by participants of the private courses in the studio Kornberger.

The intensive 80s with the Professur, many exhibitions and the first Monograph

Alfred Kornberger had been a member of the Association of Visual Artists of Vienna since 1979. This membership of the Artisthouse Vienna provided him with additional exhibition opportunities, which he used occasionally, but by no means regularly. In 1980 and 1983 he participated in Kinogalerie at Vienna Artisthouse with a solo exhibition of his latest works. In 1984 Kornberger was represented with some paintings in the exhibition „Visual art from Austria. Paintings - Graphics - Plastic. 36 artists from Austria“ which offered an overview of the current work of the members of the Künstlerhaus. The exhibition was first shown in Munich, before it was seen in the exhibition center in the Berlin TV tower. 

In 1985 Alfred Kornberger was awarded title of professional title of Professor. While Kornberger was rather scarcely present in the established art scene, he was always enthusiastic about unusual and surprising ideas for exhibitions. Through his close contacts with the local Party leaders of the district Währing, he came up with the idea to show pictures in the Währinger Park on the occasion of the swearing of soldiers of the Armed Forces on 26, October 1986. The show took place in a tent of the Armed Forces. The theme of this for only two days schedule exhibition was cycle „Thoughts against power (war)“. At the beginning of 1987 Kornberger showed this series again under the title „Alfred Kornberger. Paintings for peace, against the war“ in the Viennese Galerie im Tunnel.

Overall, the second half of the 1980s was marked by unusually intensive exhibition activities of Kornberger that took place in galleries and institutions with different formats and was sometimes accompanied by prominent figures from politics and culture. In the summer of 1986 Kornberger took part in the Wandspielwochen of the City of Vienna. Twenty-seven artists were invited to present large-scale works in public spaces. Kornberger's contribution was a billboard with a largely non-representational depiction, which made use of graphical shortcuts from the graffiti art.

In October of the same year Kornberger showed his latest works under the title of „Alfred Kornberger. The Allegorical, Painting, Graphic, Plastics“ at the Viennese Gallery Flutlicht. On 13 November 1986 follows at the Raiffeisenbank Vienna-Währing the exhibition „Alfred Kornberger. Big world in miniature“ which was inaugurated by the former President and Federal Minister for Science and Art, Heinz Fischer. The personal presence of the Minister undoubtedly meant a high honor for the artist.

At the beginning of 1987 Kornberger showed the graphic cycle „Venice“ in the United Art Gallery in Vienna which was developed during a stay in Venice 1986. The Vienna city motifs and themes from the Waldviertel area equally stood at the focal point of artist's interest in exclusively topographical scenes, depictions of people were not intentional. This cycle documents the constant eagerness to work, which Kornberger displayed during his travel stays. However, Kornberger hardly travelled abroad later, he preferred to stay in his studio or in his familiar rural stations in the Waldviertel and the Burgenland. Venice 1986 was the last longer stay from the artist in a foreign country.

Apart from these topographical views, the theme of the female nude was also to remain the focus of Kornberger's exhibition activities in the future. Twice in 1998 Kornberger presented works in the Galerie Maringer, in St. Pölten, under the title „Alfred Kornberger: Erotic Art. Oil paintings, watercolors“. One of the highlights exhibitions up to that time by Alfred Kornberger was a solo exhibition at the Hausgalerie in Künstlerhaus Vienna in spring 1989 under the title „Alfred Kornberger. Images“. Dieter Schrage, curator of Contemporary Art at the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna, and longtime friend of the painter, gave the opening speech. For the duration of the exhibition, Kornberger posted a huge transparent on the facade of the Künstlerhaus with oversized depiction of his painting „Four (female) Striptease-Dancers“ from 1984.

In the course of this exhibition Kornberger became once again aware of the lack of a comprehensive publication about his work. Therefore, he decided to produce the book „Alfred Kornberger. Images and graphics from the years 1974-1990“ which appeared in 1991 published by the artist himself. This book was the first monograph of the artist's work. On 238 pages 220 works were illustrated that the artist had selected mostly out of works from the late 1980s. Contributing authors for the book were Dieter Schrage and Karl Benkovič. As a trained graphic artist, Kornberger put greatest value in this publication on the optimal reproduction of his paintings.

The late years with experimentation, illness, work, illness, work and dead

In the following years Kornberger's exhibition activities decreased significantly. There followed only minor presentations in the private sphere, such as doctors' offices or business branches. In 1993 Kornberger was represented in the exhibition „The Viennese Künstlerhaus in Schrems. Painting“ in Schrems, at the Kunstforum Waldviertel in the IDEA Design Center.

