J. Weidenfels

Hrdlicka, Sculptor, Citoyen

Yes, some day we will perhaps take note. Take note that there was a great humanist and a vibrant artist living in Vienna  in the decades after the big war who was ready to combat the spectre of fascism when almost everybody thought fascism was dead. And when so many of us (artists included, but especially critics, politicians, and the 'educated public') thought that art should turn back to itself again, rather than dirtying itself with 'commitment.'

Alfred Hrdlicka must have been one of those few people who hardly thought that fascism was really vanquished for good. Vanquished regardless of how much xenophobia and racism we encounter in Europe today. Regardless of all the old people in Germany - and in Austria, as well - who still say, "After all, Hitler wasn't that bad..."

Yes it's true. For a long time they ducked, they didn't raise their head. They cowered and remained quiet and muttered and nagged at home only. In public, they'd be not quite that outspoken. And if so, they would add, "If he just hadn't started that damned war." 

Haven't you heard that phrase, ever? Then, where are you living? And why don't you open your ears? You might perhaps hear them adding another "if". An "if" that is intended to ward off all criticism that they are anti-semitic. Anti-Jewish. So they say, pronouncing it carefully, "...and if he hadn't killed the Jews." 

But isn't it crazy? Do they want to say that Hitler had killed them all in person, six million or more people? Killed them without the collaboration of a bureaucracy, the help of police, army, secret service? The supportive role of diplomats? The often nodding approval of citizens who voted Hitler and his fascist Nazi party into office? The gleeful 'joy' of those who bought the property of Jews from the confiscating government for next to nothing? The condescending comment of factory owners, shop owners, practioners of the medical profession,  academics employed by universities who found it a big relief not to face bright and decent 'competitors'  anymore - now that they had been excluded from competition, robbed and driven into exile...? Or sent to the death camps, to the gas chambers if they didn't grasp the looming danger in time. If they didn't have the money, or didn't use it in order to flee.  If they didn't manage to obtain a U.S. visa or British visa or found another way to leave Germany. Or Austria, for that matter.

I know that these old women and men who reveal how much the past is alive in them  were kids in 1940 or '44. By no means, killers. And yet, infected by propaganda. What about the role of their fathers and grandfathers? Don't they remember?  Yes, sometimes people have a very selective memory. They were too young to be willing helpers, it's true.(1) But young enough to see Hitler as a kid, in the papers. On photographs placed in their classroom. Or as he drove by in a Mercedes, passing their town's main street, lined with waving people...

They evade certain questions, those old bohunks and women who say "Hitler wasn't that bad at all."

Don't smear my father, my grandfathers, they seem to think when they dodge your question. And they have their mind filled with the diluted remnants of the old racist poison... 

Yes, don't think it's all over: the generation of those who were 8, 10, or 13 when the last big World War ended, is still, to a large degree, infected by what they heard, learned, swallowed as kids. And what is worse, there are those among them who have passed it on to their sons and daughters. And they in turn, to their kids. Neo-fascism, racism in Europe is not something without roots. It's anchored in history, in recent barbarity as well as the conservative restauration that followed in '45. And let's not forget the much older, 2000 years old anti-judaism of the Church.


Wherever you look today, racism, xenophobia, right-wing reaction are in the air again in  Europe. I get scared when I note how it spreads anong segments of the young generation, a generation often withhout hope, confronted with massive unemployment (here and there, in Europe, it's affecting a quarter of those under 25). 

I sense that xenophobia and a disgust shown towards everything democratic, that the longing for strong leaders, for 'law and order' is widespread and increasing in Europe. 

A kind of 'law and order,'  of course, that begins to have the smell of that variety which Mussolini and his black-shirted militants, cheered on by aristocrats, industrialists, petty-bourgeois shopkeepers and school-teachers,  had once preferred to teach every democratic dissident artist or writer in Italy, by sending him to prison or hitting him in the face. 

'Law and order,' that might well turn some day into a spectacle of the type which the fascists established in Germany. And  the Franquist 'falange' in Spain, their fascists cousin in Portugal, the clerical fascist of the Dollfuss type in Austria and Slovakia.  Metaxas and his adherents in Greece. And the anti-semitic right-wingers in Poland, Hungary, Romania... 

'Law and order,'  appended today by an obsession with 'security,'  is the concern in the minds and on the tongues of those who willingly or unwillingly beef up neo-fascist tendencies by repeating the talk of their elders that Hitler wiped out the mass unemployment that affected Germany as a consequence of the crisis that struck the country in 1928. 

