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Alfred Kornberger from the viewpoint of art critics

Alfred Kornberger's works were shown in over 130 national and international single- and group exhibitions. In this context many critiques and descriptions appeared in media publications and in catalogs. Below there is a chronological selection of texts, which critically describe Kornberger's handcraft and contentual painterly development.

Rupert Feuchtmüller, director of the Lower Austrian Landesmuseum and one of the main promoters of Alfred Kornberger, wrote in the catalogue for a exhibition at the the Graphic Cabinet of the Yugoslav Academy in 1963: „If we look at these ten years of creativity unfolded in this exhibition, then one can recognizes in the works a permanent internal movement and suspense: It is never the insecurity of a searching artist, but rather only the diversity of living forces, which he aspires to form and eventually to unite.“

The virulent message of the great old masters

The art historian Ernst Köller at the art journal „Old and new Arts“ in 1964: „Solid prowess between the extremes – in Kornbergers work a strong urge for adherence to the monumental is noticeable. One is reminded of the psychologically „defused“ pictures of the early Schiele, implying that Kornberger is quite within the tradition of the Viennese painting of the period before the First World War which he in turn develops further.“

Köller forward: „It would be wrong to count him in the company of innovators and revolutionaries. He is one of those temperaments that are willing to hear the message of the great old masters, to understand and make them virulent for themselves. As with all typical Austrian artists, Kornberger also held on to the primacy of the expressive content, form and style are never autonomous.“

And: „But what is in Picasso a riot, assault, painful strain to the utmost, transforms into the idyllic with Kornberger. The opposition becomes juxtaposition; the representations do not confront each other but are together. In its own way the image is an apotheosis of the unifying power of the arts.“

Manipulative Surrealism

1964 Peter Baum of the Upper Austrian News criticizes Kornberger's „tendency towards mainly great role models“ and in another text according to an exhibition at the Linzer gallery Contact, Baum’s collegue Herbert Lange writes 1965: „If he unconsciously as a kind of pictorial „animal voice imitator“, together with Cézanne, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, and a little sophisticated naivety, manipulates surrealism, he should have no need of it anymore from the day when his intellectual maturity definitely is matching his technical skills.“

For Lange, this is thus apparently a kind of transitional stage in the development process of the artist not having yet reached his maturity. „For the time being he is a kind mulus: for a child prodigy to experience and as master to make dependent.“

The proximity of action painting

Parallel to an large solo exhibition with Kornbergers „Machineimages“ at the Culturehouse Graz in 1969, Dietmar Polaczek from the Grazer New Time-Magacine writes: „He is taken with the machines, and indeed with their decorative vitality. Expressionism is once again eliminated, only the gay and progressively pounding pistons and joints meet the twitching fill the stretched surfaces. The movements are hereinafter more hectic, the script hardly appearing earlier, is liquefied, Kornberger moves in a somewhat surprising manner to the vicinity of Action painting.“

Beside of his critical distance Dietmar Polaczek acknowledges an individual creativity in the works of Kornberger, which stays clear of Epigonism: „Kornberger does not build on the foundations of the great predecessor further, he rather builds next to the building of modern art his own towers, which unintentionally has a lot of similar traits.“

About the same exhibition the critic of the Grazer Truth takes the same line with a touch of irony: „If the works of Van Gogh, Giorgio de Chirico, the painting publican Henri Rousseau, the Art Nouveau painters, the Pop and Op-artists one day will be destroyed and the vast Oeuvre of Kornberger survive, no one would need to concern themselves with the art history of these years: Kornberger has painted it all, his images span the most important directions in a large arc.“

From the beginning 70s, Movement becomes a topic

According to an exhibition at the Galerie Wittmann in Vienna 1971, describes the artcritique Alfred Muschik in the Vienna Kurier: „The starting point was an image on a nice brown and red background which depicted a dancing man in harlequin dress. From this picture Kornberger operated the motive of the movement and modified it many times, first in wave-like forms meandering, multi-colored ribbons, then the outlines of figures that display in turn segmentations in a moving-schematic manner. The development went from a mess of colors and shapes to greater clarity.“

Harald Sterck of the Workers Newspaper also describes the undulating contours of reduced figures and sees in them the danger of stereotyping: „The problematic of such a procedure, which he shares with many of his contemporaries, is obvious: Once the repertoire has been developed and tried out, there threatens Schematism.“

Alfred Kornberger himself writes about the motivation for this new phase of work: „I try now to transfer the movement to the people themselves. Above all, it is the dancing, rhythmically moving person I try to capture formally.“

From 1975 on Kornberger-Exhibitions follow regulary at the District Museum in Viennas District Währing and those shows are accompanied by articles written by the director of the District-Museum, Helmut Paul Fielhauer. He specially cherished the idiosyncratic personality of the artist who is not ready to subject himself to the rules of the art business or the art of self-dramatization: „Kornberger compensates for his refusal of the usual exhibitions with a tremendous activity in his studio, where professional nude models were almost always present, where he helds regular art courses for beginners and advanced art students and organizes a lot of artist gatherings and exhibitions.“

