The gorgeous Viennese ex-royal palace, which now gives home of the collection and exhibitions of the Belvedere, in co-production with Brussels’ BOZAR organized an unusual exhibition for the 100th anniversary of the biggest Austrian star, Gustav Klimt’s death. Unusual since the show titled Beyond Klimt is not aim to represent Klimt or Klimt’s overwhelming legacy. Instead it creates an atmosphere of the post-World War I era by presenting the vibrant art movements that emerged a bit before, during and after the war.
The curator of the show Alexander Klee gave us a mid-term interview / run-through before the show travels to Brussels. It is till time to catch a view in Vienna till the 26th of August. Let’s “see” it then!
Zsófia Rechnitzer (ZsR): The show Beyond Klimt – New Horizons in Central Europe commemorates the 100th anniversary of 1918. Though the first room displays works made from 1914.
Alexander Klee (AK): Yes, the beginning is 1914, but 1918 is a significant date because of the anniversary of the death of Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser and Otto Wagner. Beyond Klimt was a very long planned exhibition. Concerning art 1918 is for me not a mystical date. It is the political end of an era – thus the beginning of making of new frontiers, borders, building up nations because of political wills – but in the reality art moved on in 1918, it is not the real break. Since almost all the male artists had to go to the army we had a significant decline of works after 1914 because of the beginning of World War I. For instance Schiele, Kubista also had to go to the army.
ZsR: You are showing works from the beginning of World War I. till the beginning of World War II. Why is this timeframe?
AK: Because 1914 was a memorable beginning with a concise decline of art. And for the end we had to choose a common date. You had civil war in Austria; you had different changes in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the Yugoslavian monarchy. What date shall we take? – we asked ourselves. Every date is very political but with national importance. What is fitting together with the arts? Thus the beginning of World War II was a prominent cut, a dramatic change for all of these artists as it violently destroyed their networks. The period of WW II is characterized by a dramatic stagnation in arts but after its end in 1945 also for the making of new political boundaries. Much more than WW I, WW II was a significant break in both history and in the arts.
ZsR: Regarding the artists, the show highlights Klimt in its title and shows only a very few of his works in the first room, but does not focus on the Austrian artist or other artists from the country. The show exhibits almost 200 works from around 80 artists with various nationalities.
AK: That is the other point: we are not focused on the Viennese avant-garde. We tried to broaden our focus to the cultural space of the Danube Monarchy, the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. That is the aspect we were interested in. We did not want to celebrate the downfall of the Danube Monarchy, especially from a Viennese perception, but highlight the artistic potential from a larger point of view.
ZsR: During the monarchy Vienna was a center, a meeting point for artists, but it changed afterwards. Did you identify new centers after the fall of the monarchy?
AK: It is always difficult to define where to locate the avant-garde, but in these years it was definitely an especially hard question. After 1918, as one essay in the catalogue points out: Vienna was not the center, Vienna was the periphery. The sides were changing after World War I. Not only the centers but also even the peripheries gained importance. Vienna’s role was taken over by many other cities at once in Middle Europa. One center was Prague, another center was Budapest. But only to focus on centers did not work either. For example there is János Mattis-Teutsch, who was never living in any of these art centers, he was living somewhere in the middle of nowhere in that sense. Or László Mednyánszky is another example. He was a born Slovakian, Hungarian aristocrat, very often living in Budapest and Vienna, also speaking German. Like in his case we cannot fix national biographies. It is just not possible for this cultural space. So we wanted to give a prospect – especially in these times – and not to focus only on Vienna. Since everybody is coming from different places, they all have different ways of looking at art. That is what we wanted to highlight.
ZsR: You did not put the artists in groups based on their nationalities; rather you used aesthetic aspects for the selections. How did you break up the exhibition? Through the aesthetic aspects or the ideology that the artists’ works are representing?
AK: First, we show some works of the father figures. We have named the show ‘Klimt is not the end’. The question is, are there other father figures similar to Gustav Klimt? We chose Rippl-Rónai, Alfons Mucha, Jan Preisler as father figures. But we also wanted to show with this aspect the continuity. Gustav Klimt was dying in 1918, Rippl-Rónai, Mucha, etc. did not and neither died their legacy. In 1918, history changed in a political way, but art history was moving on, art production was moving on without any stop. Time is going on, there is no significant stop in time. That is what you can see in the show. In the first room the recent work of Czech cubism is from 1916 then the next big room starts with works of the Czech cubism from 1920 and you notice there is a development a change in style. There is no break, you can see the same colors, forms in both of the rooms.
ZsR: It is interesting, but the exhibition is curated still in a classical chronological order.
AK: Somehow, because we have made groups for surrealistic and more abstract, cubist art and we divided it with Bauhaus and then there is the last hall with realistic, figurative works, Neue Sachlichkeit, magic realism, some expressionism. Basically in this hall are figurative works, which have similarities despite their nationality, language, religion, etc. Everybody can comprehend, that artists develop art alike, even if they are not directly connected, but their art reflect a common intention.
ZsR: There is an amazing projection of the birthplaces of the displayed artists in one of the rooms. It illustrates the borders modifications from the Austro-Hungarian Compromise till the late 1990s.
AK: I think at this current political moment where we are living, it is really important to point out questions of nationality or the blurring idea of nationality. All the boundaries are signs of political districts ruled by governments, voted by the inhabitants, but is that what we call identity? It is about taxes and infrastructure, political power. For artists, identification about what they are doing is much more important than their national identity. Nation is a historical name for identification in a political way from the 19th Century. We wanted to show that nations are never homogeneous. But a dialogue is possible by art, if you are interested in the communication in the artist’s own language, because art is some kind of common pictorial language. You cannot develop without interaction and communication, distinguishing the avant-garde from local folklore. Their ideas had to work abroad because they wanted to be understood in other countries.
NEW HORIZONS IN CENTRAL EUROPE
23 March 2018 to 26 August 2018
Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (BOZAR)
21 September 2018 — 20 January 2019
Cover photo: Exhibition view “Beyond Klimt. New Horizons in Central Europe”. Photo: Johannes Stoll © Belvedere, Vienna