Art exhibition review: the klimt gallery
The centerpiece of the Neue Galerie is the Klimt Gallery on the second floor. This room is home to ten or so works by Gustav Klimt. While there are many interesting works in the Neue Galerie, this is where you find the most visitors.
Undoubtedly, Klimt is the best known of the Austrian and German artists featured in this museum. But what makes his art successful?
Klimt was born in 1862 outside of Vienna. His father was an engraver often working with gold but Gustav grew up in poverty.
He received his artistic training at the State School of Arts and Crafts as did his brother Ernst. The teo brothers formed a partnership with fellow artists Franz Matsch and found their first success doing conventional history paintings.
Gustav was not satisfied with conventional art. Therefore, after Ernst's death, Gustav became a founding member of the Vienna Secession, a group who sought to break away from the rules of the art establishment of the day. Nonetheless, his unconventional style was appreciated by Vienna's growing middle class who commissioned him to do portraits.
On the surface, Klimt's private life might appear to have been conventional. All his life, he lived in an apartment with his mother and two sisters. After Ernst died, he became the guardian for his niece. He never married.
But when you look a little deeper, you find that surface appearances can be deceptive. When Gustav died in 1918, the court handling his estate received 14 petitions for child support. The court concluded that three of these were proven. Such claims were consistent with the widespread rumors that Gustav had had numerous affairs with his models as well as with some of the rich ladies whose portraits he had painted. In the studio, he dressed only in a loose robe and there were tales of models cavorting between posing for erotic drawings.
Thus, Klimt was both an artistic rebel and a very sensuous individual. These are also the hallmarks of Klimt's best works.
The superstar painting of the Klimt Gallery is “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” This painting was the subject of the popular film “The Woman In Gold” but that is not the only reason people stop and linger in front of it.
It is not a conventional portrait. Indeed, only the sitter's head, shoulders and hands are easily discernible. The golden gown that covers the rest of her body blends into the background. It is a two dimensional picture full of decorative designs and geometric patterns. Yet, the various elements of the picture come together to support the face, which dominates the sea of gold.
The face is not classically beautiful but it is attractive. Her eyes are soulful and her red lips sexual. It was believed at the time that Adele was one of the women with whom Gustav had an affair. His painting “Judith,” which Adele also posed for, certainly suggests that their relationship was more than platonic. Returning to the portrait, this face surrounded by sumptuous gold leaf makes the work very sensuous.
Also in the Klimt Gallery is “Adele Bloch-Bauer II,” a slightly later portrait of the same person. It does not have the gold work of the earlier portrait and thus is not as bold. The figure is more conservatively dressed in what was probably a daytime outfit and stands out more than in the predecessor painting. Still, it is an unconventional portrait, Once again it is two dimensional. Colorful rectangles decorated with Japanese-inspired designs make up the background.
The figure is not posed provocatively but rather she is straight as a pillar. Nonetheless, her sensuality comes through in her face through Klimt's handling of the eyes and the lips.
She is portrayed intriguingly but with a touch of innocence.
On the same wall is “The Dancer,” which is similar in dimensions and in composition to “Adele Bloch-Bauer II”. It is perhaps more colorful and more flesh is more exposed but it works for generally the same reasons.
Most of the other pictures in the Gallery are landscapes. They recall works done by the Impressionists and the Post Impressionists and would have been unconventional at the time they were painted. However,without the human figure there is little sensuality and therefore less interest.
Louise Bourgeois is best known for her giant sculptures of spiders. However, as seen in “Louise Bourgeois: An Unfolding Portrait” at New York's Museum of Modern Art, there was more to Bourgeois' work than spiders.
Bourgeois was born in 1911 in Paris, France. Her family operated a gallery that sold tapestries where they all worked. The father concentrated on the commercial aspects of the business while her mother, with Louise's assistance, worked on restoring the tapestries.
It was not a happy family. Her father was a philanderer and abused Louise. Her mother ignored her father's infidelities and focused on providing a nurturing environment for her children. The emotions Louise experienced then were to influenced her art throughout her career. Indeed, her spider sculptures were a tribute to her mother reflecting qualities of reliability, protection and industriousness.
After her mother's death, Bourgeois began to study art in 1930s Paris. She also came into contact with many of the artists working in Paris at that time including the Surrealists.
To help generate some income, she opened a print shop next to the family tapestry gallery. There she met American art historian Robert Goldwater. They were married in 1938 and moved to New York City.
In America, Bourgeois studied at the Art Students League of New York. During this period, the League was an artistic epicenter where important artists and artists who would soon become important congregated both as teachers and students. Through the League and her husband's contacts, she came into contact with people such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning.
At the same time, Bourgeois' work was becoming recognized. By 1982, she was so established that she had her first retrospective exhibit at MOMA, the first woman artist to have such an exhibition. She continued to produce art until her death in 2010.
