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I travelled from London to Liverpool for the day just to see this exhibition. I've loved Klimt's images since I first came across them in my teens (a long while ago lol) and was excited to have the chance to see them in the flesh.
I have previously have seen other exhibitions there and knew the size of the temporary exhibition space, also it was advertised widely as the first major exhibition of his work in the UK. Even though I knew there would be documentation and work by contemporaries I thought there would be plenty to take my breath away WRONG.
I was very disappointed by the work on show. The Beethoven frieze on the ground floor is a copy, which I could accept in a museum or if it was a conceptual piece in which the fact of it being copied was part of the artist's intention, but for me it sat very poorly in an a gallery context.
Upstairs the paintings (surely what most people came to see) would have fitted into one large room There were some unrepresentative early works, a couple of unfinished pieces, some landscapes and some portraits, there were a couple of the allegorical works including Salome which was for me the best thing i saw in my visit.
The other work by Klimt consisted of drawings, mainly prepatory sketches for larger work and some life studies. Many of the life drawings were of women masturbating which was quite interesting and did make me wonder with a free rein in a more open society what kind of work he would have produced.
There was only one work by his protege/friend Schiele, a large portrait of them together. Though it did prove the link between them personallyI would have much rather seen something that showed the links between their work. This painting like many others was behind glass, obviously because of conservation concerns but was impossible to see properly because of the reflection from the lights. There were also a few small works by Moll and the Mackintoshes which I found more relevant.
That was it for the art. The rest of the exhibition (ie most of it) was taken up by objects and furnishings owned by his patrons/friends and/or produced by the Vienna Workshop, old photos of the friends/ objects/buildings, Klimt's smock and photos of him wearing it etc. Quite interesting as an adjunct to a 'major exhibition' but in this context so much padding.
Reading back over this I've made it sound more interesting than it actually was. I wasn't the only one feeling this way. I overheard a woman saying how disappointed she was to her husband, I made a comment in agreement and we were immediately joined by a third! While I was filling out a feedback postcard at the front desk one staff member admitted there had been a lot of complaints which she put down to the way the exhibition had been marketed giving people false expectations.
On the plus side all the liverpudlians I came in contact with that day were charming which improved the over all experience greatly.
The Gustav Klimt exhibition runs until 31st August 2008 and is the first comprehensive exhibition of Klimt's work ever staged in the UK. It is housed on the first and fourth floors of the Liverpool Tate gallery situated in the Albert Dock on the waterfront.
~ Entrance Fee - Visiting Times - Gift Shop ~
Tickets are £8 (£6 concessions) and can be booked in advance. Although I am not totally in favour of entrance fees for art exhibitions, I would say that this exhibition is well worth the £8, especially if you're an art lover. When you purchase your ticket you only have 30 minutes to enter the gallery so don't wander off into the other galleries or the coffee shop beforehand. I visited at midday on a Sunday and the gallery wasn't too packed but I did notice it getting really crowded by the time I left around about two hours later - I suppose it was the after-dinner crowd. I would imagine the ideal time to visit would be mornings during weekdays. In August the gallery will be open late until 21.00hrs from Tuesday to Saturday, although I would avoid visiting during the Beatles festival. There is plenty of parking around the Albert Dock and a new plush underground car park over the road at the Liverpool 1 shopping development.
It is worth pointing out that, coinciding with the Klimt show, there is an excellent free exhibition: 'The Twentieth Century: How it looked & how it felt'. Here you will find many notable works by famous 20th artists including Picasso, Degas, Pollock, Mondrian, Bridget Riley, Magritte and Matisse.
Adjoining the final gallery of the Klimt exhibition as you leave, there is the expected art and gift shop dedicated to Klimt where you can buy prints, books and jewellery amongst other nick-knacks. It is here that you can buy a copy of the catalogue at a 'special exhibition price'. I really wanted to buy it, but at £20 it was too special for me.
~ Gustav Klimt The Artist ~
Gustav Klimt was an influential Austrian painter of the late 19th Century, one of the founders and leaders of the Vienna Secession art movement - a progressive group of artists and craft workers whose creations and philosophy - expressed in painting, architecture, fashion, decorative objects and furniture - was a challenge to Viennese artistic traditions of Vienna and aimed to redefine the relationship between art and society. Klimt's works comprise portraiture, allegories, landscapes and 'humanity' or mythological paintings. Women and the female form are the dominant subject matter.
