Gustav Klimt was born on July 14, 1862, making this past Saturday the 150th anniversary of his birthday. I have several posts in my Gustav Klimt category archives and here are those. In addition, Google had a ‘Doodle’ commemorating The Kiss, Klimt’s most famous painting, on its homepage. And at FLIPPANTLY FLORIDA, I have post called Doodle Kuss.
Since FF is basically short bursts of sarcasm, I thought I do something sarcastically related. The New Yorker’s art critic, Peter Schjeldahl, is not too fond of the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. I’m copying and pasting his entire blog post because it’s delightful in its scorn of poor Adele.
Looking for the umpteenth time at Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (1907) at the estimable Neue Galerie, on the occasion of a show celebrating Klimt’s hundred and fiftieth birthday, I’ve changed my mind. The gold- and silver-encrusted picture, bought by the museum’s co-founder Ronald Lauder for a headline-grabbing hundred and thirty-five million dollars, in 2006, isn’t a peculiarly incoherent painting, as I had once thought. It’s not a painting at all, but a largish, flattish bauble: a thing. It is classic less of its time than of ours, by sole dint of the money sunk in it.
Adele belongs to a special class of iffy art works whose price is their object. A dispirited version in pastels of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, which fetched a hundred and nineteen million last month. Another example is the sadly discolored van Gogh Sunflowers, which set a market record—forty million—in 1987, when sold to a Japanese insurance company. (The purchase amounted to a cherry on top of Japan’s then ballooning, doomed real-estate bubble.) And I remember asking the director of Australia’s National Gallery why, in 1973, he had plunked an unheard-of two million for Jackson Pollock’s amazing but, to my eye, overworked Blue Poles. He mused, “Well, I’ve always liked blue.”
The point, in such cases, is a bid for prestige that would be less dramatic if the price paid seemed more rational. (To be fair to Australia, Blue Poles would command fully appropriate major bucks if marketed today.)
With the best of will—and I have tried—“Adele” makes no formal sense. The parts—including the silky brushwork of the young lady’s face and hands, which poke through the bumpy ground as through a carnival prop—drift, generating no mutual tensions. The size feels arbitrary, without integral scale in relation to the viewer: bigger or smaller would make no difference. The content of the gorgeous whatsit seems a rhyming of conspicuously consumed wealth with show-off eroticism. She’s a vamp, is Adele; and for whom would she be simpering but the randy master, Herr Klimt? The effect is a closed loop of his and her narcissisms. They’re them, and we aren’t. I think we are supposed to be impressed. And let’s be. Why not? Our age will be bookmarked in history by the self-adoring gestures of the incredibly rich. Aesthetics ride coach.
NOTE: Gustav Klimt: 150th Anniversary Celebration will be on view at the Neue Galerie New York, Museum for German and Austrian Art, (1048 Fifth Ave.) from May 24 to August 27, 2012.
ANOTHER NOTE: I’m not sure what Schjeldahl said after he found out that New York financier Leon Black bought The Scream. He probably “changed his mind,” sort of like Felix Salmon did.