In 1995 Kornberger exhibited paintings and decorating objects in the Jewel Studio of Irene and Martin Bogyi in Vienna-Währing. In the course of his repeated involvement with sculpture, Kornberger also encountered the object acting as jewelry miniature sculpture. He designed brooches with tiny plastic depictions of female nudes in gold, which were framed with a thin gold wire. These objects were an expression for the ingenuity the artist and his joy with experimentation, which was also reflected in other original works. Thus Kornberger created painted and glazed clay sculptures of about one meter in height, corpulent female figures representing beach costumes. Furthermore, there are many porcelain plates painted by the artist that show also nude sculptures.

Despite the preference for the traditional oil painting, Alfred Kornberger also showed himself open to new media in his later years. Therefore, the skilled lithographer became especially interested in what new possibilities were opened up by the computer age for a graphic artist and painter. Despite his mature years he was not afraid to learn and work with the complicated graphic programs of the first computer generation. The result was a series of over fifty colored computer graphics that Kornberger in autumn of 1996. In these prints, the artist modified the already familiar motifs, where the curved line of the computer graphic programs replaced by the broad brush strokes of the painter. On the other, Kornberger created entirely new motifs, which are completely non-representational and depict curvy-linear shape formations.

From the mid of the 90s Alfred Kornberger suffered from a serious illness. Trigger for this was among other things, his unhealthy lifestyle, his eagerness to work which led to his bodily exhaustion, and many sleepless nights, which were numbed by alcohol and nicotine. He repeatedly got dizzy spells and had to be hospitalized. Vienna's Wilhelminenspital became his regular shelter. There he fell into a coma-like state after painful attaches and from which usually awoke only days after. These agonies were always accompanied by gloomy premonitions and visions of death. As early as 1997 Kornberger noted on a sheet; „Death is the crowning of life. It is not appropriate to laugh about death or be afraid of it. Death is the most essential part of creation, because only with it can new life develop prepare for marriage with it.“

His wife Nevenka was by his side all through these difficult times. Since Kornberger mostly spent the night in his studio, it was specially a challenge for her to organize help for her husband in the case of a renewed collapse. As strong as was the pain that accompanied the recurrent seizures the artist never complained about it. Alfred Kornberger did let up. As soon as he had recovered somewhat, he plunged anew into the work and forgot all about the frailty of his body. In 1999, he underwent a successful eye operation.

In the last years he had more and more fainting spells. In-between, the healthy periods became shorter. His wife nursed him and tried to make life as bearable as possible for him. He did not experience the last attack in full consciousness. And yet his fully outstretched arm made a large circular motion. „He painted his last picture!“ recalled his wife. On 31, March 2002, Alfred Kornberger died at the age of 69 in Vienna. On a small, undated piece of paper Kornberger had drawn with black felt pen to a death skeleton and next to it scribbled, „I await you. You are more honest than the living.“

The revival of the artistic work and the catalog with the directory of the oil paintings, the first museal retrospective and the electronical directory

After the death of Alfred Kornberger it takes until 2004, before his work is again presented to the public. On the mediation of the artist's colleague Karl Benkovič, the widow of the artist Nevenka ("Nena") Kornberger turns to the art dealer Gerald Ziwna and shows him the work. Ziwna is fascinated, purchases several works on the first visit, and organizes a solo exhibition in his gallery in the Vienna Palais Harrach. The exhibition is a great success, one of the visitors is the collector and museum owner Rudolf Leopold, who sees Kornberger's craftsmanship and his obsession to the femal nudes at the same level with Egon Schiele. Leopold buys a lot of works for the museum and promises an own show for Alfred Kornberger at the Leopold Museum.

Ziwna decides to produce the directory the of oil paintings. For the scientific support he engages the curator and art scientist Franz Smola and in 2007 the complete list of works with illustrations of 1,300 oil works and a total of 454 pages are published in the Brandstätter Verlag in Vienna. Within a single exhibition with selected oil paintings, the new directory is presented at the Vienna International Artfair at the Vienna Artist-House in 2008. One of the visitors ist the collector and galerist Christian Czaak, who buys directly at the artfair the picture „The Cry II“, without knowing the artist (and Ziwna) and a few days later three more oil-paintings – and from that moment on is also infected by the „Kornberger-Virus“.

Together with the Kornberger-Family 2013 Czaak initiates the first large museal retrospective at the Vienna Artist-House „The Spectrum from the Universum“ and produces also the catalog together with his wife Michaela. In 2013 the publishing of the electronic directory follows by the gallery Ziwna. 2014 the first retrospective publication of the graphic works „The mirror of times“ is published at the edition of the gallery Czaak. In 2016 starts the scientfic processing of the graphic work and the paper-works and the founding of the Alfred Kornberger Foundation.