The art collector couple, Karlheinz and Agnes Essl acquired their first works of art after a stay in the USA in the late 1950s. The young art lovers felt inspired by the innovation in US art and started to collect in Austria. A seminal group of works from Austrian modernism marked the beginnings. Artists such as Herbert Boeckl and Albert Paris Gütersloh, major contributors to a renaissance of Austrian art after 1945, had particular pride of place. They were followed by works by Alfred Kubin or artists from the Nötscher Kreis.
The big step toward Austrian contemporary art was made in the early 1970s, when the art collectors bought a piece by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, one of the country’s controversial artists at the time. Their access to art and their take on collecting art was influenced by their encounter at the time with Kurt Moldovan. Through his agency the couple met and learned to appreciate artists such as Arnulf Rainer, Kurt Kocherscheidt and Franz Ringel. The collection was further expanded, including artists from the St. Stefan group (Markus Prachensky, Josef Mikl), Vienna Actionism (Hermann Nitsch, Günther Brus), very individualistic approaches exemplified by Maria Lassnig or VALIE EXPORT and, later on, representatives of the so-called Neue Wilde (Herbert Brandl, Siegfried Anzinger, Hubert Schmalix).
In the late 1980s, Karlheinz and Agnes Essl started to put their collection of Austrian contemporary art into an international context. First new acquisitions included works by Asger Jorn, Karel Appel and Pierre Alechinsky, artists from the CoBrA group, who had a strong impact on Franz Ringel and the artists in the "Wirklichkeiten" group. In the 1990s the focus was extended to US artists (Morris Louis, Frank Stella, Jim Dine). Germany (Georg Baselitz, Gerhard Richter, Jörg Immendorff), France (Pierre Soulages, Bettina Rheims), Italy (Emilio Vedova, Mimmo Paladino), Spain (Antonio Tápies, Antonio Saura), the UK (Marc Quinn, Damien Hirst) and, once more, the USA (Alex Katz, Peter Halley, Paul Mc Carthy) were also represented.
The inauguration of the Essl Museum in November 1999 made the collection accessible to a much larger public. Current international contemporary art tendencies are explored and new purchases steadily enlarge the collection. Photographic art (Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff, Andreas Gursky, Gregory Crewdson, Nan Goldin), video art and installations (Bill Viola, Tony Oursler, Marie-Jo Lafontaine), and sculpture (Jonathan Meese, Judy Fox, Stephan Balkenhol) are added to the collection that used to focus mainly on painting.
From early 2000 onwards, the travels of the art collectors and exhibitions have opened up additional geographic spheres of interest: contemporary Australian art (Tracy Moffat, Emely Kame Kngwarreye), the Balkans (Maja Bajevic, Antoni Maznevski), Leipzig (Neo Rauch, Matthias Weischer), Mexico (Gabriel Oroszco), China (Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Zhang Xiaogang) and Israel. Inspired by these exhibitions and the recurring series >emerging artists< and ESSL AWARD< which concentrate on young artists that have not yet established a presence in the market, the collection grows continuously and develops new focal points.
Monday closed. Tue – Sun: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Wed: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
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