The Art History Babes

Four fresh Masters drink wine and discuss all things visual culture.

Glitzy Gustav Comes to the Golden State

alliteration for the win.

By: Corrie Hendricks

In honor of the centennial of the deaths of Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), San Francisco's Legion of Honor has mounted a truly unique exhibition, Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter. This exhibition highlights the philosophical and artistic interactions between Klimt and Rodin, cleverly calling attention to that one time the two artists hung out. This is a particularly notable art event for the West Coast, as Klimt has never had a full scale exhibition around these parts. With a fascinating concept and a heavy-hitting name like Gustav Klimt, this exhibition is sure to achieve blockbuster status. In other words, the Bay Area traffic getting out to the Legion is going to be worse than usual, so plan accordingly.

That being said, there are plenty of reasons to brave the transportation nightmare.

Klimt is Kinda Having a Moment

The work of Klimt has been on trend for a minute. His paintings are all over merchandise, and us millennials eat it up with a spoon (like this A line dress in multiple Klimt designs). If you attended college recently, I can pretty much guarantee you’ve seen Tree of Life or The Kiss, as these prints have been the en vogue dorm room decor for the past decade. However, legit Klimts are not particularly easy to come by. Tree of Life is hanging out in Brussels as part of mural. Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, the subject of a famous battle for ownership involving Nazis and the U.S. Supreme Court, now resides at the Neue Gallery in New York. And many of Klimt's most notable works including The Kiss and the Beethoven Frieze live permanently in Vienna. So unless you’ve been lucky enough to make it to Austria, chances are you haven’t had the experience of seeing a sizable amount his work in person. In other words, you should probably scadattle on over to the Legion of Honor, because this is novel.

I wasn't joking. This is me selfie-ing circa 2013 with my boy Gustav in the background.

I wasn't joking. This is me selfie-ing circa 2013 with my boy Gustav in the background.

Nat’s Klimt print is on another level. She’s got the high-quality canvas version from IKEA.

Nat’s Klimt print is on another level. She’s got the high-quality canvas version from IKEA.

Those Sexy Art Nouveau Vibes

There is no denying the glitzy allure of Klimt's work. He is known for his palette of eye-popping colors, use of sexy subject matter, and, of course, all that gold. Klimt somehow figured out a way to tap into the intense intricacies of death and sex AND appease the human desire to stare at shiny things. I mean, I can't say I'm surprised that we're loving on him at the particular time in history.

And lest we forget the controversy. Among the similarities highlighted by the exhibition, the most emphasized is the fact that Klimt and Rodin were both stirring up trouble around the same time. The two artists met on June 5th, 1902 during an exhibition mounted by the Vienna Secession. The Secession was formed as a response to conservatism in the arts and Klimt was running the show as one of the founding members. Rodin had already earned a reputation as a controversial, boundary-crossing artist. Unsurprisingly, he was seriously feeling their whole vibe.

Things to Look At

Replicas of panel 10 and panel 11 from the Beethoven Frieze.

Detail of Panels 10 & 11 of the replica of The Beethoven Frieze. Original by Gustav Klimt, 1902, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.

Detail of Panels 10 & 11 of the replica of The Beethoven Frieze. Original by Gustav Klimt, 1902, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.

Replicas of panel 10 and 11 of the Beethoven Frieze mark the entry to the exhibition. The frieze is one of Klimt’s most notable works, inspired by “Ode to Joy”. However, due to its very nature, you can’t really pick it up and take it anywhere. The replica is a particularly fitting way to kick off the exhibition, as the original work was first exhibited during the Vienna Secession’s 1902 Beethoven exhibition. As you have likely ascertained, this was the site of Rodin and Klimt’s artistic encounter (you know, the one from the title?).

I was a little giddy upon recognizing the frieze. However, replicas of this nature always leave me wondering about accuracy. I examined the details to try and determine whether it truly is a perfect reproduction of the original (as though I have some algorithmic knowledge of the original works of Gustav Klimt). My wandering mind began to ask questions about authenticity. Why doesn’t a replica give me the same warm magical feelings of an original?...and does this replica devalue the existence of the original?... and what does that say about human perception and the aesthetic experience?...and dear god what is art and what are we doing here?!!

Time to move along.

Nuda Veritas

Nude Veritas, Gustav Klimt, 1899, Österreichisches Theatermuseum, Vienna

Nude Veritas, Gustav Klimt, 1899, Österreichisches Theatermuseum, Vienna

I was drawn directly to Nuda Veritas solely because of its' hippie witch aura. There is no doubt in my mind that this work was inspiration for some sort of trippy activity circa the 1960s. But at the time of its creation, Klimt was actually making a pretty blatant statement, politely telling his critics to step back. The text situated above the personification of truth (a.k.a my witchy mother idol) reads "If you cannot please everyone with your actions and your art, you should please a few. To please many is bad.” To which I say -- Amen, brother.

The Virgin

The Virgin, Gustav Klimt, 1913, National Gallery in Prague

The Virgin, Gustav Klimt, 1913, National Gallery in Prague

The Virgin is displayed as the belle (or at least one of the belles) of the ball, situated in the center of the right wall of the exhibition's main gallery. And rightfully so, this work illustrates Klimt's signature ostentatious-but-not-really style. Your eye can't escape that whirlpool of color and ornamental pattern. And once you've been caught, it's easy to get lost in the subject matter. The primary figure ("The Virgin" or "The Maiden" depending on the translation) is supported by a group of female figures cuddling each other to create an image both innocent and erotic. 

Surprisingly, Klimt did not bring much gold with him to the Golden State. However, Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter displays the breadth of Klimt’s work in a way that has surely never been seen this side of the Mississippi. By integrating Klimt’s work with that of Rodin, the exhibition tells an intriguing story of simultaneous artistic development, highlighting the fact that Klimt and Rodin interacted (because, for real, who knew?). The creative curatorial vision and the sheer novelty of Klimt making it out of Vienna make this exhibition a must see. Plus you might learn something to justify wearing those shimmery Klimt-inspired leggings.

Can't make it out to the West Coast? Check out The Legion of Honor's Digital Story 

Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter is on view October 14th, 2017 through January 28th, 2018.