Thursday, August 2, 2012

KLIMT AS THIRD-WAVE FEMINIST: The Timeliness and Courage of Great New Getty Show

Getty published a wonderful catalog for the show 
by Marian Bisanz-Prakken, curator of drawings at the Albertina Museum 
with truly magic "Portrait of a Reclining young woman, 1897 – 98" on the cover.

“Ver Sacrum” wrote Klimt on the front of the building he designed for exhibiting the works of Secessionists. “Sacred Spring” in Latin is a reference to an ancient pre-Roman ritual of avowed or dedicated to the gods people, who would leave the safety of their settlements in search of places where they would build new ones, thus expanding the domain of their tribe. Becoming a motto of their influential Secessionist movement, this reference describes vividly the position of Klimt and of his friends towards the existing art establishment of the day as well as to customs of society at large.

Wanderers, departing from safety in service of their guiding principles with brushes as their weapons, Klimt and his friends really ventured into territories where they steer and rattle to this day, in many ways defining the cutting edge of important arguments and positions.

We are enormously lucky here in LA that we can experience how really sharp that edge is with rare closeness at “Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line”, the first retrospective fully dedicated to the drawings of Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) and marking the150th Anniversary of Klimt’s birth.

Jeremy, Tony and myself were fortunate enough to be among the first visitors to this truly historic show as we attended its opening at the Getty. On my first walk through the magnificently curated rooms, I felt the almost visceral sensation a few levels below exalted state of fascination with the remarkable beauty and power of Klimt’s work in all its sparseness and richness; a wonder at its daring timeliness.

Apparently I was not alone in this sensation. As I was marveling at Klimt’s ecstatic and striking Reclining Nude with Leg Raised 1912-13 (Albertina, Viena inv.2343), a group of viewers gathered around and the lady next to me in an uncontrolled gasp said “what an incredibly brave thing that must have been to do for its time” to which I just couldn’t help, but reply that I think it is incredibly brave even for our time to both make and display such a work and than suggested to imagine what would have happened if we took this unqualified masterpiece and brought it to, lets say the office of John Ashcroft…

A striking, ethereal and poignant all at the same time 
“Reclining Nude with Leg Raised 1912-13” 
certainly carries the punch of the show. 
Graphite, 37.1 x 56 cm Albertina Vienna inv 23543

The contemplation of this body of work causes us to reflect on today’s attitudes within our own society all but inevitable and here lies a completely brave and poignant meaning to a curatorial magnificence of this remarkable Getty collaboration with famed Albertina.

The vastly pervasive notion that female nudity is somehow shameful and represents a threat to society; a danger to which minors cannot be exposed much in the same way as to addictive substances such as narcotics and alcohol which are severely harmful to their health is a direct product of a historic vilification of Femininity.

The unspoken nowadays historic assumption that woman’s sexuality is the source of sin and in itself “an evil” that has to be tamed by society served for a millennia as the very foundation of a patriarchal society, which is still alive and well today even though it is just as bankrupt a notion as Lehman Brothers or Social Security.

Nowhere does this long indefensible premise seen any clearer than in attitudes toward female breasts and nipples that must be hidden at all times under threat of persecution by the state. The ramifications of this institutional hypocrisy and societal intimidation of women are multitude and very tangible.

What difference do female nipples possess in a form of societal threat which male nipples do not?

What is so shameful, evil and harmful about them that the entire suppressive power of state is directed against them?

The answer is actually quite simple - they represent function men do not have and as such female power both sexual and life giving.

  The absolutely magnificent transfer sketch for “The Three Ages of Woman”
1904 Charcoal, 182 x 90cm Private Collection

Clearly something is terribly wrong with societal attitudes when first-person realistic video games exposing children to despicable violence towards women are ok under the law as long as those evil nipples are covered.

Among the multitude of points that could and shall be derived from this terrible “state of the state,” one strikes me personally.

Suppression of Beauty leads to perpetuation of Ugliness. It is a society that covers the breasts of statues in public places much like societies that force women to cover their “sinful flesh” while celebrating death, be it a dead shark or a suicide bomber, that is addicted to nocuous porn, exploitative corporate advertisement and manipulation of society on behalf of the gang of oligarchic plutocrats, be it despotic bankers or hyper-greedy sheikhs(or is it supposed to be vice versa?)

Few points need to be remarked on in regards of Klimt’s depiction of women as they come across vividly while taking in this incredible body of work in person.

Much as in Schiele’s works, Klimt’s women are depicted up-close which implies participation of the artist, or viewer in his place, and an awareness of this presence by artist’s subjects. It is far different from a distantly voyeuristic “cutting unaware” feel, which is often much easer “to digest”.

By his training, background and the very nature of his seeing and conceiving of his image, Klimt is a monumental painter and his women even within innermost intimacy of their action are demanding a public, not private viewing, lending itself perfectly to a large-scale monumental depiction.

In Klimt’s look at a naked woman, one cannot help but sense a state of religious in its nature exultation, a sense of a direct communication with the deity.

Outside the glitter of gold absent in Klimt’s drawings, his women are not “pretty” yet they are full of true “Beauty,” beauty that sometimes is hard to have a direct look at as it’s so beautiful it hurts, like sun, like fire, like face of The Divine. The Beauty turns into The Sublime.

Klimt is celebrating Feminine Beauty for what it is – a Femininity itself and its eternal and in-suppressible power, which is the Power of Life itself. The power of Eternal and Sacred Feminine.

In central to his work keen, species-deep look at women, revering of their power, Klimt foresaw the future.  Looking at Klimt’s drawings, one can clearly hear Napmy Wolf saying: “Orgasm is the body’s natural call to feminist politics.”

Thoughts and views of pioneering women like Gayle Rubin and Betty Donson, other sex – positive feminist thinkers, to the minute current movements of Pro – sex Feminism, Riot Grrrrl, Lipstick Lesbians, Girl Power, Slut Walks blazes through unapologetic, open and unambiguous public sensuality of Klimt’s women.

Klimt is the ultimate Third Wave Feminist who delivered a poignant visual embodiment of an old patriarchal nightmare – women freely exercising their choice of Love.

Ver Sacrum indeed!

  NOVOREALISM = New Secessionism!