The Discovery of the female nude subjects

The separation of the living and working areas in the beginning of the 70s, allowes Kornberger an intensified professional work with nude models, which were to occupy the dominant position in the works of the artist. The artist notes this in the text for an exhibition at the Zentralsparkasse Vienna Währing: „The human is at the forefront of my artistic work. Intensive drawings of nude models [...] Starting with the elucidation of the human.“

1975 notes Helmut Paul Fielhauer within the framework of the exhibition in the Districtmuseum Währing: „Kornberger has found his way in recent years. Through the constructivist machine paintings he has arrived at the human standing behind these machines. This is still the machine-human, the modern human.machine. But increasingly it is the human in his daily life and the dissolved and beloved human who of course in dialectical contradiction has not lost anything of his often suddenly perceived lack of transparency.“

In an edition of the Districtjournal Währing 1977, Alfred Kornberger explained to the author Karl Prinz how he chose his subjects: „Especially light conditions make an unusual object suddenly very appealing. Suddenly you experience and discover it all at once.“ Kornberger further: „I cannot paint Still-Lives. I prefer to work on the subject of human. First I always draw a sketch. I always carry a „notepad“ in my jacket, the subject is often painted much later, it may take even years.“

The female nude as an anthropomorphic landscape

On the occasion of the exhibition „Back from vacation - drawings and paintings from the Waldviertel“, displayed at the Districtmuseum Währing 1977, the artist Karl Benkovič wrote an article entitled „Landscape-figure“, wherein he makes a direct comparison between the landscapes and female nudes of the artist.

In the nude the author discovered anthropomorphic landscapes, which are however far from being regarded as mere erotic objects: „Today it is easy to see the landscape as a huge reclining figure without further ado, and terms such as facial or body landscape, are not entirely foreign. Kornberger's female nude drawings that the artist has created in the recent years should also be considered from this point of view, where the almost manic obsession in working with only this picture type is striking.“ 

Benkovič further: „And it is precisely because of this that the overall view of the whole show is so important for this work, otherwise there would remain only the extremely annoying repetitions of the strained (erotic) pictorial themes. The pictures, however, do not deserve such a treatment. The entire wealth of the drawings is only apparent when one recognizes these voluptuous women figures as forms „melted“ in timelessness and as marks of nature.“

Benkovič observed in his colleagues Kornberger the obsession with which he had focused on the subject of the female nude in recent years. This exclusivity would be reinforced in the subsequent years. This concentration on the nude models went hand in hand with a stronger entrenchment in his studio.

Facets of the nude representation and the great Zeus-Cycle

In 1978 Kornberger took part in an exhibition in Anzing, Lower Austria with the motto „Garden of Earthly Delights. Homage to Hieronymus Bosch“ and showes a picture with two plump ladies in garter clothing who are playing with a bike. The theme of the female nude joining with a bike emerged from the so-called „Zeus-Cycle“, on which the painter had been working continuously since 1977. 

Alone until 1984 Kornberger creates hundred works on this subject using various techniques, as Dieter Schrage wrote in the article »Alfred Kornberger. Zeus harassed a woman“ for the journal Vernissage. Schrage reported in detail how Kornberger arrived at theme: „At the time he made drawings of a model with a bicycle and called this series „Zeus“. The supreme ruler of the gods with his penchant for love adventures masculinized himself in the shape of a bicycle, always abstracted rode, a machine. Zeus, the masculine, the transumter, a constructor and the constructed at the same time.“

Schrage further: „Even in the works of the artist, Zeus transmutes himself. The figure of the bike takes a backseat, the couple is pushed more and more to the forefront, marked by a strange semi-cranial form.“ In 1983-84 Kornberger creates a new serie on the topic, where „this often very freely and impulsively painted rode structure dominates again, sometimes doubling or tripling itself, often in a delightful contrast to the female form“, so Schrage. In 1985 the „Zeus-Cycle“ formed the subject of two exhibitions at the same time. In the Zentralsparkasse Meidling was presenting the exhibition „Zeus is it you?“ and parallel showed the United Art Gallery „Nudes - Zeus - Nudes. Works on paper“. 

