The Principles behind the Symposium

Karl Prantl originally studied painting, but saw sculpture as a chance to explore stone as a material in a more fundamental and elementary way and in natural surroundings, and to break with formal academic approaches to creating art. In the post-war years, young student artists in Austria took cubism and surrealism as their principal touchstones…

For Karl Prantl, abstraction became the creed and, once he had left abstract expressionism behind him, was to be the prime influence on his creative work. He produced his first sculptures in wood and stone in his studio in Pöttsching in the winter of 1951. In 1952/53, Prantl first began to explore the possibilities offered by working with natural stone, calling the results "Figurations". He took his materials from the quarries of Burgenland. First exhibitions of these sculptures soon followed.

Karl Prantl contended that working with stone in the open air in a natural environment opened up new dimensions and that sculpture therefore acted as a vehicle for communication among ourselves and with each other. He brought an increasing number of people with an interest in art to the quarries.

Foundation Year 1959

Karl Prantl was able to fascinate his fellow sculptor Heinrich Deutsch and the psychologist Friedrich Czagan with the concept to the extent that they wanted to help put it into practice. He also succeeded in recruiting Gustav Hummel, the leaseholder of the St. Margarethen quarry at the time, as a stone sponsor, and consequently calcareous sandstone became the dominant material used by the expanding symposium movement. The young European sculptors who took part in the first symposium in 1959 — and in some cases launched their careers by doing so — were Dino Paolini from Italy, Sepp Wyss and Peter Meister from Switzerland, the Belgian sculptors Eugène Dodeigne, Jacques Moeschal and André Willequet, Hans Verhulst from the Netherlands, Gerson Fehrenbach and Erich Reischke from Germany. They were joined by the Slovenian sculptor Janez Lenassi and Alfred Czerny and Erwin Thorn from Austria. To raise the money needed for board, lodging and travelling expenses, several strategies were tried, including a building-brick campaign (cut sandstone from St. Margarethen) which also served as an artistic manifesto and a means of publicizing the principle behind the symposium.

The first international sculpture symposium began in August 1959 in the St. Margarethen quarry. Fourteen artists from seven countries produced large-scale sculptures in the open air. The project was concluded by a closing exhibition starting on 19 September and an exhibition catalogue.

Besides the lively exchange of artistic visions and techniques, literary and musical recitals were also part of the concept (the ensemble "die Reihe", led by Friedrich Cerha, performed in the quarry).

The success of the first exhibition in the quarry encouraged the organizers to hold another symposium the following year. To facilitate applying for the necessary subsidies, the association "Symposion Europäischer Bildhauer" (European Artists' Symposium) was founded in the autumn of 1959. Karl Prantl became the chairman, Friedrich Czagan the general secretary, Peter Meister the secretary and Jacques Moeschal deputy chairman. In 1960, the second symposium was held with eleven international sculptors.

The artists from the East and the West wrote manifestos in which they emphasized the ethical and political pretensions of their ideas and work, namely to set an example of international understanding through an alliance across national borders. The exchange of experiences with colleagues from all over the world who went on to organize similar gatherings in their home countries following Prantl's example gave rise to an international network of artists dedicated to contextual, abstract art. Karl Prantl opposed the Iron Curtain from the first, for example at the Berlin Wall, where in 1961/62 he and several colleagues placed sculptures on the Platz der Republik to send out a message of humanity in defiance of the Wall that was then being built: "We tried to bring the Wall down."

The concept of the international symposium that originated in St. Margarethen continues to this day, with symposia being held regularly in China, Japan, Taiwan, the USA, Brazil and Europe.

All in all, over 150 sculptures were created from the local calcareous sandstone in St. Margarethen by more than 110 international artists. Taken as a whole, they form a unique cultural total artwork. Today, around 50 pieces remain where they were created, scattered across the hill's southwestern slopes.

Die KünstlerInnen aus Ost und West verfassten Manifeste, in welchen sie den ethischen und politischen Anspruch ihrer Vorstellungen und Arbeiten unterstrichen: nämlich durch grenzübergreifende Gemeinschaft ein Signal zur Völkerverständigung zu setzen. Durch den Erfahrungsaustausch mit Kollegen aus aller Welt, die später nach Prantls Vorbild auch in ihren Heimatländern ähnliche Treffen organisierten – entstand ein internationales Netzwerk von KünstlerInnen, die sich der kontextuellen, abstrakten Kunst verschrieben. Den „Eisernen Vorhang“ bekämpfte Karl Prantl von Anfang an, wie zum Beispiel an der „Berliner Mauer“, wo er 1961-62 auf dem Platz der Republik, gemeinsam mit KollegInnen, der sich im Bau befindlichen Mauer mit Skulpturen eine humane Botschaft entgegensetzte: „Wir haben probiert, die Mauer zu Fall zu bringen“.

Die internationale Symposionsidee, ausgehend von St. Margarethen, hält bis heute an und findet an Schauplätzen in China, Japan, Taiwan, USA, Brasilien und Europa regelmäßig statt.

Insgesamt wurden in St. Margarethen von mehr als 110 internationalen Künstlern über 150 Skulpturen aus dem örtlichen Kalksandstein gefertigt. In seiner Gesamtheit entstand so ein unvergleichliches kulturelles Gesamtkunstwerk. Heute befinden sich noch etwa 50 Kunstwerke am Ort ihrer Entstehung, verteilt über den südwestlichen Ausläufer des Hügels.

The Growth of Sculpture Symposia in Austria

In the 1960s, the symposia in St. Margarethen represented the largest private initiative for contemporary art in Austria.

Following the example of St. Margarethen, other symposia were held in Austria: in Kapfenberg, Styria (1961); Lindabrunn, Lower Austria (1967); Krastal, Carinthia (1967); Europapark, Klagenfurt (1968); Mauthausen, Upper Austria; Salzburg at the Untersberg massif (summer academy); St. Johann, East Tyrol; Hall, Tyrol…

The end in St. Margarethen came in 1978 with the failure of a consortium of architects and sculptors to carry out a project for redesigning Stephansplatz in Vienna as part of the construction of the underground.

The Spread of Sculpture Symposia Across the World

1959St. Margarethen/Bgld. (A)1st International Sculpture Symposium (Karl Prantl)
1961Kirchheim near Würzburg (GER)International Symposium (Herbert Baumann, Joachim Schultze)
Portoroz/Piran (SLO)Forma Viva (Janez Lenassi)
Kostanjevica (SRB)International Symposium for Wood (Jakob Savinšek)
1961/62Berlin - Platz der Republik, former Kroll Opera House (GER)Symposium of European Sculptors (Karl Prantl)
Negev (IL)Form in Space (Kosso Eloul)
1963/64Manazuro, Kanagawa, Tokio (J)(Yoshikuni Iida, Makio Yamaguchi, Mitsui)
1965Vyšné Ružbachy (SK)(Rudolf Uher, Milos Chlupac)
1968Proctor Vermont (USA)(Paul Aschenbach)