The Klimt & Warhol exhibiton in Vienna
Art is a matter of perspective and by adjoining these two greats of the twentieth century the Belvedere Vienna highlight a stark contrast between the different approaches to sexuality existent in the society of their time.
Gustav Klimt and Andy Warhol need no presentation and the two kiss-inspired artworks are arguably the most famous pieces associated to their names. You don’t have to be an art historian to be familiar with their work; Klimt’s paining is found on stamps, gift boxes and posters and you might remember that it was celebrated in 2012, on Klimt’s 150th anniversary, when it was frequently in the media. But all the commotion didn’t do it justice – the only way to full appreciate the message of the creation and to fully experience every brush stroke and gold leaf is to witness it in person, at Belvedere Palace in Vienna.
By contrast, Warhol’s creation still gets its fair share of criticism and speaks to a certain part of the audience, who understands the backstory of its work. It’s also a foray into the multimedia world, taking place over half a decade after Klimt started work on his notorious painting.
So we have two artworks with two different approaches to the portrayal of the most sensual word in our vocabulary. Two portraits, two messages. On one side there’s the piece of jewellery, the golden leaf painting with deep decorative elements of Byzantine inspiration and a message of pure love and art, where love is not a struggle or a fight for domination, but a gentle expression of affection. It’s suggestive rather than explicit and portrays Klimt’s typical theme of embracing lovers. It is also a story of mystery; historians have suggested different women from the artist’s life who could potentially be the muse of this work, but it’s still a secret never to be revealed.
On the other side of the exhibition room, there’s the modern piece of art, the piece of film going from technique to technology, the rebellion against the censorship of the time. We have to keep in mind that at the time of its release, American movies were not allowed to show kissing scenes longer than three seconds, so the 55 minutes of film represented an artistic riot. They also pictured same-sex couples, another rock thrown at the restrictive policy of the film industry.
From a purely visual perspective, the two scenes leave the viewer with contrasting impressions: Klimt’s portrayal is impeccable and romantic while Warhol’s is natural and messy, bringing the romance fairytale to a realistic end. Klimt took his best paintbrush to the canvas and applied well-studied methods to obtain a composition so spectacular that it was acquired even before it was finished. Warhol left his legacy to his viewing audience – a simple single angle continuous shot of various people kissing.
Radically different in shape, technique and portrayal, there is one thing that brings them together and makes this project work: stripped down to their most basic essence, both artworks are an ode to passionate love. One is pure and the other one directed, one is highly crafted and polished while the other one gives 55 minutes of freedom to its protagonists.
Whether you’re a fan of one artistic style or another, they were both considered as having significant contributions to their field. You can now experience one Kiss or the other by visiting the Belvedere Palace until the 6th of June 2014, where the KLIMT & WARHOL – KISS & KISS exhibition. These are just words, you need to be in the same room with these pieces of art to fully experience the reasoning behind their creation, their story, the feelings they conjure up and, in a bigger picture, the evolution of the artistic concept.