Bourgeois used her art to explore her emotions, sexuality and as a means of resolving conflicts. Thus, one can see her returning to certain topics repeatedly in her work.
The exhibit has been arranged around a number of themes. For example, one theme is architecture. Bourgeois liked the stability and order of buildings - - a stark contrast to the dysfunctional environment in which she grew up. Another theme is fabric, works made from cloth. Again, this echoes back to her early days in the tapestry gallery.
Although there are some sculptures in the exhibit, most of the 300 works are prints and drawings. The prints are particularly instructive. In making a print, Bourgeois would first make an image on a plate. After seeing a print the plate, she would make changes to the plate and print again. This process of printing the plate and then making changes would continue until she had the final image that she wanted to publish. Since the interim prints were saved, you can see how her thinking evolved.
In addition, there is significant variety within the various series. For example, some of the prints have both black and white and color versions. The viewer can decide for himself or herself which version of the image speaks best. It is not necessarily the version selected as the final one by the artist.
The art of oosterdam
Holland America Line is one of the cruise lines known for investing in art for its ships. The line attracts well-educated passengers who appreciate culture and a sophisticated atmosphere. Consistent with this, the Holland America ships feature museum quality art collections.
The art is not presented as in a museum or a gallery. Although there are plaques next to each work giving information about the artists and the work, the works mix in with the overall décor of the ships' public areas.
Recently, I sailed on Holland America's Oosterdam. As discussed below, that ship's collection can be divided into three categories.
First, the ship has quite a few works by contemporary artists. Chief among these is a series of maritime paintings by Stephen Card. On each landing of the ship's forward staircase is a large oil on canvas depicting ships that have sailed for Holland America line. The style is traditional and understated. Although accurate, these are not mechanical drawings but rather scenes of the ships in various locations under various weather conditions. They evoke the spirit of the sea and invite the viewer to enter into the scene. Card is clearly the leading contemporary maritime painter.
Holland America has an arrangement under which musicians are supplied to Holland America's ships by the late BB King's organization. Just outside where the BB King All-Stars play on Oosterdam are a series of sketches by Wil van der Laan depicting Mr. King and other musicians. The style here is free and loose capturing visually the energy of the musical performances.
The second category in the Oosterdam's collection are contemporary works inspired by or done in styles of the past. For example on the landings of the midships stairway are a series of large medallions by Lebigre & Roger that are essentially enlargements of coins issued by the Dutch East India Company between 1600 and 1800. The same artists also created a set of traditional bronze Commedia dell' Arte figures, which are also in Oosterdam's collection.
Each of the Holland America ships has a large maritime painting done in traditional Dutch style. On Oosterdam, this monumental work is an oil on aluminum called “Maritime Relations” by Cees Muller. It depicts a Baroque era city with numerous sailing ships in the waters surrounding the city.
The final category of works is antiques. Most of these works are European sculptures. Although by lesser
known (or unknown) artists, these works are of good quality and help to create a more refined atmosphere aboard the ship. I particularly liked the charming small marble bust of a woman by Henri Weigele from 19th century France.
“Max Ernst - Beyond Painting” at New York's Museum of Modern Art is a survey of the career of the Dada and surrealist artist including some 100 works from the Museum's collection. It is called “Beyond Painting” because of its focus on the different techniques that Ernst used in his works.
Ernst was born in 1891 outside of Cologne, Germany. By the time the First World War broke out in August 1914, he had already embarked on a career as an artist. Drafted into the German army, Ernst served on both the eastern and western fronts. The war had a traumatic effect on Ernst. Indeed, Ernst wrote that he died on the day the war broke out and was resurrected on the day of the armistice.
Returning to Germany, Ernst became interested in the Dada movement. The Dadaists believed that rational thought and bourgeois values had led to the war. Rejecting such thought, they were interested in exploring nonsense, irrationality and the inexplicable.
In the 1920s, the Dada movement blended into Surrealism. This movement sought to resolve dreams and reality into a super-reality.
It is not surprising that such movements found traction in the post-World War I era. Ernst's generation had just lived through a period where people had lived in mud trenches and at the sound of a whistle, stood up only to be mowed down in the thousands by machine guns and artillery as they tried to cross the lunar-like no man's land. In years of fighting, very little land changed hands. Meanwhile, people were living more or less normal lives a hundred miles from the front. The participants could very easily ask whether reality was rational.
Ernst explored these concepts first in Germany and then in France. When World War II began, Ernst experienced more absurdity. He was imprisoned by the French as an undesirable foreigner. Shortly after his friends persuaded the government to release him, the Germans occupied France. Ernst was again arrested, this time by the Gestapo for producing “degenerate art.”
Escaping to the United States, Ernst found some financial success and recognition. Nonetheless, he returned to France and continued to live there primarily from the the 1950s until his death in 1976.
Many of the Dadaists and Surrealists believed that traditional art embodied the bourgeois values that they rejected. This “anti-art” thinking extended to some extent to technique. Consequently, they looked for non-traditional technique to create art. This exhibition highlights some of the different techniques used by Ernst.
