Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - October 27, 2023

Art encounter in the Austrian landscape

Husband Art, friends Deb and Lou, and I had no particular goal in mind a few weeks ago when we decided to enjoy a ride in the mountains of Lower Austria. But we were surprised at one point when we rounded a corner on the small mountain road, and saw sculptures along the right edge. The land rose up to our left and tilted steeply downhill to the right, spreading out into a beautiful green meadow. Glancing about, we noticed human figures and odd shapes sprinkled along both sides.

We stopped to take a better look. There was a walking path that had been mowed on the right, allowing visitors to enjoy the outdoor exhibition. After parking the car in a small graveled area on the uphill side, Art, Lou and I began walking in that direction. Several sculptures were located inside a group of rocks formed into a circular wall. An explanatory sign said the wall dated to the time of the Celts.

A bit farther, large stainless-steel tubes jutted into the sky, joined on top by curved tubes. It looked a bit like a giant whisk embedded in the landscape.

When we circled back toward the start, we saw Deb had made her way along a good portion of the path in the lower meadow to the south, snapping pictures right and left. Before long, Lou and I were following. Art chose to observe from a bench overlooking the area.

There were sculptures, large and small, of wood, marble, stainless steel and other materials. Many seemed to suggest people and animals, but others were more abstract. One reminded me of a hedgehog. Another looked like an upside-down pastry blender. From a distance, a larger piece brought to mind a snail shell. Another reminded Art of a tumbleweed.

We seemed to be drawn from one piece to the next, capturing each in photos taken from different angles. Deb said one of her favorites was a grouping of deer made out of old wood that, "made me think of real deer out on the meadow." Lou liked the wooden piece that she thought looked like a twisting tornado - the one I thought looked like a snail. And the pieces, although abstract, somehow seemed to fit into their mountain meadow surroundings.

The outdoor art installation is the brainchild of Austrian sculptor Charlotte Seidl and her late husband Johannes. The couple met at a ceramics course in Innsbruck in 1965. Late in the 1960s, they began experimenting with spaces that created encounters between artists and audiences, first in the nearby rural village of Maria Schutz and, most recently, in Gasteil, the official name of the rural countryside we were in.

Seidl's larger-than-life women, made of hard-fired clay, are a recurring motif. She has created more than 160 of them, which she says are a reminder of the fate of women all over the world. She creates pictures from clay plates in which she scratches scenes with people and then paints them with oxides and glazes in warm earth colors, such as beige, ochre, and muted red tones from which the blue of the clothes stands out. Her figures have been described as "... reminiscent of prehistoric rock carvings or some of Picasso's ceramic works."

Johannes' ceramic, stone and steel sculptures combine his fascination for technical possibilities and aesthetic appearance.

Beginning in 1992, they summoned other artists to join them in creating Art-in-the-Landscape installations that invite passers-by such as us to enjoy. The artwork is distributed over 40 acres of forest-lined meadow in Gasteil near Prigglitz in the agricultural foothills of the Alps.

Over the past three decades, artists from Europe, America, Africa and Asia have exhibited works that were largely created on site. Different "themes" tie them together. The theme in 2000 was "change - transformation," the one in 2010 was "my space," and the one in 2022 was "more or less." Among artists' names I saw, in addition to the Seidls, were Andreas Sagmeister and Josef Raier.

Charlotte Seidl said 2021 was a difficult year for her after her husband died. They had been married 53 years, and she had to learn to continue her art and manage the art installation on her own. The "Art in the Landscape" exhibition is organized every two years, and the pieces are on display from spring through late fall. COVID-19 caused cancellations of many artists' works and there were fewer visitors. But, she said, things are picking up again.

While meandering, I noticed a couple having a picnic under a tree, a family with children, and a woman at a picnic table with a computer not far from where Art was sitting. Deb struck up a conversation with her, and the rest of us soon joined in. She said she had lived in Vienna 20 years before moving away from the city when the pandemic struck. She is a writer of business books and usually works from home, but some days chooses to work at the outdoor table while enjoying the idyllic scene. When we told her we were from Kansas, she said it wasn't often that U.S. tourists, let alone ones from the middle of the country, came to the area.

Art, Deb, Lou and I prefer traveling to our own "whims" and are not interested in a strict schedule, whether seeing sights, eating meals, or anything else. This "meandering" sort of travel often surprises us with unexpected delightful things - things like "Art in the Landscape" in the beautiful Austrian countryside.

Top row (l-r): Lou inspecting artwork within an ancient Celtic wall; "upside-down buried whisk;" some of Charlotte's women; Art's "Tumbleweed." Middle row (l-r): local writer enjoying the setting; Charlotte and Johannes Seidl; Deb walking through the "Pastry Cutter." Bottom row (l-r): Lou and her "Tornado;" an "eye" observing the landscape; a "Coiled Spring;" Lou, Art, Deb and Gloria among some of Charlotte's women. (artist photo from meinbezirk.at)

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