In the journal Vernissage the cycle was described as follows: „Kornberger has created an extensive cycle of paintings around this eternal subject, where in a contemporary variation Zeus is constantly transformed into a machine, in order that power to reveal the power that shapes our present and dominates our lives.“ Also in 1985 Dieter Schrage published an article in Visa Magacin which largely corresponded with his article one year ago in the journal Vernissage. Schrage stressed here, that „an exhibition of the works of Kornberger in the Viennese Artisthouse is long overdue.“

Alfred Kornberger appears as a writer and describes generally the role of arts

In 1984 Kornberger appeares as a writer in some change. He wrote a short text on the artistic contribution of his fellow painter Karl Benkovič at the Presentation at the farm in Anzing, Lower Austria.
In this essay Kornberger critically examines the notion of the rituals: „Rituals are emptied of their necessary spiritual content in our times. The modern times delight only in material things and raise them into a fetish.“

Even art takes on a kind of a ritual function, so Kornberger: „The art, since ever the mirror of the times, shows exactly the situation in which man finds himself today, and with it this realization has also already become a ritual. However, a ritual which neither runs in a specific direction and neither is subject to a certain time-rhythm. That would also explain perhaps why the art is autonomous and therefore can be manifested independent of all temporal afflictions.“

The single exhibition at the Viennas Artisthouse and the first monograph

As a highlight up to Alfred Kornbergers exhibitions at that time, 1989 follows the long awaited solo exhibition at the Vienna Artitshouse. Dieter Schrage, at that time curator of the Contemporary Art at the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna gives the opening speech.

In the course of this exhibition Kornberger became once again aware of the lack of a comprehensive publication about his work and he decides to produce his first monograph „Alfred Kornberger. Images and graphics from the years 1974-1990“, which appeares in 1991 by the artist himself and illustrates 220 works on 238 pages. The contributing authors are Dieter Schrage and Karl Benkovič.

Under the title „Women, Zeus, monkeys, thumbtacks and others. Remarks on the paintings of Alfred Kornberger“, Schrage takes a look at the manifold works of Kornberger, emphasizes the ever-recurring theme of women's representation like the cabaret pictures with strippers or the dancers from the „Moulin Rouge“ and remarks: „Happily and very masterfully he also cultivated the seemingly obscene.“ Within this group of „voluptuous-expressive women-figures“, the „Zeus-Cycle“ stands out which the artist had created repeatedly over the years. 

According to Schrage the multiplicity of Kornberger's subjects span „from the fully nude to across the dominated portraits up to abstract still life“, from among the author highlights in particular „the noble thumbtacks - still life“. Then Schrage finally turns to the formerly current, in 1989 created cycle „Monkey and woman“: „In ink-wash drawings and watercolor sketches the artist depicts the tragic-grotesque play between the sexes. A times it is an approachement, a times it is a dance, sometimes it is enticement and rejection, and sometimes it is masturbation, often dressage.“ Also in Kornberger's own words the cycle „monkey and woman“ refers to the reversal of the cycle „Zeus“ which started twelve years before: „The cycle man, the little monkey, who the females tame here. It is the rotation of Zeus. Here the man was the aggressor.“

At the end Dieter Schrage resumes: „If i survey over 20 years of paintings and graphic art by Alfred Kornberger, I come to the conclusion: If the scenic painting, the tradition-bound, conjoined with Expressionism and in particular the French Fauvism, needs an advocate in our time of many trends and fads, surely the would find such an advocate in Alfred Kornberger and his work.“

The article by Karl Benkovič in Kornberger's publication is concerned also with a cycle of Kornberger: „Envy and hat“ about the Apocalypse of Johannes, which consists of ten oil paintings. Benkovič: „Kornberger has already sporadically dealt with the subject of the Apocalypse during the 1960s as well as he related individual subjects like the way he has worked out the subject of the locust plague in 1989 in his paintings. The current cycle does not depict all of Johannes apocalyptic visions, only those which emphasize mostly the aspect of the dominance of evil and its attendant calamities and plagues. This cycle shows a totally different Kornberger as that of the female paintings.“

The later years

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.“

In 1995 Kornberger exhibits at the Jewel Studio of Irene and Martin Bogyi in Vienna-Währing.

At the same time in 1995 appeared an article in the journal Vernissage by Maria Jelenko-Benedict, entitled „Alfred Kornberger. Sex battle or battle of the sexes?“, where she critically examines the eroticism radiating from Kornberger's female nudes: „The one and the same nude portrait expresses all the classic clichés about women, as the female, as child bearer, protector, self-revealer, but also the superior, the lust-arousing, who turns the male into a monkey through mere voyeurism.“ 

The author questions „the outdated stereotypes of women as a weak, helpless victim who is subjugated to the greed of man. The woman as the being, the man as the acting, he the fire, she the water. It is also striking that in his female nude (whether in the couple-representations, striptease scenes, or alone, masturbating), Kornberger represents the female as faceless, as if he wants to deprive her of any rationality and subsume her existence merely to that of the flesh-body.“

Jelenko-Benedict continues: „Although Kornberger also treats socially critical aspects and issues of human hatred and terror, he dedicates to the good and the beautiful and in the center stands the glorification of femininity. In his work, the artist transfers his respect, but also his desire as a man on to paper and lets his emotions life. The erotic tension is also palpable, which the viewer imposes in a peculiar manner and which he can not evade.“ 

Kornberger himself has expressed this feeling as follows: „Of course it is possible to paint without the nude. But to me it's about the exploration of the female body at the moment of painting, the erotic moment, which is transferred on to the drawing page, the depicting of an erotic landscape.“