With one of the gravest crisis at hand that this present economic system has ever experienced, in the two-hundred or so years of its existence, the danger that authoritarian, crypto-fascist trends will increase is at least as real as the chance that more and more thoughtful people will demand economic democracy, participatory rights, and respect for the environment as well as everybody's socio-economic and socio-cultural needs.

For Alfred Hrdlicka as a citoyen, it was self-understood that he take a stand against the danger of re-awakening authoritarian trends. Against racism. Against the exclusion and marginalization of minorities. Against the discrimination of women (not least of all the sexually exploited, such as the whores he would draw and paint so often).  And it must have been clear to him that it was necessary to stand up for everything that would limit the political influence and power of corporations, of big business - the social forces that had alleviated and greeted the rise to power of Hitler and his party. Dresdner Bank, Deutsche Bank, and other financial institutions who had been so deeply involved. Mercedes-Benz Corporation. German chemical industry. German steel industry. And their Austrian look-alikes. Yes, Hrdlicka was 'red,' that much is clear; a 'red' artist and an anti-fascist citizen. This is not the moment when it is possible to probe the biographical sources of his committment. His working class background. The ambiente of pre-war Red Vienna, with it tenement buildings surrounding large courts, with its forms of blue-collar autonomy, self-organization, its groping ways to invent self-help or mutual help.(2) And its bloody suppression, all of a sudden, that weighed so heavily on the Left. No, it is enough, at the moment, to see that for him a separation of his commitment as a citizen and his practice as an artist was out of the question. Just as we could see in the case of Picasso and others, life was a 'unity,'  something not to be compartmentalized, for him. Like Picasso, Hrdlicka was a politically conscious, very radical individual determined not to wipe out this quality of his life in his work as an artist. 

Especially before the cultural turn of the late 1960s and the very early '70s, Hrdlicka, as an artist determined to work 'against the current,'  against the dominant spirit of the era and the cultural policies that went along with it, must have met with heavy resistance, in many quarters. Not only among the culturally-backward. That is to say, in those petty-bourgeois milieus where the prudish and stiff attitudes as well as the retarded aesthetic 'tastes' of the so-called 'little man' triumphed. And thus, the ignorance and the limitations of those whose character make-up was analyzed so well by Wilhelm Reich. No, the bulk of the 'educated,'  in charge of museums, galleries, etc. and those responsible for the cultural interventions of the government on its various levels (local, regional, national) must have seen him as vulgar, as dangerously radical. As - in one word - anathema, an enfant terrible, and someone who must be shunned. Who must be boycotted, in fact, to a very large extent.  Because, to these people, he was simply an 'obnoxious' sculptor who was obviously determined to violate taboos. Giving a damn about everybody's wish to forget his shame and his involvement in the Fascist nightmare. No, in the years of 'restaurative' politics (which were felt with unspeakable force in that new and prospering state, the Federal Republic of Germany, under chancellors like Adenauer and Kiesinger), a sculptor like Hrdlicka did not stand a good chance to get a commission for a sculpture that would be placed in the public sphere. A sculpture that he would form in order to keep awake our consciousness of a barbaric past. And in order to oppose every possibility of its return, in whatever 'new garb.'

But that changed, it seems, in the mid- and late 1960s. 
And epecially as a consequence of '1968'! The changing 'social climate' lead in 1969 to the  election victory of a Social Democrat, Willy Brandt, in West Germany. And with the changing political make-up of the Bonn government as well as the somewhat livelier socio-psychological atmophere, in due time young academics began to replace older, retiring men as town mayors, administrators of urban cultural affairs, or museum directors. 

Yes, in the wake of '1968' there was change in the air. But it was met with resistance of course. On the one hand, everybody could note a relaxation of the suffocating 'Cold War' climate that had made possible the spirit of McCarthy in the U.S. and the 'prohibition of the CPG' (KPD-Verbot) in Germany.  But soon, the new wind of change subsided a bit, and there was a backlash. Directed, in the first place, against the provocative students of the New Left.(3)

Still, the early 1970s were an intriguing time. This was the time when a director like Peter Zadek challenged the restaurative and provincial spirit rampant among the older audience. He was good at it, as a director of the Schauspielhaus in Bochum. The trade union federation (known in Germany as the DGB) organized the progressive Ruhr Festival, the Ruhr-Festspiele, with its performances of invited theater ensembles. In Oberhausen, Hilmar Hoffmann was in charge of the International Festival of Short Films (Oberhausener Kurzfilmtage). 
In Munich, since  the late 1960s, Fassbinder directed his provocative anti-teater.(4)  And soon he was also making his first films that offered scathing attacks of the double-standards and the narrowmindedness so typical of the social-psychological climate perpetuated after the war.(5) 'Katzelmacher,' a film about an affair between a young Bavarian girl and a lonely Italian immgrant worker, revealed the continuing presence of xenophobia and racist stereotypes.

