Klimt has been one of my favourite artists since childhood and I was in love with his swirling gold canvases and naked ladies well before I understood exactly what sentiments may have inspired them. He idolised women and it’s easy to fall under the spell of this visual adoration.
The exhibition was criticized by some press as it didn’t have many of the key pieces that he was most famous for. ‘The Kiss’ was missing, as was ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer’ the one that Estee Lauder’s son bought for $135 million.
However it did take us on a journey through his career that included all kinds of styles and formats. His early and little known skill as a draftsman and classical painter is astonishing as is his deeply erotic use of colour. Lots of dark and macabre themes were also apparent and this depth appealed to my adult sensibility, now acutely aware that life has its necessary rhythm and needs dark to balance the light.
My favourite room was the last one that was filled with his pencil drawings of nudes. Towards the end of his life Klimt suffered from Syphilis induced impotence and this frustration was clearly felt in the intensity of the pieces, minimal with simple lines that were so loaded in precision and pent up emotion, I think everyone in the room felt a bit hot and bothered. One of my companions, a Geordie, summed it up succinctly … ‘he’s a bit of a perv but I like him for it’. Quite!
Klimt was part of a greater artistic group the Wiener Werkstätte that were challenging the norms and fighting the establishment, through their belief in ornate beauty in art. There were similarities in their thinking to how we approach modern day marketing, in that the idea comes first and the channel is simply a conduit for it. So whether the idea is expressed in a mural or a piece of furniture, or even a gown, it didn’t matter. Who would have thought the origins of ‘media neutrality’ may have been in Vienna at the turn of the century?