It has taken over a century for Gustav Klimt to gloriously return to Venice. His first exhibition at the Biennale dates back to 1910, and the show was a triumph: his extravagant, yet delicate, paintings had been placed right opposite Renoir’s, as to emphasize the striking difference between these two masters and the gap that divided their conception of beauty and visual arts.
Now over a century later Klimt returns as the protagonist of a remarkable exhibition held in the rooms of the Museo Correr. Walking through the cosy rooms overlooking St. Mark’s Square (the view is breathtaking – make sure you manage to snap a quick picture from one of the windows before you leave) we take a step back in time to revisit the motives and evolution of the Vienna Secession, the outstanding artistic movement Klimt founded in 1897 along with Josef Hoffmann and Joseph Maria Olbrich, among others.
From architecture to fashion design, from painting to decorative arts, these artists embraced the whole range of visual aesthetics to create an incisive collective stance on their times and celebrate the power of artistic achievement in a rapidly evolving society which needed a new drive to sustain change, question tradition and creatively combine it with modernity.
The works of art selected for the exhibition are displayed in chronological order, so that visitors can slowly immerse themselves in the splendour of art nouveau, and retrace the path that led to masterpieces such as Hoffmann’s monumental Stoclet Palace (1905- 1911).
Klimt is, of course, the key protagonist of the show: once I found myself facing the massive Beethoven Frieze (1901-1902) and the almost onyric The Kiss (1907-1908) I could not help but be charmed by their flashes of gold and green, as well as their delicate celebration of female sensuality.
Rigour and fragility are equally important in his style, whose intensity lies precisely in his ability to mix sweetness with bold colour choices.
Curator Alfreid Weidinger managed to create a perfect balance between historical investigation and iconographic evolution: the result is a truly enjoyable exhibition that is both rich in content and aesthetically pleasing.
While the purpose of artistic movements in our postmodern times may be at odds with today’s idea of success as a strictly individual pursuit, I believe this exhibition wants to us question if such an operation might still be successful as a means to promote culture when nothing truly original seems to be produced anymore.
Could there be such a thing as a “school” without homologation? Could contemporary artists face such a challenge?
There is, however, one thing I am 100% sure about: I did not leave the museum disappointed, or without sore feet. I felt like having visited a dreamy world where colours and shapes are still capable of making life much lighter and perturbing at the same time.
The exhibition will be open until July 8th at Correr Museum, Venice.