But you could also see a time arriving when a mildly progressive, liberal generation of younger people began to replace an older one - people who had often been implicated in Nazism, who had superficially 'repented' and who had been white-washed without significantly changing  in many cases what was their basic, very Conservative attitude towards life, morals, politic, and the arts. 

The often intolerant stance of the older generation that informed the prevailing practice of Kulturpolitik  [cultural politics] in the restaurative post-war years, had undoubtedly been a brake, an obstacle to art in the public sphere, of the sort  Hrdlicka produced. 

Yes, these old people and the classe politique which had nominated and backed them, had been responsible for a cultural climate that had been stifling, provincial, and often banal. There had been opposition to it all through the years, it is true. But in the firt post-war decades, such opposition became a strong force in terms of real influence perhaps only in the literary field.  Here, you could be ironic about the relics of the fascist era - as Boell, a member of the progressive Gruppe 47 [Group 47], was in some of his prose texts.(6) You could attack them in a sarcastic and revealing way, as Koeppen, the author of Pigeons on the Grass, and Death in Rome, did.(7) You could call to attention of the public how the danger of a new fascism was not over for good, as Alfred Andersch did when the Social Democrats and Free Democrats, finally in power in the '70s, decreed the Berufsverbote [ban to be employed in the public service, if you were considered a leftist, a decree that even made a 'red' mailman jobless]. For the progressive writer if he did not move (or was said to be) "too far to the left" (as Brecht was), the avenues presented to him by the liberal publishing houses (like Fischer and Suhrkamp) offered a certain possibility to swim 'against the current' even before '68.

In the film 'industry' everything progressive remained exceptional until the young film-makers of the New German Cinema found ways of financing their works outside the 'industry.'  Becoming, in a way, self-reliant and inventive in their methods of finding co-producers. Public television, to some, became an important source of financing when, in the still young era of Social-Democratic chancellors, major positions within the institution began to be staffed by members of the younger, more open-minded, liberal generation. But conservative strong-holds continued to exist, especially in the Federal Bureau that decided whether to award subsidies to young and daring filmmakers who applied for them. The decision to support a production was taken, not on the basis of assessing the innovative character of the visual approach of a creative filmmaker, but by judging the film-script he had to hand in. Such a decision was often taken on the basis of narrow-minded, academic standards engrained in the brains of mediocre cultural bureaucrats. As far as the problem of 'reaching the public' was concerned, it was helpful that film critics like Wolfram Schuette, Frieda Grafe, Enno Patalas, Peter W. Jansen, Karsten Witte and a few others would write on the New Cinema. For instance in the left-liberal Frankfurter Rundschau and in the liberal Sueddeutsche Zeitung. University film clubs and Kunstfilmtheater (a term meaning, literally, 'art-film theaters') provided a much needed venue, as did the filmshows and film festivals in cities run by liberal Social Democrats, especially in Mannheim, Oberhausen, and in Hamburg.

But public sculptures, anti-fascist art in the public sphere, paid for by the public, by city administrations out of their budget for cultural affairs? It remained an unlikely proposal, in West Germany, even in the 1970s.


Before the mid-1960s, Alfred Hrdlicka's visibility as a creator of public sculptures was evolving slowly under the circumstances of the time just sketched. Then, suddenly, in 1964, he was one of two Austrian artist invited to the 32nd Biennale in Venice. And three years later, in 1967, he was commissioned by the city council of Vienna, which was dominated by Social-Democrats, to produce a bust of Karl Renner, the deceased Austrian president (d. 1950), a Social- Democrat.

In spite of the strongly entrenched Conservatives who were in power in the South-west German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hrdlicka was invited to teach as a professor at the Stuttgart Academy of Fine Arts in 1971. Like Beuys in Duesseldort, he had to face a number of colleagues who did not make life exactly easy for him or his students.

