Language of Steel
by Winfried Wiegand
On 19 November 2015, Schloss Elisabethenburg, the main site of the Meininger Museen (Museums of Meiningen), witnessed the opening of a special exhibition titled Sprechender Stahl or ‘Language of Steel’. It features works by the sculptor Gabriela von Habsburg, who lives not far from Munich and was a student, at the city’s Academy of Arts, of the Dane Robert Jacobsen and the Scot of Italian descent, Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. Between November 2015 and April 2016 the exhibition forms an impressive contribution, and that is certainly worth seeing, to what is on offer at this museum in southern Thuringia. It brings together some for- ty small-format sculptures (less than one metre in height), including the designs and originals of some of the sculptural ‘prizes’ which the artist has created for high-status cultural or political awards (e.g. the CineMerit Award, Burgemeister Fernsehfilmpreis, Henry-Kissinger-Preis). Like this group of works, a selection of medium-size metal sculptures, placed mainly in the interior courtyard of the palace in Meiningen (and thus in an open-air setting) documents the sculptor’s works from the mid-1990s to her latest phase from about 2010. This selection therefore provides a fairly representative cross-section of Gabriela von Habsburg’s artistic out- put to date. It was equally important to include her very successful works in the eld of large scale and site-specific sculptures for public spaces in the form of models as well as large photographs. Signicant examples of this group of works are also represented at the exhibition. They are to be found in public spaces in a number of European cities, skillfully presented as monumental sculptural forms in the spirit of their times. The temporary arrangement of works in Meiningen is rounded off by a collection of about 30 lithographs. In this artistic genre too, the artist displays a very personal style and form of expression. The basis for this, a finely attuned vocabulary of classical geometric basic forms, also underscores the artist’s considerations and goals when executing the three-dimensional works.
The articles in the present volume have been written by recognized experts in the context of the Meiningen exhibition, and are currently among the most profound analyses and presentations of Gabriela von Habsburg’s artistic work. The photographs for the exhibition section of the illustration were nearly all taken on the spot in the exhibition rooms of Schloss Elisabethenburg. They provide a detailed image of each individual exhibit and convey a visual impression of their arrangement in situ. In this sense, this project by the Meininger Museen will familiarize an even wider pub- lic with the work of a sculptor, who, with her œuvre to date, has already attracted attention in the eld of modern sculpture and will doubtless continue to provide substantial refreshing enrichment in the future.
For this reason alone, the realization of the exhibition and the catalogue has been a rewarding undertaking, even though the Meininger Museen are not among the institutions specializing in contemporary art. A further motivation to realize this project in Meiningen derives from Gabriela von Habsburg’s own ancestry. On her mother’s side she de- scends from the ducal house of Saxe-Meiningen, in other words from an aristocratic family which, in particular in the late nineteenth century, had an influence on cultural history that went well beyond Germany’s borders. When asked in an interview about her favourite ancestors, the artist mentioned, among others, Duke Georg II of Saxe-Meiningen, who as is well known, made his own special contribution as the so-called “Theatre Duke”. For Gabriela von Habsburg, the reason he was so splendid is that he was a genuine artist and made theatrical history with his naturalistic “Meiningerei”.1 It is thus an attractive and eminently appropriate arrangement to unite Schloss Elisabethenburg in Meiningen, the erstwhile residence of Georg II and thus a highly authentic venue, with a major special exhibition of sculptures by Gabriela von Habsburg, his great-great-granddaughter. We should also mention at this point that the artist currently represents the house of Saxe-Meiningen in the Kulturstiftung Meiningen-Eisenach. Thus her membership of the board of this institution reflects Gabriela von Habsburg’s whole life, not only as a creative and agile artist, but also in an existence kept busy by numerous social and political responsibilities.
I should like to express my very personal thanks to all those involved who have, with their knowledge and commitment, contributed to the success of this interesting exhibition project of the Meininger Museen, and especially the authors of this book, Dieter Ronte and Manfred Schneckenburger. I should like in particular to single out Dr Elmar Zorn, who has mastered his role as co-curator, eulogist and exhibition publicist with bravura and imagination. As editor of this publication, it is also to his credit that this exhibition project will live on. It goes without saying that thanks are due to the art- ist Gabriela von Habsburg, who from the outset supported the exhibition Sprechender Stahl as it took shape with great optimism and trust.
1* See Ingo Langner, ‘Bibliotheksporträt – Die Bücher der Kaiser-Enkelin’, in Cicero, August 2013.