Feature

Exhibition of the week

Gustav Klimt

Exhibition of the week
Gustav Klimt

Neue Galerie, New York
Through June 30, 2008

Gustav Klimt was “one of modern art’s great irregulars,” said Roberta Smith in The New York Times. A new exhibition at New York’s Neue Galerie sums up his contradictions well. “Beginning as a conservative, even reactionary artist, he then crossed over to become a leading rebel,” eschewing realism for an ornate style that above all favors decorative flourish. A womanizer and misogynist, he became most famous for his romantic depictions of nudes. Here Klimt’s harem is on display in all its variety, from vampirish waifs to glamorous Byzantine queens. This “slightly rambling, something-foreveryone Klimt-o-rama” brings together eight paintings and more than 120 drawings from the collections of Neue Galerie founders Ronald Lauder and Serge Sabarsky. Don’t come here expecting insight into the artist, said James Gardner in The New York Sun. You might, however, gain some insight into the art market. Klimt has become one of those few painters whose works “have the power to make otherwise affluent and well-mannered people crawl all over one another” to obtain them. It was Ronald Lauder, you may recall, who made headlines when he paid a record $135 million for Klimt’s Adele Bloch- Bauer I. That painting is “the queen bee” of the display here, and part of the game is to decide for yourself whether the price was worth it. The truth is, Klimt can’t hold a candle to Picasso, Leonardo, Monet, or other artists whose works sell for similar prices. “He can be sloppy, lackluster, and uninspired,” even though his best paintings summon a rare mood of “saturated, hypnagogic, well-nigh unutterable beauty.” What shines through here “is not Klimt’s hesitant modernity but the prettiness with which he illustrated adolescent fantasies,” said Ariella Budick in Newsday. An air of supposedly decadent scandalousness hangs about these undeniably sensual images. But even when Klimt painted them, such scenes were hardly shocking. “Far from being repelled by the gaudy fleshliness of his style, socialites clamored to be portrayed as orgasmic females washed in cataracts of hair.” Most artists outgrow their pubescent sexual fascinations. Not Klimt. So while this exhibition may have been intended to prove how important an artist he was, all it does is underline “how enduring and, ultimately, how boring Klimt’s obsessions were, at least to those who don’t happen to share them.”

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