Home Arts Nude Masters at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna ★★★★★

Nude Masters at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna ★★★★★

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Ten years ago, the exhibition background stories at the Residenzschloss in Dresden, paintings by German artist Georg Baselitz were combined with works from the nearby Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister. Rather than the originals, however, paintings such as Raphael Sistine Madonna (1512-13) were presented as giant digital reproductions. It was a bold and thought-provoking solution to the problem of hanging contemporary art alongside the Old Masters, putting Baselitz’s paintings in a life-size frame. imaginary museum.

Baselitz: Naked Masters at the Kunsthistorisches Museum is another pairing with Old Master paintings – this time, however, the encounter is real. Five large galleries and the surrounding cabinet spaces were hung with Baselitz paintings from the past five decades. Next to and below are some 40 paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, including works by Titian and Correggio, and many by Bartholomeus Spranger, a Flemish artist who worked at the court of Rudolf II in Prague.

In a museum shamelessly dedicated to the glory of art, it’s a kind of coronation for Baselitz

It is not surprising to learn that the exhibition was selected and mounted largely by Baselitz himself. The tone is set in the first gallery by an enormous canvas smeared with paint suspended high on a delicate adam and eve (circa 1485) by Hans Memling, the outer wings of an altarpiece, while that of Albrecht Altdorfer Lot and his daughters (1537) is flanked by three upside-down Baselitz figure paintings from the early 1970s. difference and their irreconcilability.

The new paintings are light, airy, frameless; the older paintings darkly varnished in an ornate frame. Traditional narrative images, with more or less familiar stories, form a stark contrast to contemporary paintings that speak of personal longing and trauma. Baselitz painted upside down, without gravity. The Old Masters keep their feet on the ground. Three large late paintings by Titian, whose surfaces are poetically worked and refined, are associated with almost entirely abstract canvases, without any reference to traditional mythological or biblical sources.

Baselitz’s Golden Hand paintings hang around Garofalo Resurrection of Christ (1520), which was too large to be moved © KHM-Museumsverband

Yet despite all this sense of difference, nothing seems out of place: not even the five large paintings of golden hands, like Midas’ paws, hanging around the one painting too large to move, that of Garofalo. Resurrection of Christ (1520). What emerges is a dialogue between old and new held not at the level of surface conservation or formal resemblance, but rather at a deeper level of painting and painting itself, the genre of bonds that can only be forged in the eyes and mind of an artist. . Even the most shocking combinations, like Baselitz’s inverted nude portrait of his wife, Johanna Elke Kretschmar, alongside Rubens’ famous portrait of his wife Helena Fourment, vaguely attempting to cover her body with a fur wrap, have a unexpected and moving affinity.

The theme of “naked masters” unfolds in three rooms at the heart of the exhibition. In the first, we see Baselitz’s strange obsession with the idea that Duchamp “stole” the composition of Nude descending a staircase (1912) after a Picasso (Woman in an armchair, 1910), on the occasion of a series of recent paintings in which Duchamp is presented as a sex-crazed libertine – the composition of two figures mating from an 18th century pornographic print. With them hangs Spranger’s Jupiter and Antiope (circa 1596), showing the naked gods encircling themselves in a wooded setting.

In this gallery dedicated to decadence and desire, the boldest combination is picture-thirty-two (1994), an image of a woman (Baselitz’s wife, Elke), shown upside down and crouching naked, drawn with thick black paint laid over a gold ground, with an interior pictorial frame of earth of his burnt. It hangs above two kitsch reclining nudes by Dirck de Quade van Ravesteyn. The heavy golden Elke seems to compress Ravesteyn’s two polished bodies into one doubly bad paint. Next door, Baselitz’s Ade Nymph (1998) shows two dewy nude women, floating around the edge of the canvas, as if unzipping the Ravesteyns. The Baselitz is a painting of eerie beauty with its garish colors, lack of gain, red lips and earth-colored genitals, and dirty, coal-gray backgrounds, distinctly punctuated by blank discs (made by the pots of paint that Baselitz uses to hold his canvas flat while painting).

by Baselitz picture-thirty-two (1994) Above Her ada nymph (1998) and two paintings by Dirck by Quade van Ravesteyncan © Georg Baselitz 2023; © KHM-Museumsverband

Two other galleries are dominated by the paintings of spectral inverted figures, made with a shiny metallic-looking pigment on a black surface, which formed the Image model for a few years. They seem to spring from the darkness like ethereal deities, dense constellations of glowing light. It is certainly a bold move to hang one of these celestial apparitions, Shirtless and home (2018), above two Correggios (The rape of Ganymede And Jupiter and Ioboth around 1530) and that of Titian Danae (1564), but the effect is rather to throw an unexpected accent on the older paintings: the large Baselitz canvas becomes more like a background, more related to the architecture of the gallery. As he says himself, as “wallpaper” around the Old Masters.

Here the truth of the “naked masters” becomes clear. It is not eroticized nudity, or simply an unclothed human state, that forms the subject, but rather the naked vulnerability of age, and the predicament of the aging painter, weighing the reality of mortality with envy. to create art, and the still strained relationship with the Western oil painting tradition. Titian Nymph and Shepherd (circa 1570), a poetic homage to the dark glow of bodily love, rubs shoulders with that of Parmigianino Cupid making his bow (circa 1534) and a copy of the same made by Joseph Heintz the Elder in 1603, instead joking about where it all began – love. Above, Baselitz’s double celestial figure composition Whoin (2017) shows the inverted figures of Georg and Elke, made when the artist was around the same age as Titian painting his Nymph and Shepherd. What? Or now?

The same question can be asked of the whole exhibition, which has a tone that is both provocative and elegiac. In the grandeur of the decor and in a museum unashamedly dedicated to the glory of art, this is something of a coronation for Baselitz. It is also something more personal, the exploration of an artist who dwells on the origins of his painting in his first experiences of art in museums. But so does his private life and feelings, especially his love for Elke and their growing awareness of mortality in old age. It is a provocation with a purpose. We may not always agree with what Baselitz says, both in art and in life, but his painting constantly reminds us of the importance of upholding the freedom for artists to express themselves unhindered. Baselitz: Naked Masters is that very rare thing – an exhibit that is itself an impressive and memorable work of art.

Georg Baselitz: Naked MastersKunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, until June 25

• Curators: Georg Baselitz and Andreas Zimmermann

by Albrecht Altdorfer Lot and his daughters alongside Baselitz Finger painting – Female nude (1972) Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Gift: Georg Baselitz. © Georg Baselitz 2023

What Other Reviewers Said

Baselitz: Naked Masters received very good reviews in the Austrian press. Almuth Spiegler written in Die Press of the “astonishing interest” of an exhibit that at first glance – an old white painter comparing his nudes to those of the (white) Old Masters – was a dubious proposition.

Hedwig Kainberger, in the Salzburger Nachrichten, writes comparisons between new and old painting as “extremely stimulating”, and the striking depiction of aging on the human body in recent paintings.

In Sway magazine, Nicole Scheyerer points out that the Kunsthistorisches Museum has not had solo exhibitions of women since 1995, despite a director, Sabine Haag, since 2009.

Katharina RustlerIn Standardalso points to the lack of women on display at the museum but appreciates the openness of interpretation (i.e. the lack of masterful texts on the walls), so that visitors can “floating through the galleries like Baselitz’s own ghostly figures”.

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