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Ceramic pioneers

Kurt Ohnsorg
(1927 Sigmundsherberg/Lower Austria – 1970 Gmunden/Upper Austria)

In his discipline, Kurt Ohnsorg is still considered a revolutionary innovator who brought Austrian ceramic art into the modern age. To this end, he developed his own methods, sought new (vessel) forms, broke the boundaries of sculpture, experimented with rupturing, coarsely structured surfaces, and also borrowed from the ancient Japanese and Chinese traditions.

Using unconventional concepts and designs for utility ceramics at an artistic level, he realized the idea of reconciling aesthetics, form and usability. “These wonderful things that Ohnsorg has produced very often have a purpose, serve a purpose, and it is a great achievement when beauty just also has a purpose, even though it is in and of itself and would like to remain in and of itself.“(Elfriede Jelinek)

With the founding of the “Josef Hoffmann Seminar for Ceramic Design” in Vienna, the “International Summer Seminars for Ceramics” in Gmunden and – closely related to this – the professorship and master class for ceramics established at the Linz School of Art, Ohnsorg set institutional milestones for Austrian ceramics in the 1960s.

On the self-image of his work, he wrote: “The love of craftsmanship is not to be regarded as a sentimental inclination, but as what is still man’s most perfect way of dealing with matter. […] Anyone who does not take the trouble to master the subject matter can be considered to have a questionable personality as well as an artist.

Franz Josef Altenburg
(1941 Bad Ischl/Upper Austria – 2021 Wels/Upper Austria)

What Franz Josef Altenburg, who referred to himself simply as a “potter,” did and how he did it was done without showmanship or self-purpose. His view of “following the traces that the struggle for survival brings” led him to produce “tiles, vascular ceramics and art“.

Altenburg has found a unique and unmistakable formal language. In the form of the built, the historical, the piled up, the stacked, his objects visualize models of spiritual realities. His works are the result of deliberately aimed simplicity and just such abstraction processes. He was convinced that ceramics would show him the way, that the material itself would lead him to this simplicity. His impressive, consistent œuvre, characterized by vessel forms and architectural elements as well as reduced constructions, represents the great tradition of Viennese modernist ceramics.

His work in Hallstatt ceramics with Gudrun Baudisch-Wittke was followed by twenty years of work in the joint studio with Anton Raidel in Gmundner Keramik. Since 1976 he worked as a freelance artist in his own workshop in Asperding/Gemeinde Schlatt. Altenburg’s commitment to ceramics symposia influenced generations of young ceramists.

If “ceramics is like a language” (Matthias Kaiser), the “loner of ceramics” (Peter Baum) and, by his own definition, “old-fashioned pile maker” was a master of its expression in content and form. Altenburg made ceramics “speak” as a medium, so to say.

Anton Raidel
(1943 Wiener Neustadt/Lower Austria – 2019 Gmunden/Upper Austria)

The preoccupation with the beginning and end of the world, the artistic examination of the existential questions of being form a central theme in the work of the ceramicist, draftsman and printmaker Anton Raidel. Inspired by the ceramics symposia of his friend Kurt Ohnsorg and the environment of Group H, a collective in which he worked together with his companion Franz Josef Altenburg, he founded his own workshop in Gmunden in 1973.

Raidel’s world is a multifaceted one. If at the beginning the intensive examination of a reduced form finding in the field of ceramics, it has later matured into a universe of sublime graphic expression. Early influences from Cubism were followed in his artistic development by an idiosyncratic and expressive oeuvre that challenges the viewer with sometimes fragile, sometimes powerful archaic motifs and, especially in his late work, repeatedly reflects pain and death.

Raidel’s extensive body of work-ceramics, sculptures, drawings, and prints-has won international awards, been shown at home and abroad, and is represented in important museums and numerous private collections.

“Anton Raidel has long ranked not only among our country’s best and most uncompromising ceramicists, but also among those draftsmen who trace the existential threats of existence, confronting the imponderables of life in equally sensitive and powerful ciphers and symbols.” (Peter Baum)