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California Literary Review

Sex in the Vienna Secession – Because Airplane Bathrooms are so Passé


Sex in the Vienna Secession – Because Airplane Bathrooms are so Passé

Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze:  The Hostile Forces

from Wiener Secession

“What constitutes art?” is perhaps the most over-explored question of the twentieth century. Modern artists and critics have long pondered the distinctions between art, design, mass-production, entertainment and smut.  One exhibition in Vienna is now adding a new question to the debate: What is curating?  The Vienna Secession, which was designed to display works by Gustav Klimt and his contemporaries, recently decided to spice up their collection by requiring visitors to walk through a swingers club before reaching Klimpt’s masterful “Beethoven Frieze”.  This strange paring is part of a project by Swiss artist, Christoph Büchel and involves a collaboration between the museum and a local swingers’ club called Element 6. The club will be open at night during the exhibition.  The next morning, mattresses and other nasty remnants of the evening’s activities will be on display.  I’m betting that for once, visitors won’t have to be told “don’t touch.”

This is perhaps the first time in human history that a sex club has felt compelled to release what almost resembles a curatorial statement, explaining that their participation “aims to give as many people as possible the opportunity to overcome their inhibitions.”  As for the Secession, spokeswoman, UrteSchmitt-Ulms explained that Buechel sought to recreate the controversy surrounding the frieze’s first exhibition.  Ultimately, the ability to create a scandal is about all that the two projects have in common.   One is left wondering, how could responsible, serious curators go along with such a crass, inappropriate, vulgar and distasteful project?

Klimt’s masterpiece may have once been seen as pornographic due to the presence of naked ladies, but the artist’s intention was never simply to shock and awe.  Like all of his works, the piece is exquisitely crafted with a phenomenal attention to detail and a brilliant use of color, pattern and composition. He may have enjoyed painting women in a state of ecstasy, but he never lost sight of his quest to create beauty.  The visionary painter had a tremendous respect for art.  No other structure could provide a more fitting home for his splendid works than the lovely Vienna Secession, which was constructed in 1897 by Joseph Maria Olbrich in accordance with the secessionist artist’s aesthetic views.

Buechel’s smutty, simplistic project takes away from the integrity of Klimt’s work and the building, itself.  The gallery that houses the Beethoven frieze is locked at night for security and to prevent some adventurous pervert from trying to frolic on the canvas.  Nevertheless, Buchel brings the party to Klimt by surrounding the frieze with mattresses, artificial plants and a fake lion. These ridiculous props disrespect the lifetime of thought and work that Klimt andOlbrich put into their respective masterpieces.  One is left asking oneself, beyond stirring up controversy, was there a goal of this experiment?  To encourage the prudish to misbehave? To shine light on the racy side of an artist’s work?  Klimt does not need any help in this department.  While retaining some class, maintaining his standards of craftsmanship and remaining fixed on his goal of creating beauty, the painter created works more exciting than the sting of a swinger’s whip.

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