Back in 1970, Max Peintner drew a picture — "The Unending Attraction of Nature" — showing a stadium full of people all watching a forest of trees down on the field.
This year the Swiss curator Klaus Littman decided to make it a reality. He took 300 mature trees, some weighing up to six tons, and planted them in Austria's Wörthersee Stadium, turning it into a massive art project. Much like the original Peintner drawing, it's a haunting meditation on our relationship to nature, made additionally resonant given the today's depredations of climate change.
Two hard right parties, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) and the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), have publicly criticized the project, which is the brainchild of Swiss curator Klaus Littmann. Among other things, they have falsely claimed that the installation, which fills a local soccer stadium with a grove of 300 trees, was taxpayer-funded.
The resulting public controversy has taken on alarming dimensions. In a recent profile in Der Standard, Littmann claimed that he has not only faced verbal criticism for the project, but was also physically attacked on the street and pushed into traffic. According to the curator, his assailant shouted, "Go away and take your shitty forest!" ("Verschwind mit deinem Scheißwald!")
Before the September 8 opening, the BZÖ rallied supporters on social media, instructing them to gather in front of the stadium during Littmann's opening and make a statement with "non-functional chainsaws." In the end, the debut was a largely celebratory occasion, but as a result of the furor the stadium is now being guarded day and night, according to Deutsche Welle.
"I had not previously experienced such reactions," the curator told the publication. "Meanwhile people have come to thank me and talk about the project. The reactions are still bitter on social media though, where it's obviously easier to lash out."
It's a truly gorgeous work of art — I wish I could see in person myself. The official web site has some great pix (one of them below), and it also curates some wonderful ones posted by visitors on Instagram; worth checking out!