Edmund Kalb (1900–1952) is among the most fascinating artists of the 20th century. His intense oeuvre comprising more than one thousand self-portraits has remained largely unknown to the public. Commuting from 1926 to 1930 between the freedom of the Munich Art Academy, the intellectual confinement of his hometown of Dornbirn and the loneliness of the remote mountain village Ebnit, he developed his drawing skills towards complete abstraction. Relentlessly and without compromise, he approached his own face as his primary subject, depicting it in multiple series in order to explore all possible means of graphic representation as a “concept artist”. His goal was to render the process of thinking itself visible and to eventually bring only abstract “energy” to paper, so that he could then pursue visual art as pure thought. While he never sold a single work during his lifetime, he documented his work in photographs and corresponded in Esperanto with fellow artists worldwide. From 1930 his thinking was dominated by mathematics, mechanics, perceptual psychology, nuclear physics, space technology and plant breeding – fields that had impacted on his self-portraits even earlier. In this, his oeuvre shows similarities with that of Naum Gabo, Alexander Rodtschenko and artists of the Russian avant-garde. His fascination with the self-portrait, as well as the uncompromising nature and intensity of his work developed over a short period of time, connect him to the likes of Egon Schiele and Richard Gerstl.
His opposition to any form of false authority led to his conviction for insubordination by the National Socialist regime and a spell of several months in a military prison. Even after the War, Edmund Kalb served another months-long prison term for obstructing and insulting an officer. The consequences of his imprisonment with increased penalties eventually led to his premature death in 1952. His work was only discovered and appreciated posthumously by fellow artists.
Despite exhibitions, among others in New York, Rome, Dresden, Vienna and at the Kunsthaus Bregenz, which were accompanied by comprehensive catalogues, the life and oeuvre of Edmund Kalb remains a discovery and surprise for the larger public. Along with around 100 works by the artist, the exhibition at the Leopold Museum shows Stephan Settele’s 2002 film “Erwachsen aus dem Schicksal – Homage to Edmund Kalb”, which contains interviews with numerous contemporary witnesses and art historians.