Klimt's Vienna

Klimt's Vienna14th September 2012 - 27th January 2013 Add to calendar

The exhibition aims to reconstruct the artistic and cultural climate in Vienna at the turn of the 19th century, recreating the atmosphere of that magnificent era that was so rich in innovation. Paintings, drawings, sophisticated works of applied art, furniture and jewels bear witness to a period that marked a major break with the official artistic organisations of the day, after Gustav Klimt and other artists, in May 1897, declared their “Secession” from the Künstlerhaus, the powerful official association of Viennese artists that refused to recognise the new group. The exhibition will be taking a look at some well-known masterpieces from a different perspective, revealing the connecting thread running through the full spectrum of the arts, redefining the individual in the modern age. In painting, in the decorative arts and in music, this also entailed dialogue and contrast between decorated surfaces and a search for the essence of modernity. The city’s sense of identity began to include a new interest in sexuality, psychology and literature; such figures as Sigmund Freud and Robert Musil are closely linked with the Vienna of the time.

The exhibition will be exploring the ways in which Otto Wagner spawned a new architectural vocabulary where style is determined by function rather than by form, and highlighting the role that the Secession played in the renewal of art in Austria, introducing the Viennese public to international trends in modern art by developing the “total work of art” concept. It will also be looking at two opposing views of modernity personified by Adolf Loos and Josef Hoffmann; the clash between their two visions is highlighted by the different approach to drawing that emerges from the work of Kokoschka and Klimt.

At the same time, the exhibition will be probing the way in which the portraits of Klimt, Kokoschka, Schiele and Gerstl redefined the traditional genre of portrait painting. The theme of psychological portaiture transcending superficial appearances will be illustrated by an extraordinary selection of female portraits by Klimt and Kokoschka: Klimt’s women are frozen like icons in the fabulous garb in which they are swathed, their heads and hands alone betraying their individuality, while Kokoschka strips his women right down to their naked flesh. These masterpieces will be accompanied by a display of costumes and jewels from the Wiener Werkstätte. Male portraits by such artists as Kubin and Schönberg will show how portraiture went hand in hand with the parallel development of psychology, alongside portraits by Kokoschka, Schiele, Gerstl and Oppenheimer. With his forcefully dramatic and cutting personal style, Egon Schiele managed perhaps better than any other artist to explore the more disturbing and painful side of man’s existence, while Oskar Kokoschka’s work, guided by the strength of his psychological perception and his violently expressionistic use of colour, weaves its way around the spectrum of subsconscious fear and suffering to which modern society condemns the individual.

Sections devoted to music and to the theatre will illustrate the crucial role played by the performing arts in the development of the modern Viennese style. An auditorium will allow the visitor to track the stylistic evolution and new musical trends of the era, focusing on such masterpieces as Richard Strauss’ Salome and Elektra, on which the composer cooperated with poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and the work of Arnold Schönberg who, at that precise moment, was paving the way in his Gurrelieder for the breakdown of tonality that was to lead to the twelve-note (or dodecaphonic) system.

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Contact information

Palazzo Strozzi
Palazzo Strozzi
Piazza Strozzi


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