Though he was at least faintly recognizable as a 'red', and an anti-fascist artist, a chance to create a public sculpture in West Germany was offered to Hrdlicka in the late 1970s in Marl, a small town at the edge of the Ruhr District, today known for its sculpture mueum and for other, noteworthy cultural activities that are not normally expected in a town of this size and relatively minor economic importance.

The town was traditionally dominated by the coal industry. And in 1938, the year of the pogrom against Jewish citizens, the Nazi regime had established a Buna plant that produced synthetic rubber (in the context of preparation for war) and subsequently employed slave labor (so-called conscript workers or 'Zwangsarbeiter'). After World War II, the mines had been modernized quickly and remained a major employer until the coal industry was destroyed by the competition from corporations importing cheap coal, often mined by underpaid labor under unsafe and technically backward conditions abroad.  But the chemical industry remains important in Marl. Among the culturally progressive circles we must count the women and men working at the 'People's University' (Volkshochschule), as well as a number of trade unionists.

It was here that Hrdlicka realized a bust of pastor Friedrich Bonhoeffer, a German conservative anti-fascist, murdered by the Nazis in Ploetzensee, Berlin, on April 9, 1945, shortly before the end of the war.

Portrait of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in Marl, Germany), 1977
Photo by Gerardus (2008) Re-published with permission.**
The head has the simplicity of a Buddhist sculpture; its expression is at once calm, strange, detached and defiant. There is an energy that is discovered in or attributed by Hrdlicka to this man. It is there thanks to the way he invented and formed the head, the bust. And as we turn to it actively, thinking about it, sharpening  our senses, it becomes visible and thus 'known' to us. The roughly hewn stone as well as the fragmentary character of the bust ascertain the modernity of the work. A specific modernity - 'after Auschwitz': that is to say, the modernity of an age which allows no reconciliation, no easy harmony, no forms that do not express pain.


Portrait of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (in Marl, Germany), 1977
Photo by Gerardus (2008) Re-published with permission.**
The thoughtfulness of the face, especially as seen from this angle, is striking. Is it to provoke thoughtfulness in us? 

Set in a nature-like, hardly garden-like ambiente ( less 'tamed,' than a romantic 'English' gardenscape, or 'French' geometrically strict Baroque garden), the fragmentary quality of the stone stands out even more harshly. Like the ruins of cities, bombed to pieces in the war. But there is also a nuance that lets me think it is almost like the remnants of an ancient temple, set into the jungle and prepared to be swallowed by it. Thus nature becomes a metaphor for that which reconciles, a metaphor of that which "eats" and in fact "devours" and thus "overcomes"  the barbarous past of class societies that are built on blood and sweat and tears. The blood spilled by henchmen, tools of barbaric rulers. The sweat of the common people who let exploitation and tyranny happen. The tears of all those, guilty or not, who suffer.

It was in 1981 that Alfred Hrdlicka could create his Frederick Engels Monument (Friedrich Engels Monument) in the birthplace of Engels, Wuppertal, an industrial city in the immediate neighborhood of the Ruhr District, governed by a Social Democratic mayor. It was here that the city administration had also created a place of remembrance and research, in the house where Engels had been born. This fitted their purpose to keep documents of Marx and Engels under indirect Social Democratic control, as in the case of the Karl Marx house in Trier where the social-democratic Friedrich Ebert Foundation is in charge. Obviously, guarding (and 'occupying') a certain heritage of the party was a purpose; it went hand in hand with minor economic considerations. It is always considered a small boost to tourism that a town can boast to be the native place of one of its sons who has become famous internationally. Not only academic researchers from within Germany and from abroad are welcome visitors, but the average 'curious tourist,'  as well. Hrdlicka, for whom the authors of the Communist Manifesto must have had quite a different significance than that attributable, in all likelihood, to politicians,  'culture managers' and other bureaucrats in Wuppertal, apparently was ready to find his own answer to the quest for a sculpture in memory of Engels. 

