By Robert Reed / Special to The Japan NewsVienna has come to Tokyo. Not today’s Vienna, but the Vienna that was at the height of its glory at a pivotal point in art history that can be called the “Vienna Turn of the Century.” It was a time, before the devastation of the two world wars, when Vienna shone as one of the great capitals of European art with a new generation of artists, architects and designers of the Secession movement who had a new vision of what a modern city could be.
That’s the Vienna that comes to the National Art Center, Tokyo, in the form of a truly monumental exhibition titled “Vienna on the Path to Modernism,” comprising about 400 works of fine art, craft, furniture and fashion design, architectural plans and models and more, from Vienna’s Wien Museum. For many, Vienna Secession artists like Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and the younger prodigy Egon Schiele (1890-1918) will be the big appeal of this exhibition.
Both artists of this group that “seceded” from the conservative Academy exhibitions — much as the Impressionists did in France — are represented with important works, including a very impressive 47 works by Klimt alone. Yet their art fills only the last few galleries of this very large exhibition. The first two-thirds are about the evolution of the city of Vienna from the late 1800s through the 1900s.
Taking advantage of this time when the Wien Museum’s main site is closed for renovation, the curators in Vienna and Japan agreed on a plan to use its full resources and collection to paint a vivid picture of this evolution through the Secessionist era. Speaking at the show’s press preview, Yayoi Motohashi, the show’s curator from the National Art Center, Tokyo in Roppongi, said, “As the exhibition’s title suggests, we adopted the new approach of exploring the long road of progress toward the unique flowering of modern art and design in Vienna at the turn of the century as a prelude to Modernism.”
Also speaking at the press preview was the Wien Museum’s exhibition director for this show, the museum’s deputy director, Ursula Storch. She chose to speak about one painting that she identified as the most valuable and popular in the Wien Museum, a sure highlight of this show. It is Klimt’s 1902 portrait of an important person in his life, the fashion designer and boutique owner Emilie Floge. It is also a fine example of two signature qualities of Klimt’s art: his incredible skill as a draftsman in portraiture and portraying the human figure, and his fascinating use of decorative motifs and colors in his compositions.
Storch went on to point out some of the influences of Japanese art that Klimt used in this painting, such as the overall flatness of the perspective and the absence of anything specific painted in the background of its lower half — a use of space common in Oriental art that had never existed in European oil painting — and the decorative patterns on Emilie’s dress and the fan-like motif behind her head, which were fabrications from the artist’s imagination rather than depictions of any real objects.
Klimt had reference to literally thousands of Japanese decorative patterns from the collection of katagami (durable paper stencils used in dying kimono fabric) that the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts kept for the reference of art students at the school adjacent to where Klimt had studied.
Other works by Klimt in this exhibition are the famous “Pallas Athene” (1898) and “Love — Study for a Template from ‘Allegories’: New Series, No. 46” (1895) and the simple but exquisite “Junius,” which is study No. 53 from the same series (1896). There is also a priceless group of 33 drawings, primarily of nudes and studies for portraits selected from the Wien Museum’s vast collection of Klimt drawings specifically to show the artist’s unparalleled draftsmanship.
The other painting genius of the Secession era, Schiele, is also well represented in this show with works like his 1911 “Self-Portrait,” a fine example of the artist’s unique style that blossomed early and propelled him to fame. The other members of the Vienna Secession group, such as Carl Moll, Maximilian Kurzweil, Wilhelm List and Koloman Moser, are also represented with select paintings, and there is an extensive collection of jewelry and silverware, as well as furniture designed by Klimt and the others.
For most people, there will surely be too much to see in just one visit to this show, and if Secession art is your main interest, you may want to pace your way through the first two-thirds of the exhibition. In its entirety, it is a fascinating journey that the two museums have put together, and one that will probably never be seen again on such a scale.
“Vienna on the Path to Modernism” will run through Aug. 5 at the National Art Center, Tokyo, in Minato Ward. Opening hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Fridays and Saturdays, open until 8 p.m. through June, and until 9 p.m. in July and August. Admission ends 30 minutes before closing. Closed on Tuesdays. Visit https://artexhibition.jp/wienmodern2019. The exhibition will travel to Osaka from Aug. 27 to Dec. 8 at the National Museum of Art, Osaka, in Kita Ward.Speech