Saturday, July 30, 2016

Gustav Klimt, Dead (and Alive) at the Met Breuer

Gustav Klimt is the guy who painted "the kiss" which everyone has seen a million times, usually in your first apartment after college. Your roomate bought the poster on sale, squashed it into a shitty frame from Ikea and hung it right above that white sofa no one realized was an ass bad idea until the inaugural coffee incident ten minutes after delivery.

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt
on sale at
I never was a huge fan of The Kiss. A little too gooey twee with a glass slipper and chirping forest creatures. Plus the gentleman's desperate spinal stenosis situation. But I warmed up to Gustav after I saw Hope, up close and personal, at MoMA a while back:

Hope III at MoMA
Wow. She's something to stand your ground and stare at. The size, the party colors.

And then there's this one I stumbled across at the Met Breuer in the spring:

I went back yesterday for another look. It's in the exhibition called "Unfinished." Meaning, the artists never finished the work. Generally because they kicked off. On the whole, it was all gloriously morbid and haunting. I was fully onboard.

Here's the caption on this one:

Gustav Klimt
Austrian, Baumgarten 1862-1918 Vienna
Portrait of Ria Munk III, 1917-1918

Death stands at the beginning and the end of this work's history. The young woman, Maria ("Ria") Munk, committed suicide on December 28, 1911 after the write Hanns Heinz Ewers called off their engagement.

Klimt, the most sought-after portraitist in Vienna at the time, was commissioned to paint her posthumous portrait. He struggled with the task and the first two portraits did not meet the family's approval.

While still working on his third portrait of Ria, Klimt himself died. A beautiful example of his famous portrayals of women, this unfinished work gives fascinating insight into the artist's process. 

Note the tentative placement of painted color patches amid rapidly sketched charcoal lines, the precisely outlined ornaments waiting to be filled in, and the fully developed flower pattern that envelopes the upper part of the figure.

It's the flowers that get you.  Blooming and stone cold dead, all at once. I'm a sucker for this whole paradoxical unity thing.

"When the work is done, it is forgotten. That is why it lasts forever." 

That's a soundbyte by Lao Tzu, ancient eastern philosophizer.

Also there's this dictionary definition I always kind of liked:

Eschatology (eskatalogy): the part of theology concerned with death, judgement and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind. eschatological. eschatologist.

Put them both together and you get me, at the Met Breuer for the same show, two times. Maybe three times if someone is interested in getting hauled around the joint. 
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