Sunday, November 4, 2012

An Afternoon with Klimt




           For those of you that are not aware, Vienna (and most of the world) is currently celebrating the 150th birthday of Gustav Klimt.  A healthy plethora of exhibits of original artwork have cropped up since January to honor Vienna’s home-grown painter and many have extended their exhibition closings to January 2013.  There’s even a Gustav Klimt: The Musical floating around at the K√ľnstlerhausWien, for those that don’t do art so much as they do theater.

            Even were it Klimt off-season, Vienna would be scattered with Klimt-residue in the form of kitschy this-and-that hanging from gift-shop windows.  It’s like the spirit of the man will never really leave – you can purchase prints of TheKiss or Adele Bloch-Bauer adorning handbags, scarves, novelty pins, and refrigerator magnets nearly anywhere you go.

            The golden sheen of Kilmt’s work hangs over Vienna, and it was high time I went to actually see one of his works in the museum.  Tis the season, after all.

            I elected to go to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, as my school provides a discounted year-pass that gets me entrance and it’s within walking distance from my house.  While they do not fool you into thinking that they have one of the world-famous paintings that defined Klimt’s style to the world, they do have something entirely their own – a series of wall paintings that a 28-year-old Klimt himself did to decorate the main entry staircase.

            The story of how he came to this assignment is actually a little sad.  He wasn’t the first pick of the museum, no.  The artist that was originally commissioned to do the work died after finishing about 50% of the entire task.  Klimt, accompanied by a few other artists from an art organization of his, stepped in.

            The Kunsthistorisches Museum erected a large scaffolding in the entryway which upon climbing, allows the museum-goer a close-up view of Klimt’s early works.  Walking in and looking up, I became doubtful that his work would even be noticed by the casual observer were the scaffolding and big, bold “KLIMT” signs weren’t so blatant.  But, because stairs are there and we’re always inclined to ascend, one goes right up to be nose-to-nose with the young painter.

Because it’s the entryway to an art museum, the overwhelming theme of the staircase is that of ‘art through the ages’.  While this entire painting was completed in 1891 with the Klimt canvases, it seems to assume an interesting complete history of art and time, represented by some painters that would later become renowned for their own work.  The section-of-interest, the Klimts, rendered human figures as art movements starting with Ancient Egyptian art.

While these paintings are nowhere near the fame and notoriety that his later works would achieve, I noticed that many themes would echo hints of his later style.  The erotic nudity of the female figure, the gold leaf halos around religious beings, the influence of fabric patterns draped around the body; all of these elements were apparent.

However, I felt a little guilty getting nose-to-nose with some of these paintings.  How often had tourists passed through this museum, audio guide pressed hard to left ear, getting to the ‘real’ exhibits full of 16th and 17th century art?  How often had these gold-leafed archways accompanied by gold-leafed figures been simply passed by?  Really seeing them, not just as a part of the museum, but as a point-of-interest in the development of Vienna’s favorite son affords some kind of fascination, like sharing a secret with an old friend.

The season of Klimt is soon to end in Vienna, but here it’s always the season to wear a Klimt-patterned scarf or handbag.  I suppose that could be just as easily passed by, though.

 
Sorry, no pictures in this post.  Will make up for it next time!

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