To illustrate, in The Gramineous Bicycle Garnished with Bells the Dappled Fire Damps and the Echinoderms Bending the Spine to Look for Caresses Ernst took a chart showing the metamorphosis of brewer's yeast cells, painted over portions of the chart with black paint and then drew in various objects. The result is an image that looks like an abstract circus performance.
In To the Rendezvous of Friends (The Friends Become Flowers, Snakes, and Frogs), Ernst made use of grattage. He built up layers of paint and then used hard-edged tools like spatulas and palette knives, to expose the underlying layers of paint and to create surface textures.
Ernst used decalcomania to produce the underlayers in Napoleon in the Wildreness. In this process, pigment is applied to a sheet of glass and then pressed onto the canvas. The squeezed pigment makes shapes on the canvas. Ernst then painted figures onto the canvas.
There is also a series of sheets in which Ernst used frattage (rubbings) to produce very realistic images. He then added various details to develop the images into something more surreal.
Ernst was also a sculptor and the exhibit has several works where Ernst took everyday objects and re-arranged them to create fantastic creatures.
Not abandoning traditional technique altogether, the exhibit includes several oil paintings. We see here that Ernst was a very good draftsman. But as in Woman, Old Man, and Flower, the scene has a hallucinatory quality, detailed yet full of the unexpected.
Certainly, the spotlight on technique in this exhibit is of interest to people who make art. However, it also provides a view into the creative process that should be of interest to all.
The art of freedom of the seas
When I go on a cruise, I look for places to see art in the various ports of call. However, sometimes you can see art without ever leaving the ship. This is because some cruise lines have invested in quality art collections on their ships.
Here, I am not talking about the art that is sold on board through a concessionaire. Nor am I talking about travel photos placed in the hallways for decoration. Rather, I am talking about art collections that typically cost the cruise lines millions of dollars.
Cruise ships with significant art collections are not limited to the luxury or premium cruise lines. For example, Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas is a popular cruise ship targeted primarily at mass market consumers. Yet, it has an art collection that cost millions and which took considerable effort to develop.
Freedom is a big, brightly decorated ship geared toward an active and energetic cruise experience. Accordingly, its art collection features contemporary works, often with pop art influences. The art works are located in the ship's public spaces, the stair towers and in the corridors leading to the staterooms.
The collection was put together in consultation with International Corporate Art. It was developed around a theme - - “the four basic elements that comprise the universe: Earth, Fire, Water & Air.” The theme is not always readily apparent in the works but it is not really essential to appreciating the collection.
The heart of the ship is the Royal Promenade, a multi-story passage running 445 feet and linking two atriums. With shops, bars and eateries along either side, it resembles a city street or a Las Vegas style mall.
Suspended from the ceiling midway down the Royal Promenade is the ship's most prominent art installation - - “Down Under,” a giant sculpture of a young woman who has just dove into the sea. Since you are looking up, you see her from the perspective of someone standing on the sea floor. British sculptor David Mach used fiberglass and steel to create this colorful piece.
In the forward atrium is another installation consisting of models of three fighter jets soaring upwards. They are in formation, about to peel off in different directions as in an air show. While spectacular while viewed from the base of the atrium, when you view the work from the upper decks, you see that the airplanes are decorated with fragments of images taken from frescoes by 18th century Venetian artist Giambattista Tiepolo. These images, taken from churches and placed on instruments of war, turn “Komba Tiepolo 30, 31 and 32” by Antonio Riello into a provocative statement.
At the other end of the Royal Promenade is a bridge with two lighted columns at each end. Atop each of the pillars is a copy of the Vittoria Alata (Winged Victory) statue in the Vittorio Emanuele Monument in Rome. In this work by Larry Kirkland, each of the pillars is meant to represent one of the four elements, the theme of the collection.
In the atrium just beyond the bridge is another installation – two large bronzed traffic lights. This is “Stop and Go” by Harald Vlugt.
Not all of the works on Freedom are monumental. Each landing in the stair towers contains works on a smaller scale. Most often these are photographs but these also include sculptures made with a variety of different materials.
To me, perhaps the most interesting works are in the corridors by the staterooms. Here, you can find works done in more traditional ways including prints and drawings. Unfortunately, the signage here is not as good as in the main public areas and so it is difficult to identify some of these works and the artists.
Since Freedom came into service in 2006, there have been a number of changes to her public areas. As a result, some of the works that were originally on the ship have been removed. However, it still is interesting to explore the art of Freedom of the Seas.
Above left: David Mach's "Down Under" dominates the Royal Promenade on Freedom of the Seas.
Above right: Suspended in the aft atrium is Harald Vlugt's "Stop and Go." Seen in the background below the aforementioned installation is Larry Kirkland's "The Four Elements".
Rich Wagner is a writer, photographer and artist.