In summer 1953, Oskar Kokoschka founded the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Hohensalzburg Fortress as the "School of Vision". This first summer academy of art in Europe was an international meeting-place for people of diverse origins, age and social background, and a counterpart to traditional national art academies. There was no room in Kokoschka's teaching concept for a dividing line between artistic skill and a comprehensive intellectual and humanistic education. Within eleven summers, he had succeeded in increasing the number of participants from 30 in 1953 to 250 in 1963.
The history of the International Summer Academy reflects the developments in art, the art world and academic teaching over the past 60 years. During the 1950s and 1960s the Summer Academy was generally up to the minute – with, for instance, Architecture classes directed by Konrad Wachsmann and Jacob Berend Bakema – and far ahead of state education. Occasionally – as in Performance (it was not until 1984 that courses were directed by Allan Kaprow and Wolf Vostell) – it lagged a little behind certain developments in art.
Oskar Kokoschka began his career in Vienna as an expressionist painter, graphic artist and writer. His art was prohibited during the National Socialist period as "degenerate". A vehement opponent of National Socialism, he emigrated to Prague in 1934 and to Britain in 1938, where he lived until 1953. He then moved to Lake Geneva in Switzerland, where he died in 1980.
Oskar Kokoschka's late work, his figurative landscape and portrait painting, was represented at documenta exhibitions 1, 2 and 3 in the 1950s and 1960s; his vedute dating from the 1930s and 1950s are displayed in many museums in Austria and Germany. Kokoschka adopted a position diametrically opposed to the modern abstractionism which emerged from the USA and claimed a monopoly of the avant-garde during the 1940s and 1950s. Until the 1970s, the Western European art-world was dominated by this antithesis, which was expressed as an often acrimonious battle between representatives of figurative versus those of abstract art. Kokoschka's position naturally shaped the teaching programme of the Summer Academy, which initially consisted of four classes.
During the 1950s, the driving force and manager in the Kokoschka era was the gallerist Friedrich Welz, one of the leading art-dealers in the Third Reich; he rose to become director of the Salzburger Landesgalerie (now the Residenzgalerie). After the war, he continued as a gallerist, representing artists including Kokoschka, who was a friend of his. The fact that Welz and Hermann Stuppäck, Kokoschka's successor – two high-ranking protagonists (or profiteers) of the Nazi régime – played a significant role in the first decades of the Summer Academy is typical of the way Austrian – and particularly Salzburg – cultural policy worked after the Second World War. It must be said, however, that in the post-war period neither of them gave any sign of adherence to Nazi ideology; on the contrary, both openly championed contemporary art. This historical background, and much more, will be examined more closely in the 60th-anniversary publication in 2013.
In 1964, Kokoschka was succeeded by Hermann Stuppäck, the former highest-ranking Viennese NS cultural official, who was also President of the Salzburger Kunstverein from 1962 until 1976, and who directed the Summer Academy until 1980. During the 1960s and 1970s, the teaching programme was opened up to a pluralism of the "equality of the disparate", within which current trends, such as abstract art, were represented. Stuppäck established basic courses concentrating on technical skills, as well as advanced courses. Under his direction, the Summer Academy expanded to record numbers of up to 650 students.
From 1981 until 1999, Wieland Schmied was President of the Summer Academy. His period was distinguished primarily by the network of international artists and theorists he built up, drawing on his resources as former Director of the Kestner Gesellschaft in Hanover and Director of the DAAD in Berlin. Topical art discourse was reflected through lecture series on theory and history of classical modern art, current trends in the 1980s, and current urban and architectural developments, together with discussions and symposia on post-modernism or art in public space.
Barbara Wally began as manager with Wieland Schmied in 1981, and was overall director from 1999 until 2008. Her era was characterised by a policy of openness far beyond Europe and western art, thus taking into account the globalisation of the art world. From the 1990s onwards, she invited an increasing number of female artists from all over the world, especially protagonists of feminist art, to teach new subjects including body art, media art, and installative and performative concepts. Socio-political questions such as the economisation and privatisation of art, the role of the artist in society, and the blurring of dividing lines between culture, entertainment and information marked the course programmes of these years.