Thursday, March 22, 2018

GUSTAV KLIMT/AUGUSTE RODIN EXHIBIT at Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco

"Klimt...a great destroyer of traditions and a creator of terrifying beauty."
-Jonathan Jones, The Guardian, 2008.
Guest photographer © 2018 Kurt Ingham, first three photographs. Above, yours truly spellbound at Klimt's Die Jungfrau, 1913, oil on canvas, on loan from the National Gallery of Prague. Object of day trip excursion to San Francisco: one of the last three days of the Gustav Klimt exhibit at the Legion of Honor Museum, KLIMT & RODIN: An Artistic Encounter, October 14, 2017 to January 28, 2018.
Above, your humble photojournalist in front of Klimt's Portrait of Sonja Knips, 1898; also, in our living room, my copy of the same painted during my tenure at UCLA Art School. The subject was undercoats, and the class assignment was to copy any painting that the student thought demonstrated this as an important element (copying teaches one to duplicate whatever the original artist did, stroke by stroke. It is valid art education.) The background is dark green undercoat with red on top to make a warm, organic brown. I messed up the facial likeness but thought that I portrayed an actual body existing under all that white organza of the dress rather well.

Well done, particularly given the limitations of source material and space. The exhibit marked the first time that a retrospective with over two dozen works by Klimt ever has been seen on the West Coast of the U.S. in the one hundred years since the artist's death. It also marked the first time I ever had seen a Klimt painting in person. The Belvedere had been closed for renovation the one time Mr. Twister and I were in Vienna, and the pop up show of the five paintings owned by Maria Altmann (for the book and story of the famous art restitution case around them, see LINK* ) at the L.A. Art Museum was a sold-out sardine-fest of wall to wall people, which never would have let me see them up close had I squeezed in.

While appreciating all greatness in fine art, my true art obsessions have been restricted to the Pre-Raphaelite movement, Whistler and Klimt. Why Klimt? It remains gratingly problematic to describe anything which one truly, madly, deeply loves. This is why we distinguish between writers and poets, and I am no poet. Klimt has been a personal favorite since a UCLA art teacher of mine in 1970 showed us his line drawings, and pointed out that this artist's very realistic understanding of human physiognomy anchored all the wild stuff. I didn't even see the color extravaganzas in books until later (source of my art class copy.) Add his myriad phases from classical to metallic to fauve amidst the intrigue of Fin du Siecle Vienna, his combo of decorative, art nouveau symbolism to spankin' new unknown territories, plus his visual assertion that we women had fun during sex as well.

Detail, Portrait of Gertrud Loew, 1902                                   Portrait of Ria Munk, 1918
The showpiece work Jungfrau normally lives in Prague at their National Museum. 
Another seminal work like the Portrait of Gertrud Loew, the teenager painted Whistler-style white on white from a single photograph (one of five such works ever, since Klimt preferred live sitters, the others being three posthumous portraits of Ria Munk, one of which adorns this exhibit, and the last of another teenager was lost after its Nazi theft) has the normal checkered history of many Austrian masterpieces- confiscated by the Nazis when Gertrud fled for her life in 1938, then a miasma of ownership battles. This painting eventually was claimed by Klimt's bastard son Gustav Ucicky the Nazi filmmaker, whose widow at least was convinced to return it to Gertud's survivors after the war.

Those survivors, unequipped to provide security for a $40 million dollar painting, sold it at Sotheby's to British billionaire Joe Lewis. I truly wish Lewis would loan this amazing work indefinitely to a worthy museum, as the painting otherwise lives on his yacht! (rather less secure than most metropolitan museums.) Lewis also owns the gorgeous if unfinished Portrait of Ria Munk 3, 1917 exhibited here, which helps show us Klimt's processes for decoration within portraiture. Another late work The Baby normally lives in Washington D.C.'s National Gallery, and Vienna's The Belvedere and Leopold Museums even loaned three gorgeous Klimt landscapes. Ronald Lauder's Neue Galerie, NYC loaned the famous "The Black Hat, 1910 (which has adorned many an art book cover) and the Vienna Theatre Museum loaned the equally famous Nuda Veritas of the full frontal redhead with early styling of Klimt's gold fixations... 

   Nuda Veritas, 1897                                                          The Black Hat, 1910

A surprise to me in the Legion of Honor Klimt exhibit: a life-sized (14ft. x 17ft.) reproduction of Medicine by Klimt, 1904 via its only known source, an old black and white of this lost colorful work, above with humanoid fragment for scale. This startling painting was incinerated by the Nazis, along with the majority of his most radical work. Please read this short article by Jonathan Jones that explains all, see (no shortcut, please cut and paste, worth it!): A key paragraph states "...For every person who finds his work gorgeous, seductive, sexy, there is a 'sophisticate' who will point out that his art is surely a bit vulgar, with all that gold; a bit slavish in its ostentatious celebration of rich women; and a bit, well, soft-centred. It's a negative view that is an accident of history, of what has survived of his work and what hasn't. Behind the Klimt everyone knows, the opulent artist of desire, stands another Klimt - a painter who was years ahead of Picasso and Matisse, a great destroyer of traditions and a creator of terrifying beauty."

Similar 14ft. x 17ft. photographic reproduction of the lost, colorful mural Philosophy from the same series, next to Rodin bronze.

Above, Mr. Twister and his Twin-lens Reflex cell phone camera in front of life-sized reproduction of a detail of Klimt's Beethoven Frieze. The original of this restored mural now is housed in the similarly restored Secession building in Vienna, Austria, Klimt's stomping grounds. He was the first president of the breakaway Vienna Secession of artists and applied artists.

Two Girls with Oleander, 1890, primo example of Klimt's earlier proto-photorealism, the popularity of which led to many commissions with his brother for murals on Vienna civic buildings and theatres. The controversies over the Medicine, Philosophy and Jurisprudence murals ended those commissions, freeing Klimt to take off in whatever new directions he chose.  Painting and "interacting" with beautiful, rich Jewish society ladies suited this Austrian Casanova's personality better, anyway.

←cover of the catalog for the very first exhibition by the Vienna Secession, 1897, drawing by Klimt, its first President.

Below, various antiquities that are part of the Legion of Honor Museum's permanent collection.


At the airport on our way home from the Klimt exhibit; and below, actually dining al fresco at the museum earlier. Mr. Twister brought some unprognosticated good weather with him...

Mr. Twister at the Legion of Honor collonade, with a Rodin bronze, and at its park with a Golden Gate behind in the distance...

            (photos © 2018 Kurt Ingham) Happy traveler...


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