~ Klimt's Style ~
Klimt's often painterly style with its dominating geometric patterns and compressed flattened spaces was influenced by the decorative arts (he studied at the fine arts academy and his father was a gold engraver). Other influences come from his keen interest in Byzantine mosaics, Japanese prints and Chinese paintings.
Klimt's earlier works comprise drawings and painting that are almost neoclassical in theme. One painting in the exhibition "Two Girls with an Oleander c.1890-2" looks as if it could have been borrowed from the pre-Raphaelite collection at the nearby Walker Art Gallery. Klimt later adopts a more impressionist technique after a visit to Paris where he met some of the impressionists. This is eventually transformed into a more expressionist style as space and form are abandoned and his figures become more distorted and exaggerated. Klimt became a major influence on later Expressionist painters. Klimt's paintings also express his love for geometric form. This is perhaps most evident in his square landscapes, but also noticeable in how his male figures tend to be represented as rectilinear shapes, whereas his female figures are often rounded and flowing.
~ The Structure of the Exhibition ~
It is important to point out that this is not purely a retrospective of Klimt's work. The exhibition also includes work by some of the other artists and designers who formed part of the Viennese Secession and the Weiner Werkstatte movements. The latter was strongly influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement and as such, there are some illustrations of design work by Glasgow's Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Most prominent among the other Viennese artists is the designer Kolomon Moser, the painter Carl Moll and especially the architect and designer Josef Hoffmann. There are some striking examples of furniture and smaller household items. In particular I remember being impressed by an eloquent decorative card table and a very snazzy set of cutlery designed by Hoffman. The cutlery and many of the other objects were produced by the Weiner Werkstatte, who promoted the idea of the 'total environment', in which art enhances all aspects of life.
Klimt's artworks are displayed in ten room settings. Some of the rooms are designed to give and idea of the original environments from where the artworks came. These were the homes and buildings of Klimt's patrons: Fritz and Lili Waerndorfer; the Wittgenstein family; Otto and Eugenia Primavesi. As such, you will find paintings reunited with the furniture and objects they originally accompanied.
~ Notable Absences ~
If you want to see Klimt's most iconic painting 'The Kiss' you'll have to travel to the Belvedere gallery in Vienna to see it, although it's probably already been seen by many in a thousand student bedsits and art shops. Another absent work is 'Judith and Holofernes' 1901, one of Klimt's spectacular gold paintings. It presents a similar theme to Judith II that is included in this exhibition. Perhaps understandably you will not see the 1907 "Portrait of Adèle Bloch-Bauer", purchased for $135m (£68.4m) a couple of years ago by a New York gallery owner. It was the most expensive painting in history at the time of its purchase.
I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel a bit cheated and disappointed by the absence of the painting 'Water Serpents' 1907. It's one of my favourite Klimt paintings and has been used on posters to promote the exhibition throughout Liverpool and is on the front of the visitor guide that is handed to you as you enter the exhibition. It's even on the front cover of the catalogue - everywhere except in the exhibition!
One important thing to note about Klimt's existing work is that possibly his greatest paintings no longer exist. A collection of 13 paintings were purposely destroyed by fire at the Immendorf Castle in southern Austria in 1945. Ironically the paintings had initially been stored there by the Third Reich in order to preserve them from air raids over Vienna, but after the death of Hitler an SS unit decided to destroy the works in order to prevent them falling into the hands of the encroaching Russians. These paintings included three of Klimt's greatest and most influential works: Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Medicine.
One reason given for the absence of certain works, apart from their value, is that the paintings are in such a fragile state that it would have been too risky to transport them. For this reason it is unlikely that so much of Klimt's work will ever be exhibited together again - making this exhibition a once in a lifetime experience.
~ 1st Floor - The Beethoven Frieze ~
The first room of the exhibition is on the ground floor and displays a full-scale reconstruction of the Beethoven Frieze (the original is on permanent view at the Vienna Secession). I was aware that it was a replica of the original although it would be quite easy to walk in and not realise this. It was a monumental installation created by Klimt in 1902, celebrating his idea of Gesamtkunstwerk (the total work of art). Klimt's interest in trying to represent music in painting was influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche's 1872 book The Birth of Tragedy that espoused the idea of music as the purest art form because of its unique ability to stir the deepest felt passions and to stimulate the very core of human consciousness. The Beethoven Frieze is a fantastic work of art, but because it was a replica, I perhaps unjustly, didn't give it all the attention that it deserved. The exhibition continues on the fourth floor which is accessed by a lift. Once you leave the ground floor there is no turning back so make sure you see all you want to see.
