One of the most prominent artists of the Vienna Secession, Gustav Klimt produced works that were perceived as highly sensuous and overtly erotic. It is these works that have secured him a reputation which has grown steadily over the last 100 years and transformed him from an artist condemned as pornographic at the end of the 19th century, to one of the highest-selling and most ubiquitous artists of the 21st.
Klimt is in some ways comparable to famous pop artist, Andy Warhol, who catered for the decadent upper classes whilst creating bold, obvious works that were easily accessible to the general public. It could be argued that Klimt has appealed both to the high-end collectors willing to pay huge sums for original pieces, and to the mass market where his distinctive style has lent itself to commodification. Several of his works have sold for over $40 million; in 2006 his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I briefly held the record for most expensive painting ever sold at auction. In recognition of the proliferation of kitsch Klimt imagery, the Vienna Museum also launched a tongue in cheek ‘Worst of Klimt’ campaign on its Facebook profile in the run up to the city’s celebrations and invited people to post examples of ‘the most horrible or most absurd Klimt products’. The examples that cause ‘the most controversy, discussion or approval under the Facebook community,[…] will be rewarded with a joint exclusive guided tour through the exhibition’, which opened on 16 May 2012.
From 14 February to 6 May 2012, Vienna’s Museum of Fine Arts played host to a major show of Gustav Klimt’s earlier works. The Leopold Museum provided the stage for the exhibition Gustav Klimt: Up Close and Personal from 24 February to 27 August, which featured letters to and from the artist alongside rare diaries and sketches, and between 14 March to 10 June the Albertina began a show of 170 drawings. The city’s centrepiece exhibition was undoubtedly the Wien Museum’s Klimt from 16 May to 16 September where their entire Klimt archive, totalling over 400 paintings, drawings and posters will be put on show for the first time. The Belvedere, whose substantial permanent collection of works by the artist includes The Kiss, played their part in the showing titled Gustav Klimt/Josef Hoffmann: Pioneers of Modernism which went on until 4 March.
In addition to the exhibitions and showings of the artist’s works and achievements, Vienna played host to several parties in Gustav Klimt’s honour. An appropriate celebration, some would say, to commemorate one of the most distinctive artists of all time.
By Ilaria Mallozzi