Sam Ben-Meir – August 14, 2018-Mareeg.com-This year marks the hundredth anniversary since the death of Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Egon Schiele (1890-1918), two of Austria’s greatest artists. That same year, 1918, also saw the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following its defeat in World War I – the end, that is, of an entire era, of a world.
Fin de siècle Vienna was a place of extraordinary innovation – in music (with Arnold Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School), in literature (with Modernists such as Robert Musil and Herman Broch), in science (with Sigmund Freud and the development of psychoanalysis), and, of course, the visual arts, with the founding of the Vienna Secession in 1897, whose first president was Gustav Klimt. In Vienna, the rupture caused by the war was total: the city became the archetype of “a doomed society, in which brilliant achievements glowed in the gathering twilight.”
The Neue Galerie in New York City is celebrating the centenary with a concise but captivating show highlighting the expressive and erotically charged draftsmanship of Klimt and Schiele. In his 1908 manifesto “Ornament and Crime”, Adolf Loos famously states that “All art is erotic.” Klimt was one of the main targets of Loos’ essay. Klimt’s drawings were sometimes ancillary works and preparatory studies for major portraits – but the drawings for which he is best known are independent studies of nude models. These were women, either solitary or in couples, in often explicitly erotic poses, postures and attitudes.
Klimt is the consummate painter of women. Men hardly seem to interest him at all: it is the female form that is the persistent theme throughout Klimt’s work. The painter was also a brilliant draughtsman and over three thousand drawings of his have survived. A small but suggestive handful of these have made their way to the Neue Galerie’s thrilling exhibition. As with Klimt’s Reclining Nude drawn in blue pencil, they are oftentimes engaged in autoeroticism – and while the pictures are usually minimal in the way of detail, Klimt’s graceful line is sufficient to give these works a delicate, genuine intimacy and wonderfully alluring quality.