The Friedrich Engels Monument in Wuppertal; Germany
[Segment of a ] photo by Atamari (2009)***

The reference to Engels is not immediately, certainly not 'automatically' recognized. Two human figures erupt or protrude from the stone. Castor and Pollux? A metaphoric representation of Engels and Marx? Yes, maybe for some the work alludes also to the two friends and co-workers sharing a joint project although they are certainly not 'recognizable' in any 'naturalistic' sense... But then, it alludes to MAN, perhap man and woman, thrown into the 'human condition' of PREHISTORY where MAN is still subject to exploitation, to needless forms of suffering, to what is irrational and alienating. Does it then refer to the project, the preoccupation of Engels - to his perception of MAN as the beaten, suffering creature in need of emancipation? Twisted, tangled limbs, the bared ribs, a chest seen as if partly opened, the entire distorted, fragmentary presence of the human body - does not all of it testify to the pain inscribed in human existence, as long as class-societies are changing their character without overcoming the division into ruling and ruled, exploiting and exploited classes? And yet, there is also togetherness. The beauty that shines through, in even the dark moments in life. And the joy of being alive. Puzzled, wondering, the figure to the right stares at something. The ground? Its own body? Nothing - because the INNER eye SEES and turns INWARD? And the figure to the left? Throwing back its head in pain? Or staring, enraptured, at the sun? Into the blue sky?
O yes, I asked myself what the hands are holding: is the man holding a baby? And the woman, a scroll?

About four years later, Hrdlicka was awarded the opportunity to realize the Counter Memorial (Gegendenkmal) in Hamburg, begun by him in 1985 and completed in 1986.

Counter-Memorial ("Gegendenkmal"), in downtown Hamburg, Germany
Photo by Staro. Republished with permission.* 
The fragmentary character of the work, as well as the violence incribed into the aesthetic language found by the sculptor, are perplexing, in fact deeply disturbing. This is the antithesis of any 'usual' language suggested by other, conventional sculptors who have so often been asked to create monuments in memory of those who died in the last war. Or in the other big, terrible World War.

The monument is located downtown, set into a small park. Before the jarring outline and coarse surface of the main body of the work which appears like a tableau of a world tormented and about to be torn asunder by chaotic, violent forces, a dark human figure is faintly visible, leaning against it as if in agony, the agony of dying.  In front of it, separated by the grass of the lawn, the fragmentary, headless body of a woman, her left breast bared, her left leg distorted though not disfigured, erupts from the stone. Springing from it, merging with it. Burned into or onto ruins. Where we would expect the throat to sit on the rump, something seems to flow from this body - the lungs? Perhaps it is the visualized pain which flees it and yet is glued to it like a dead fish, a  flounder or flatfish.

Something like a steel rod, a beam, a long, geometric corpus (made of, who knows, iron, bronze,  steel?), connecting the female torso and the main body of the monument, hits the human figure exactly where we feel the presence of its absent, torn-off, smashed, annihilated head. 

Other rods or beams stick out from the monument, protruding nearly vertically into the air. Or they are visible as relief-like, almost horizontal beams in front of it. Do we think of smashed, shattered houses, bombed habitats, crumbling and about to fall down?

Further to the left, also separate from the main body of the work, a strange, almost surrealist stonen form rests on a high pedestal. Its form, and the dynamics inscribed into it, let me think of flames flaring up. But it evokes also a giant wing of a bird, a cruel bird of prey, not a real one, of course, but the mythical eagle that tore the flesh away from the heart of Prometheus. 

That which is figurative and thus recognizable, though deformed (a bit like Picasso 'deformed' his human figures), and that which remains a riddle,  form a single but dispersed work: accentuating the question posed, a question which demands from us to take a stand.

Every passer-by will tell his story, of course, as he turns to the counter-monument. I can only tell mine.

Only two years after Hrdlicka had completed his Counter Monument in Hamburg, his own city, Vienna, the Austrian capital where Hrdlicka lived and worked,  asked him to create the Memorial against War and Fascism ( Mahnmal gegen Krieg und Faschismus ) on the Albertina Square (realized in 1988-1991).

'Gate of Violence' (Tor der Gewalt), part of the
Monument against War and Fascism, Vienna
photo by Hans Weingartz***
Here, the location of the work is not a small park but an urban square amidst pre-19th and pre-18th century houses that either survived the war unharmed or that were reconstructed.

