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100th Anniversary of Gustav Klimt And The Kunstschau 1908 at Belvedere in Vienna

Following disagreement within the Secession and the spectacular leaving of the “Klimt-Group”, the inscription “To the time its art, to art its freedom” was removed from its building’s doors in 1907 and made the motto of the Kunstschau 1908, an exhibition that is still regarded as trailblazing for the development of Modern Art in Vienna.

Gustav Klimt, Der Kuss, 1908. Öl auf Leinwand, 180 × 180 cm
Gustav Klimt, Der Kuss, 1908. Öl auf Leinwand, 180 × 180 cm.

The Kunstschau 1908 was conceived by numerous artists around Gustav Klimt and coincided with the celebrations held in Vienna on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Francis Joseph I. The artists were not invited to participate in the imperial procession but were offered the use of construction land as an exhibition venue which had been designated for the location of the Konzerthaus in the city centre and was temporarily lying fallow. In only a few months, Josef Hoffmann, Gustav Klimt, Otto Prutscher, Koloman Moser, and others built and furnished wooden structures accommodating 54 exhibition rooms, gardens, interior courtyards, a small cemetery, a café, and a summer stage – as well as a two-storey, completely furnished country house. Painting, sculpture, the graphic and decorative arts, and stage design were combined to create a Gesamtkunstwerk – a synthesis of the arts – on exhibition premises covering 6,500 square metres. Indoor and outdoor floor space, walls, and showcases were filled and covered with works by 176 artists, including Carl Moll, Franz Kupka, Max Oppenheimer and numerous students from the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, like Oskar Kokoschka.

The art historian Werner Hofmann described the concurrence of the procession – the Kaiserjubiläumshuldigungsfestzug – and the Kunstschau as a “synopsis of the monarchy’s official art and intellectual histories”. Whereas the procession staged the Habsburg monarchy’s long tradition and national diversity, Gustav Klimt, in his opening speech, declared the Kunstschau to be “a display of the performance of artistic volition in Austria”, compiled by artists who “were not affiliated with a collective, an association, or a league”, but who had “gathered in an informal fashion solely for the purpose of this exhibition”.

Notwithstanding the euphoric press reviews, the public failed to show up at the „large-scale show“ – Berta Zuckerkandl wrote in the Neues Wiener Journal: “Hevesi, Richard Muther, and I frequently met at the small café at the Kunstschau, deliberating how to counter the […] campaign against the Kunstschau. ‘It’s futile,’ Hevesi said, ‘but in twenty years it will turn out that we were right.’”

Gustav Klimt, Die drei Lebensalter, 1905 Öl auf Leinwand 180 × 180 cm
Gustav Klimt, Die drei Lebensalter, 1905 Öl auf Leinwand 180 × 180 cm.

On the occasion of its 100th anniversary, the show is going to be revived in the Belvedere’s exhibition: as from October, a large part of the original exhibits – which will partly be presented in replicas of the former exhibition rooms – as well as documentary photographs, models, original plans, and films, will serve to illustrate the details and dimensions of this extraordinary event. An architectural model measuring four square metres will demonstrate the location of the Kunstschau premises within their urban context. An authentic spatial experience is going to be conveyed by three halls to be reconstructed in their entirety: “Room 50”, with works by leading members of the Wiener Werkstätte, “Room 10”, with reproduced posters pasted directly onto the walls as they were then, and “Room 22” which was designed by Koloman Moser using major works by Gustav Klimt, the highlights of the show – both then and today. Among other works, Gustav Klimt presented Fritza Riedler (1906), Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907), The Three Ages of Woman (1905), Danaë (1907/08) and his most famous work The Kiss (1908), which was acquired for the collection now housed in the Belvedere while the exhibition was still running.

Further exhibits come from the former rooms devoted to “Theatre Art”: Richard Teschner’s monumental glass mosaics and puppets, stage designs by Alfred Roller, and a two-metre-high costume design by Emil Orlik for Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, staged by Max Reinhardt. For “Room 27”, Otto Prutscher had designed an impressive wall ensemble of marble, ornamental brass sheet, and a glazed display cabinet; its individual parts have been assembled from all over Europe and now appear reunited. From the original room “Art for Children”, Magda Mautner von Markhof’s doll’s house has been made available as a loan; the “General Painting” section is represented by works of Adolf Hölzel, Wilhelm List, Leopold Blauensteiner, Maximilian Kurzweil, Broncia Koller-Pinell, Elena Luksch-Makowska and others.

Research conducted for this exhibition has led to a new scholarly approach to numerous artists who appeared in the Kunstschau and have largely fallen into oblivion today, such as the sculptor Franz Metzner, to whose work the Kunstschau devoted two rooms.

The exhibition is on from 1 October 2008 to 18 January 2009 at the Lower Belvedere and will be accompanied by a publication. Artdaily

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