An Unlikely Meeting of the Vienna School and the New York School

New Observations 1 (71):5-9 (1989)
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When painter Fritz Janschka arrived from Vienna to teach at Byrn Mawr College in October, 1949, he entered a culture seemingly as alien to his art as one can imagine. Janschka is one of the co­founders of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism, a group of painters who studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna shortly after World War Two. The fantastic realists cultivated a precisely controlled craft informed by traditional methods and modernist sensibilities, incorporating collectively the entire range of Western painting, past and present, in their attempts to come to grips with a shattered world. New York Abstract Expressionism and Viennese Fantastic Realism, two mid-twentieth century art movements, represent diametrically opposed ways of painting, yet both schools sprang out of surrealism. The Fantastic Realists were widely known in Europe and hardly known in America. Given the dominant abstractionist tendencies of post-World War Two art this is understandable. For these reasons Janschka’s openness to the techniques of the New York School in the early 1950s forms an unlikely meeting point of seemingly irreconcilable positions, one suggestive of possibilities for the meeting of abstraction and figuration, and more broadly, for addressing contemporary dehumanizing abstractionism, which I discuss in this essay.

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Eugene Halton
University of Notre Dame


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