My first day of this year’s holidays started very unspectacularly: with a conference call at 9.00, which lasted till 13.00. Egon Schiele exhibition “Das unrettbare ich” (“Unsalvagable ego”) in Kunstbau was something that I definitely wanted to see. The majority of pieces were lent from Albertina and, although you might get easily irritated in Wien with Klimt and Schiele popping out from every souvenir shop, the exhibition alone took me (still) with surprise. My allocated hour for the exhibition was nearly not enough to see and comprehend everything, as the exhibition evolved not only around his visual works but also poems and writings. Being exposed on daily basis only with technical specifications and world/politics/social/economic news, getting into something rather different and way deeper was also so refreshing but also shaking experience.
The exhibition was organized not chronologically but more focusing on different topics. The central theme in Schiele’s works was “crisis of the subject”, which was also strongly reflecting the crisis of Austro-Hungarian empire around 1900. This “crisis of the subject” was very present with other artists in that time, which could be easily noticed in Schiele as well, and he emphasizes it further by poem “I, eternal child” (“Ich ewiges Kind”). Hermann Bahr, literary critic, puts it as “The ego is not an immutable, defined, sharply delineated entity. ”
This particular topic is the one that fascinated me the most in the exhibition as well as his portraits. For example, just look at this painting of two little girls: it is amazing how he plays with color to accentuate the form. The black is darker where the fabric is supposed to be creased and thicker, while cold blue and warm red play against each other to highlight another one. This one is perhaps the most important and most beautiful portraits of Egon Schiele.
I also found this portrait very interesting. Just look at the facial expressions of three girls: the upper one has a rather frightened look, the one below is sad and both of them are concerned and caring for the girl laying on the left side. Egon Schiele often portrays the children in his paintings as he sees the childhood as an important transition -and childhood itself is standing upon great transition within the society.
Flowers and plants were also important motive of Egon Schiele. As they are shown in center against a still and quiet background, they appear as if they are human beings themselves. As in the work below, sunflowers are often depicted as a symbol of life, but here they are more symbolizing death with its fragility. Or as in the painting below – the tree is so weak that it cannot stand alone and it needs a support, while the outermost branches are almost transparently shown. With his associations in nature, as when compares the forest with church, Egon Schiele is looking for God in nature, or, as he says in one of his manifestos:
THE MOST NOBLE SENTIMENT IS RELIGION AND ART. NATURE IS PURPOSE, – BUT GOD IS THERE, AND I SENSE HIM, POWERFULLY, VERY POWERFULLY, THE MOST POWERFULLY.
Egon Schiele says that the death of man cannot be devided from his birth and sees the death as an unfinished state, transition, something that is floating. Many of his paintings evolve around this idea, as the painting below, which shows a woman that is maybe sleeping, or being ill, or maybe even dying, or maybe even on the way to the graveyard.
These were the themes that touched me personally the most. Egon Schiele touched me also with many of his ideas and poems, such as:
I, Eternal Child
I, eternal child —
I sacrificed myself for others …
who looked and did not see me …
Everything was dear to me —
I wanted to look at the angry people
with loving eyes,
to make their eyes do likewise;
And to the jealous,
give them gifts,
telling them I am worthless.
Taste, red one! Smell swaying white winds,
look hard at the universe: Sun, gold glittering
stars, look until you recover and are forced to
close your eyes. Mind worlds sparkle about you
in your sockets. Let your passionate fingers tremble,
grope for the element you must thirstily seek out,
staggering, that sits leaping, lies lurking, dreams while
resting, grows while dreaming. Fever consuming
thirst and hunger, and reluctance, blood seeps through.
Look upon me, father, upon me, you are there,
envelop me, give me: Nearness, distance, run
here and there in fury, world. – Now stretch your
noble bones. Offer me a tender ear, lovely
pale blue watery eyes. – That, father, was there.
Here I stand before you.
One may say that my view of Schiele’s best works is rather one-sided. I might agree with that – as it truly portrays what I am ‘into’ right now. You should not forget that Egon Schiele is also famous for specific perspective in his works, for erotic and breaking tabus with theme of homosexuality while also reflecting on Japanese art, as well as for his landscapes and depictions of room and objects.
All of these made me think this evening and also made me plan another trip to Kunstbau soon.