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Review: The Klimt Exhibition

The hotly anticipated work of Austria’s king of bling has arrived for Liverpool 08. Vinny Lawrenson Woods gives it the once over

Published on June 5th 2008.


Review: The Klimt Exhibition

IT MIGHT be dubbed the most comprehensive Gustav Klimt exhibition ever held in the UK, but with many of his famous paintings missing, including his most recognisable piece, The Kiss, the much anticipated Tate Liverpool show is a little light in terms of Klimt’s total collection.

Apparently, the shortfall is due to the general reluctance of owners to lend highly expensive and fragile works, but I couldn’t help wonder if this were held in London, would more pieces have been forthcoming? In reality, this is an exhibition about the Viennese Art Nouveau movement and the Viennese Workshop in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with Klimt at its focal point.

Gustav Klimt was the first elected president of the Viennese Secession. Formed in 1897, along with painter Carl Moll, designer Kolomon Moser and architects Josef Hoffman, Otto Wagner, Joseph Maria Olbrich, the Secession used art, design and architecture to challenge Viennese artistic traditions.

Klimt left the Secession in 1905 after disagreements over artistic concepts and the commercialisation of art, later joining the Viennese Workshop in 1908. Ironic really, considering that Klimt’s portrait of his patron, Adele Bloch-Bauer, was bought for £73 million in 2006 by Ronald S. Lauder for New York’s Neue Gallerie , making his painting the most expensive in history and surprising every art expert in the process.

Supported by Liverpool’s Culture Company, this exhibition is seen as another high profile coup in a weekend that included Paul McCartney’s return to Liverpool.

And, like the concert, getting a ticket for the exhibition could be just as difficult. Around 16,000 people booked tickets before it even began, and 100,000 more are expected, breaking all previous Tate Liverpool records.

The show begins on ground floor of the Tate with our first taste of Klimt’s art, a copy of the mammoth Beethoven Frieze.

Created in 1902 and achieving a unification of different art forms, the 34-metre long piece was based on Richard Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and originally painted directly on the walls. With musical instruments, nudes, animals and lots of glitter, including the spellbinding knight in golden armour, the frieze is a wonderful example of Klimt’s symbolism.

The exhibition continues on the fourth floor. A range of styles and methods are employed by Klimt, including a rare painting of a man, a near-photographic quality portrait of composer Joseph Pembauer. It’s obvious that Klimt is a master of portraits and nudes, creating haunting and erotic paintings rich in storytelling and metaphors. Knowing that he had sexual relationships with a number of his female models only adds to the intrigue. The portrait of Eugenia Primavesi is a great example and is absolutely captivating.

The exhibition extends to the other Secession and Workshop artists as well, especially his friend and collaborator Josef Hoffman. He excels as a designer. To say his furniture was way ahead of its time would be a complete understatement. Many would not look out of place today.

Klimt and the other artists were also strongly influenced by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Klimt also re-interprets other styles including Impressionism and gives a nod to Monet. His landscapes are complex and busy but don’t have the same confidence as his other work.

The exhibition comes to end with Klimt’s own collection of art and furniture from his studio. Strange I suppose since Klimt said if we wanted to understand him to look no further than his own art.

Although the exhibition does not contain all of Klimt’s paintings, there’s enough to help understand Klimt’s development as an artist, his influences and his passions as well as rare opportunity to see so many of his beautiful works under the same roof. Well worth the visit.

Klimt Exhibition, until August 31, 2008, Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock. Tickets £8 (£6 concs).

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