The shape and color of the two elements of the monument that are known as the 'Gate to Violence' (shown above) bear witness to the fact that Hrdlicka in fact respects the character of the architectural environment.  He respects it in so far as the finely grained and not at all non-harmonic texture of the high pedestals almost takes up and repeats the color of the cobble stones. The sloping surface of the pedestals takes up the angles of the roofs of the surrounding houses. The whiteness of the sculptured figures takes up the white color of the walls of the buildings. And the almost cozy, well-nigh romantic atmophere of the built environment seems to be as if echoed by playfully baroque shapes. But the  playful movement seemingly inscribed into the forms, the lines, the volumes of the sculpture are the outcome of terrible and terribly painful distortions. The human body is deformed, ripped apart, it even stands on its head. As in the case of the female figure in the Hamburgian Counter Monument, the human figure grows out of the stone. Breasts and arms appear from it;  quite on the top of the sculpture, I see bones which must belong to a leg that no longer exists in its entirety. Snakelike, other elements of the human body are emerging from the white stone, some almost winding themselves around part of it. What seems, at first sight, an ensemble of playfully entangled limbs, turns out to be the outcome of the most negative, life-annihilating destruction.

Another view of Hrdlicka's Monument against War and Fascism
photo by Gryffindor (2006) ***
As in Hamburg, but now even more radically perhaps, Hrdlicka turned the monument into an ensemble of separated parts that you can enter, that - as a pedestrian - you can cross. And probably are supposed to cross, to walk through, that is. In other words, you become, for seconds or minutes, not an onlooker glancing at it from outside it, but a part of it - drawn into it. Involved. Asked to see and touch, to sense and relate corporeally, to confront, to reflect, to feel, think, and act.

Another view of Hrdlicka and his work:
"The starkly disturbing 'Memorial Against War and Fascism'  has been occasionally defaced since it was unveiled in 1991."
"Known to have been deeply influenced by his studies of the mentally ill during the late 1960s, Hrdlicka turned to a figurative expressive style meant to provoke his audience to confront the world's anguish, pain and misery. 
For him, art was agitprop and he understood his life as an artist as a mission to educate the public to oppose war and violence."
"His oft-cited dictum, 'all art comes from flesh'  is reflected in his later works. For Hrdlicka, art that avoided the human condition was nothing more than decoration and not to be taken seriously."
(From: George Jahn (AP), "Austrian news agency: Artist Hrdlicka dead", in: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/


External link : 

See 'Junge Welt' article on A. Hrdlicka
(by Oskar Lafontaine)

(backup copy)

Right below the 'Gate to Violence' (of the Viennese Monument against War and Fascism), another monument done by Hrdlicka attracts the marvelling attention of the person who opens his eyes, actively and watchfully looking at the world around him.

It is the figure of an old, bearded man, cowering, crawling on the ground -  one hand, the right one, slightly raised in the air. As if asking you to be understood. To be taken out of - and freed by you from - his humiliatory situation. To be saved from his anxiety, his torment, and his tormenters. 
The main accent of the sculpture is on the thrust forward, the imploring gesture, the desperate face that turns to you, serious, earnest, facing the enormous. Confronting it, as if in prophetic clarity, it sees, perceives, the scandalous absence of humanity that it is subjected to.

Seen from the front, the body, the back, behind, legs, feet seem to shrink perspectively - giving an even greater impulse to the thrust forward, the accent put on arms, hands, and above all, the face - the earnest trait of which heralds already the turn of history, the nemesis, the defeat that will destroy the destroyers of human dignity, human values, and millions of human lives.

Statue of a Kneeling Jew
Photo by KF. Re-published with permission.*

The photograph reproduced was accompanied by a short commentary of the photographer, K.F. He, presumably a citizen of Vienna, tells us that in 1938, shortly after the annexation of Austria, Jewish Viennese men were forced by the Nazis to scrub the pavement with brushes. He explains that this was perpertrated in order to humiliate and terrorize the Jewish citizens of Vienna. 
He also mentions that this work, unveiled in 1991, was repeatedly defaced by rightists  and that it is located at the base of the Monument against War and Fascism (at the Albertina Square).

Actually, the sculptured body of the old Jew lying flat of the ground is faintly visible  as a dark grey patch, immediately to the left of the pair of white  sculptures seen on the photo of the entire ensemble of the Monument against 
War and Fascism.