~ Fourth Floor Galleries ~
Here I am just mentioning what I recall. It is impossible to recall every room in detail. The first room upstairs is dedicated to Klimt's earlier work and to the secessionists movement. The room is dark and the paintings and drawings are beautifully lit. You will be greeted upon entry by the spectacular painting 'Nude Veritas' (1889) that dominates the room. Some of Klimt's earliest neo-classical works are here. I particularly liked a small female nude drawing in black chalk, wash and gold: 'Allegory of Sculpture' (1896). The secessionists held their first exhibition in March 1898 and the poster for the exhibition; "Theseus Fighting the Minotaur", designed by Klimt is also present.
Further on there is one room dedicated to Klimt's landscape paintings in square format. These are quite beautiful paintings that evoke a sense of calm and tranquillity. Some are impressionist in style whilst others lean towards expressionism. My favourite was 'Calm Pond in the Park of Schloss Kammer' (1899) - Klimt's first square landscape painting.
~ Portraits ~
There are plenty of portraits throughout the exhibition. It was a pleasure to recognise some paintings that I'd only ever seen before in art books. I immediately recognized the neatly executed realist portrait of composer Joseph Pembauer in its exquisite decorative frame. Nearly all the portraits are of women - many are of his patrons and lovers (or both). Fom his more expressionist period there is a captivating portrait of Eugenia Primavesi who poses in the midst of vibrant colour. It is representative of Klimt's late portrait style. I especially recall one small portrait of a young girl in profile, 'Helena Klimt'. I'm not sure who she was, perhaps one of Klimt's 14 illegitimate children. I'd never seen this painting reproduced anywhere before and for me it was one of the highlights of my experience of the exhibition. I went back to it two or three times. There are such tender details in the child's hair - it was clearly a painting of someone he loved.
~ The World in Female Form ~
This is the final part of the exhibition that includes a main room open to all and an adjoining gallery of erotic line drawings that is only accessible to those over eighteen. The main room contains some of Klimt's greatest paintings in this exhibition including; "The Three Ages" 1905 showing the cycle of life - one of Klimt's most important themes - represented in the form of three female figures: the child, the mother and the older woman. There is also the menacing "Judith II" 1909 representing another recurring theme in Klimt's work; the femme fatale. Such paintings were influenced by Klimt's desire to reveal into the darker side of Greek art and mythology.
I was slightly disappointed by the explicit erotic drawings in the adjoining gallery as the room is quite dark and each drawing is rather dimly lit. Some of the drawings consist of very faint lines and it is hard to make out what's depicted unless you lean over and peer close. Some of these drawings were published in books at the time - one is displayed in the centre of the room - others were exhibited for the first time in 1910 and not surprisingly shocked the establishment and led to accusations of Klimt being a pornographer. However, it must be remembered that one of Klimt's contemporaries was Sigmund Freud whose published works about the subconscious suggested for the first time that the primary goal of sex was pleasure. Some of these drawings, of which Klimt made many thousands, can be seen as the artists own explorations in this area.
~ Klimt's Studio ~
Very little is know of Klimt's personal life. He never kept diaries and is famously quoted as saying; "if you want to understand me you need look no further than my art." I feel the mystery of Klimt the artist prevails in the penultimate room of the exhibition that contains some of the items found in Klimt's studio including some of his own art collection, furniture and clothes. If my memory serves me correct, there is a large dark eerie painting by Egon Schiele: 'The Hermits' (1912) - a double portrait of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. Schiele was a younger artist who was supported by Klimt and this painting is a kind of emotional homage to the older artist. In the centre of the room is a glass cabinet containing some African and Buddhist statuettes. I didn't really see the point of this room at first as some of the objects really seemed quite odd and out of place with the rest of the exhibition. But then I caught sight of Klimt's dusty blue gown and next to it his tatty old art folder hanging up on the wall. I imagined him walking around Vienna with it tucked under his arm. Suddenly I felt as if the ghost of Klimt was nearby peering over my shoulder.
Klimt died quite young in his fifties of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1918, but he continued painting until the very end. I found it quite poignant to see some of his final works in the exhibition that are clearly unfinished. In the last room is one of his last paintings, the expressionistic 'Adam and Eve' (1918). Eve's right hand has yet to be painted. As I made my way out of the exhibition I wondered whether this painting contained the very last brush stroke that Klimt ever made.
I would highly recommend this exhibition.
To celebrate 2008 as European Capital of Culture Tate Liverpool is delighted to present the first comprehensive exhibition of Gustav Klimts work ever staged in the UK.