Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Konrad Oberhuber (1935-2007)

This personal recollection of former director of the Albertina in Vienna and Raphael expert Konrad Oberhuber is extracted from Scully’s contribution to a volume devoted to Oberhuber’s memory forthcoming from ARTIBUS ET HISTORIAE, Vienna. Oberhuber organized an retrospective of Scully’s prints with Victoria Martino at the Albertina in 1999.

Raphael Madonna del Prato 1506. Poplar, 113 x 88 cm. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
Raphael, Madonna del Prato 1506. Poplar, 113 x 88 cm. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

Konrad Oberhuber, it was clear, was in possession of a tremendous intellect. I have met some eminent art historians before, and although they are sympathetically inclined towards an understanding of contemporary art, they labor to achieve it. Konrad spoke beautifully on Raphael and why he was important, but he was a person with an agile capacity to leap centuries with obvious ease. The radical challenge that took place at the beginning of the 20th century when the Russian Revolution forced the pace of the advent of abstraction, made no difference to Konrad’s ability to see it, understand it, and estimate it. His flexibility of intellect was impressive. His willingness to embrace art of different ageson it’s own terms was highly unusual, for such a great specialist.

I loved talking to him as I’m sure all artists did. He went through my watercolors one afternoon on a subsequent visit, because he had, in his charming way, persuaded me to make a sizeable donation of works on paper to the Albertina. He talked eloquently as he moved them around on my table, of the dull light that seeped out of them, that had it’s nearest spiritual relative, in the light of painters of Assisi and Florence in the 14th century Italy. So we talked of Cimabue and Duccio’s Maesta in Sienna. How the severe restraint in some of this work found echoes in the generation of painters that followed minimalism, and especially in mine. Where I also connect the sense of the ‘illuminated body’ in the work of Titian and Rembrandt.

My own personal definition of greatness involves intensity of purpose and focus that is amplified by an understanding of the world in the round. The ‘North Star’ in relation to this definition, would of course be Goethe, who was a great man of his own time. Who understood how to connect the visual, the scientific and the poetic. The great threads of his own age as a ball of understanding and achievement. Konrad was a profound scholar of Raphael, and widely acknowledged as such. He was in addition ‘athletic’ in his appetite for understanding and interpretation, that crossed time and geography. He was therefore both wide and deep. There are many imitators of this model, since it is attractive. But moving through various styles and philosophies of art, and asserting an appreciation of them all does not qualify on the same level. Konrad Oberhuber’s base was impeccably grounded. His appetite and ambition were authentically supported by an intellect that was the acme of focus, and intrepid in its flexibility. Almost as if it were a moral responsibility to deny time it’s tyranny over understanding. I believe it is this moral imperative that drove Konrad’s voyage. Thus he has left us a body of writing and influence that is oceanic.

8 March 2009
Mooseurach, Germany