In 2008, Hrdlicka realized another monument  called Orpheus I  in the ambiente or context of the Viennese Monument against War and Fascism. It is an androgynous figure, showing an enraptured face, curling hair, arms raised in a sensuous way, revealing a great Yes to life, the body, its existence. The breasts are bared, the upper part of body turns, voluptuously; a big male sexual organ hangs down between the legs. The figure bends forward even if only slightly, as if expressing a longing. Turning towards something or somebody, ready to give herself (or himself).
Of course, in Classical Greek mythology Orpheus symbolizes life, he symbolizes that which overcomes death. It is the figure of the mythical singer and poet who crosses the river between life and death, who visits Hades, the realm of the dead, and returns to the living as a living person. But there is another, disconcerting quality about Orpheus. He loses his love, Eurydike, to death. He is unable to bring her back to life. The pain remains. The pain in art, in artists, poets, singers - in fact, in every feeling, thinking human being. The dead are dead. The victims of the fascisms of the world, from Germany to Spain, Italy, Greece, Indonesia, Chile and Argentine. The victims of terrors and gulags, the victims of wars - and how many were going on, since 1945, and are still going on... Yes, and those many millions who died unnoticed, in the midst of peace, as a result of avoidable hunger and misery and exhaustion, of despair and isolation. They are gone forever. They'll live never again.

Orpheus I (bronze, 2008) 
© Manfred Werner  Republished with permission.*

What is the janus-headed, androgynous character of this figure called Orpheus if not the contradiction inscribed into our world and our time? The tension, between opposites: innocence and experience, the life-asserting and the life-negating tendencies, the joy and the pain of living in a world torn at and shaken and thrust into abysmal chaos by the irrational conditions men still perpetuate.

Orpheus - Hades***

The tall, sculptured body bending forward, of a life-asserting Orpheus I returning from Hades, facing the world in pain, sadness, memory of loss, but also with great vitality, is accompanied by its corresponding part (not counterpart!), Orpheus in Hades. A figure of painfully searching, active, energetic flesh, diving into, thrusting itself and in part disappearing into the ruins of the world, a stone fragment from which an arm, its elbow, a behind, two legs protrude. The back of the man who is known as Orpheus merges with the rough surface of the stone. The head has vanished in the stone. The figure, actively, energetically trying to grope, to hold on to someone or something (it must be Eurydike), seems intent to draw that which it holds on to, from the darkness of imprisoning dead matter. Is it a leg that appears between his legs spread apart? Or the trunk of a tree - the tree of life contradicting the stony world of ruins, into the foliage of which the head and chest of Orpheus has disappeared?

After having already created, in 1977, the bust of pastor Bonhoeffer in Marl, Hrdlicka formed another memorial that paid tribute to a German victim of fascism. It is the Menorial for Eugen Bolz, sited in Stuttgart and accomplished in  1993. Apparently a bronze, it shows a skinny, naked individual facing - terrified, anticipating, clear-sighted yet hopeless - the torturers. Situated in front of the naked wall, its rough structure, the figure of the man we see protruding relief-like from the bronze wall is standing under a hook. The kind of hook pigs would hang from in a slaughterhouse. He awaits, without hope for salvation, for survival, the bestiality of the end that is foreseen for him by those who make themselves his inhuman masters - the beasts more beastly than beasts. The hook of course alludes to the hooks in Ploetzensee where a number of prisoners of the Nazi regime awaited execution, among them the Conservative conspirators who had hoped to blow up Hitler in his bunker in East Prussia. When the Red Army conquered Berlin in spring, 1945, the living opponents of Hitler and the world discovered that the prisoners that were executed in Ploetzensee were left dangling like pigs, after undergoing whatever torture the henchmen could think of. 

Memorial for Eugen Bolz, at the Koenigsbau in Stuttgart (1993)
Photy by Enslin, 2006  Re-published with permission.*

We who face the Memorial for Eugen Bolz are dumbfounded. And perhaps not only by the intensity of the anticipation of a barbaric, terrible, lonely death suffered by the individual thrown into the hands of the Nazi killers. The strangely cut-off part of a hand, growing from the bronze wall - what does it point to? What does it signify? The hand, is it the hand of a man who swore to defend the republic, and who died, trying to keep his promise?

Hrdlicka has not only turned his vision as a sculptor back to the last world war, to the cruelty and inhumanity of wars generally, and to the Fascist past.  In Berlin, where he also installed an ensemble of tableaus in Ploetzensee (not shown here) that is dedicated to the foes of fascism who were killed in its 'execution shed' (or 'Hinrichtungsschuppen'), he created a memorial that he called Death of the Demonstrator. Its site, in front of the opera house known as the Deutsche Oper, makes amply clear that it refers in an immediate sense to the death of Benno Ohnesorg, a student shot during a demonstration against the Shah of Iran when this head of a murderous, torturing regime paid a visit to the 'governing mayor' of West Berlin in June, 1967. Standing out relieflike from the nearly rectangular, tall but slim block of bronze, we see the dynamics of action. Helmets of policemen, arms, legs, a club, helpless hands of an invisible person in the background, the face of an onlooker,  twisted limbs, perhaps of a person 'subdued' by the cops. The face of the onlooker is concerned. The cops look away, their faces not really visible, more of a void, an emptiness under the helmet.  Are they dodging responsibility? Merely obeying orders? Functioning very well? We have seen all that before, in another era. But are men ready to "function" without listening to their conscience, again and again?

