Reworking the Family Portraits of Schloss Grafenstein

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on August 5, 2014


In this sitting room, drawers painted with faux bois woodgrain and labelled with family estates are from the denuded archive shelves in the next room. On the chair is an unsigned oil portrait of Count Vinzenz Ferrerius Orsini-Rosenberg (1722–1794), an ancestor of Count Ferdinand used as the basis for a new work by Armin Guerino, titled 20130630-001. Photography by Fritz von der Schulenburg.

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This instance of recycling eighteenth-century source material for subsequent artistic production might fall somewhere between the collages of James Northcote (the subject of an exhibition this fall at the YCBA) and the work of Ai Weiwei (I’m thinking, for example, of Painted Vases). The article mentions an exhibition, but I could find nothing about it online and don’t know if it’s already happened or might still take place. CH

From WoI’s Facebook page and the print edition of the article:

Michael Huey, “Relative Freedom,” The World of Interiors (August 2014): 70–79.

Original: Artist, Date, Name of Woman unknown, oil on canvas, 69 x 55 cm Revision: Alina Kunitsyna, Mlle Sphæræ, 2013, oil on canvas, 69 x 55 cm

Original: Artist, Date, Sitter unknown, 69 x 55 cm. Revision: Alina Kunitsyna, Mlle Sphæræ, 2013

Seeking works of art to fill newly renovated living quarters, Austrian count Ferdinand Orsini-Rosenberg turned to the 90-odd ancestral portraits deteriorating in his ruined schloss next door. But instead of merely dusting off his forebears’ likenesses, he gave a crew of contemporary artists free rein to ‘refresh’ the originals.

Ferdinand Orsini-Rosenberg, second son of the late Prince Heinrich, presides over about 1,500 state square meters of what is basically storage space in the form of Schloss Grafenstein, the Carinthian palace built by his seventh great-grandfather and enlarged a century later—around 1730—by his fifth. Grafenstein, with is impressive facade and ruined interior, makes up part of his title and much of his patrimony, and in this way he is bound to it for life. At times the attachment is akin to being chained to a cadaver, and he is often sleepless as a result. “If an earthquake reduced it to rubble overnight,” he says, “I would thank God.” . . .

After an initial phase of consolidation [of family portraits], during which a local historian aided him in sorting, photographing, identifying and documenting the paintings, he assembled (with curatorial guidance) a group of 35 artists to whom they would be offered as raw material. Each artist would be allowed to select a single portrait to use as the basis for a new work—no strings attached and with a modest fee for the commission. The results would be gathered together for a summer exhibition in the colonnaded inner courtyard at Grafenstein and later hung in Ferdinand’s rooms in the granary. . . .

While his courageous, uncompromising idea did lead to a few crass and brazenly ruthless results, it also gave rise, at the other end of the spectrum, to a handful of marvels—works both highly moving and of considerable aesthetic relevance by Alina Kunitsyna, Armin Guerino, Manfred Bockelmann, Helmut Grill, Johanes Zechner, Siegfried Zaworka and Alex Amann among others. . .

A regular contributor to The World of Interiors, Michael Huey, as an artist himself interested in issues of archives and loss, is an interesting part of the story.


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