July 25, 2012

Vienna beckons through Klimt exhibit

Posted in Art, Between Us column, Travel at 9:27 pm by dinaheng

The work of Gustav Klimt, one of Austria’s greatest painters, led the way into Modernism at the turn of the 20th century, making Vienna one of its birthplaces.

A beautiful exhibition of his work, “Gustav Klimt:The Magic of Line,” is on display at The Getty Center in Los Angeles through September 23. This retrospective, dedicated to the drawings of the painter best known for his work “The Kiss,” was organized by the Albertina Museum in Vienna, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Klimt’s birth.

“For Klimt, art is turning inward and exploring different psychological states,” says Lee Hendricks, senior curator of drawings at The Getty Center, who helped put the exhibition together. “He, along with some other artists who were dissatisfied with the conservative Viennese art scene, introduced avant garde art to Vienna in the Secessionist movement. He became one of the greatest graphic artists that ever lived.”

The exhibit features wonderfully detailed life drawings that were the beginnings of his other work. For a ceiling fresco in Vienna’s Burgtheater, for example, he painted “Shakespeare’s Theater,” a depiction of the crypt scene from “Romeo & Juliet” at the Globe Theater.

“He went out on the street and pulled these people over to dress them in costumes from ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ “ explains Hendricks. “He dressed his brother as the dead Romeo.
from nude models that are sensuous and often frankly erotic.”

In the later years, his life drawings featured nude figures that were sensuous and often frankly erotic.

“Floating nude women became a theme for the rest of his career,” Hendricks says. “It meant Man is not empowered to take control of his life, and the only way to cope is to give up and float through life. His work says humankind is part of a continuum, with no control over his fate.”

Ironically, Klimt’s paintings are often seen as being symbolic of the spirit of optimism that marked the beginning of the Modernist era.

This year, Vienna is marking the 150th anniversary of the celebrated artist’s birthday with a series of events, featuring about 800 of his works around the city at museums including the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Leopold Museum, the MAK, the Austrian Folklore Museum and others.

“Klimt had a long life and never married,” says Norbert Kettner, managing director of the Vienna Tourist Board. “Vienna, at the turn of the century, was the fifth largest city in the world. The times of the empires were over, and Vienna became the birthplace of the arts, sciences and culture. Today, we are a middle-size city that combines northern European efficiency and southern European lifestyle.”

He notes that Viennese cuisine is the only one in the world named after a city, which is not surprising since vineyards in the capital city of Austria have a long history, not to mention the city’s prolific coffee houses.

If Klimt’s work isn’t enough to entice visitors, Vienna also has a long tradition in music — think Johann Strauss I, Franz Schubert, or the Vienna Boys Choir.

“We like to combine the finer things in life — going to the theater and enjoying fine foods afterwards,” says Astrid Pockfuss, media relations manager for the Vienna Tourist Board. “Fifty percent of the city is green space. You can take the train to the wineries, and at night, you can go to a black tie ball.”

Vienna is perhaps the last great bastion of the 19th century ball, holding more than 200 significant balls each year, some with as many as nine live orchestras. For as little as 50 euros, Pockfuss notes, you can buy a ticket to a ball and wander from one hall to another to enjoy the music and cultural atmosphere.

You never know who you might meet. You might even find your own inspiration for “The Kiss.”

For more information about Austria’s capital city, check out www.vienna.info/en.

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