Death of the Demonstrator (Der Tod des Demonstranten), relief. 
Photo by Lorem ipsum. This file is licensed under Creative Commons

Benno Ohnesorg was shot, incidentally, not by the West Berlin police who clubbed peaceful, democratic demonstrators, quite in line with the atmosphere created by the press and leading politicians.  He was shot by an inane, ordinary little man, the kind Wilhelm Reich described in his small book, Listen, Little Man! He had to die because the heated atmosphere created by the media (that turned ordinary 'little men' against the protesting students!) had poisoned the minds of a large number of people in this city in '67.

Hrdlicka took  pains not to dedicate the memorial exclusively to Benno Ohnesorg. He dedicated it to all demonstrators who have died because they took to the streets in order to demand freedom and civil and other rights.
And thus, the memorial is for those killed yesterday in Athens, the day before yesterday in Genoa, years ago in Managua or Santiago de Chile,and who knows, tomorrow in a place where they still think "it can't happen here."

Hrdlicka, although he died, will remain alive in his sculptures of which quite a few have been placed in the public sphere, just as he will live on in his lithographies, etchings, drawings and paintings.


(1) It is important to realize today that they were so many "willing helpers" of the Nazi-engineered millionfold genozide. So many, in so many roles. Policemen who knocked at the door, telling people "Make yourelf ready for a long trip." SA-people and cops who herded them to the station. Railway men  who transported them to Auschwitz, to Buchenwald, Dachau...  Then, guards... Torturers...

(2) See: Helmut Weihsmann, Das rote Wien: sozialdemokratische Architektur und Kommunalpolitik 1919-1934. Wien (Promedia) 1985. Cf. also: Walter Oehlinger, Das rote Wien 1918 - 1934. Wien (Museen der Stadt Wien) 1993 (exhibition catalogue)

(3) The Old Left had been legally outlawed in West Germany under American influence, just as it had been outlawed in South Korea and Taiwan where military, fascist-like dictatorships relied on emergency law, a state of siege and concentration camps like the one the Greek junta later established in Leros and Jaros, with apparent though tacit U.S. and NATO approval... 
In  contrast to West Germany, the situation was different in post-WWII Austria, thanks to the achieved unification of its formerly Soviet and Western occupied zones, and as a consequence of its neutral status. We must remember that the Adenauer government, under American pressure but perhaps also of its own accord, rejected the proposal of the Stalin-led regime to make possible immediate German unification, under the condition that the united Germany would be neutral, like Austria. The proposal though made quite seriouly was discredited in the media as a farce.

(4) It was in 1967 that Fassbinder  joined the Munich action-theater  which became the anti-teater in the following year.

(5) It is necessary to mention here Liebe ist kaelter als Tod [Love is Colder Than Death] (1969), Katzelmacher (1969), and Warum laeuft Herr R. Amok? (1970).

(6) Boell's story entitled Hauptstaedtisches Journal (1956) was the text that Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet used for the dialogues and narrator's voice in the film Machorka-Muff (1963)
A.H. Weiler commented in 1969  in his review of the film in the New York Times that, in this (actually, his earliest) film "Mr. Straub, employing the cold, somewhat expressionistic but always loquacious approach of his other films, comes closest to underlining the almost subliminal irony of his themes. He briefly outlines, through the performance of Colonel Machorka-Muff, a former Nazi who is reinstated in the Adenauer regime, the unchanging thinking of the Nazi and/or the military mind." (A.H. Weiler, "Screen: German Newcomer's 3 Films:Straub's Entire Output Shown at New Yorker Circuitous Approaches to Reality a Pattern", in: The New York Times, Feb. 24, 1969 

(7) Wolfgang Koeppen, Tauben im Gras (1951) was published in Englisch a Pigeons on the Grass, New York / London (Holmes & Meier) 1991; Tod in Rom (1954) was published a Death in Rome, London (Hamilton) 1992. 


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