With the exhibition »Kokoschka. The Self in Focus«, the Leopold Museum
has broken new ground. In the words of the Leopold Museums director Tobias G. Natter: »No previous exhibition has delved as deeply into the life and oeuvre of Oskar Kokoschka. We have achieved this by juxtaposing photography and painting and by allowing these two media to enter into a dialogue with each other«. The exhibition has been realized in cooperation with the Oskar Kokoschka-Zentrum of the University of Applied Arts Vienna, which houses over 5.000 Kokoschka photographs.
Multifacetedness of a fascinating personality
Kokoschkas life spanned the entire 20th century. Unlike Klimt and Schiele, who died in 1918, he lived until 1980. He was an active contemporary who took a keen part in the highs and lows of the 20th century. Throughout his life, he was photographed time and again.
Tobias G. Natter: »What was fascinating about Kokoschka was his multifacetedness. He started out as a Chief Wildlingand bohemian, was persecuted by the Nazis as a degenerate artist and became a humanist and teacher as well as a gifted self-publicist. And there was always a camera somewhere. In their variety and quality, these photographs provide a film-like sequence tracing a fruitful life«.
Klimt Kokoschka Schiele
There are three personalities who shaped Early Austrian Modernism unlike any others: Gustav Klimt (18621918), Oskar Kokoschka (18861980) and Egon Schiele (18901918). To this day, this triad of artists represents the impressive potential of Austrian art between Jugendstil and Expressionism, which was full of innovative, radical and uncompromising ideas. Oskar Kokoschka is the only one of these artists whose oeuvre stretched far into the 20th century, for Klimt and the much younger Schiele both died in 1918.
The Leopold Museum under Tobias G. Natter has made it its purpose to illustrate in a differentiated manner the varying contributions that these three artists made to the great art of the 20th century, particularly since Kokoschka worked not only in Vienna but in an international context from a young age.
Kokoschka: skepticism towards photography
Tobias G. Natter: »As far as we know, Kokoschka never took photographs himself. However, more than any other artist, he used the medium of photography as a means of self-dramatization all throughout the 20th century«.
Kokoschkas photographic estate
Up until now, it was a little known fact that Kokoschkas life and oeuvre has been documented by a variety of photographs. The Managing Director of the Leopold Museum, Peter Weinhäupl, is proud of the cooperation between the museum and the University of Applied Arts Vienna: »The Oskar Kokoschka-Zentrum houses thousands of Kokoschka photographs. We are now able to present the most valuable of these original documents for the first time in Vienna. Among the artists estate alone, countless photographs have survived, which are housed today at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. A selection of them has now been published for the first time with scientific commentary«. After his death, Kokoschkas widow Olda gave the artists »private album« containing more than 5.000 photographs to the University of Applied Arts Vienna. Among them are pictures taken by renowned photographers, including Hugo Erfurth, Madame dOra, Trude Fleischmann, Brassa«, Georg Platt Lynes, Earl Seubert, Franz Hubmann, Erich Lessing, Barbara Pflaum and Sven Simon, as well as numerous private snapshots.
Tobias G. Natter wants to acknowledge the special part played by Olda Kokoschka. For without her preparatory work, an exhibition like this would not have been possible: »The fact that today all these photographs are permanently housed in one place is largely due to her. [
] Because of their closeness to their husbands, only very few artists wives manage to take a measured approach to promoting their husbands memory and not to unnecessarily exhaust the limits of what is possible and objectifiable. But Olda Kokoschka was exceptional in her whole attitude. Meeting her was a pleasure for everyone, not only for me. She was a woman without affectations, [
] worldly-wise and independent of heteronomy«.
Protagonist of Modernism
The painter, graphic artist, dramatist and essayist Oskar Kokoschka is doubtlessly among the most important protagonists of Modernity. His oeuvre not just as a painter and graphic artist but also as a dramatist, essayist and stage designer is tremendous and has earned him a firm place in art and literary history.
Kokoschka and Schiele
»The Leopold Museums relationship with Kokoschkas oeuvre is highly complex«, according to Tobias G. Natter: »On the one hand, there is the Leopold Museum with its focus on Schiele and on the other, there is Kokoschka who jealously tried to torpedo Schieles international breakthrough from the 1960s onwards, vilifying him as a pornographer and a copyist on more than one occasion«. The collector Rudolf Leopold, however, felt the search for quality in 20th century Austrian art to be more important than a great artists posthumous criticism of his younger colleague.
Kokoschka in the Leopold Collection
Natter: »Kokoschkas extraordinary art features prominently in the collection compiled by Rudolf Leopold. The Leopold Museum houses two of the artists most important paintings: The self-portrait painted shortly after the end of World War I in 1918/19, a difficult period for the artist marred by self-doubt and inner turmoil, as well as the Dolomite landscape Tre croci from 1913, a moonlit scene influenced by the flaring chromaticity of El Greco and Tintoretto. The latter work was created in happier times, before the outbreak of the war, during a trip to the South Tyrolean mountains that Kokoschka took with the highly coveted femme fatale Alma Mahler. Another key painting forms part of the Leopold familys private collection, the Self-Portrait at the Easel (1922). This work was created during the artists time as a professor in Dresden and shows Kokoschka with a doll most likely the one he had modeled on Alma in order to help him through their painful separation. It is a work full of intense colors, which affords a stunning view through the window of the artists studio of the urban Elbe landscape«.
Versatile, provocative, controversial
Kokoschka was versatile, often provocative and controversial not only as an artist but also as a person. While he was considered an »enfant terrible« in his early years, he was vilified during the National Socialist era as a prominent »degenerate« artist not just for his art but also for his open opposition to the regime. His ever-present passion for all facets of art and life fascinated many of his contemporaries, including notable literary figures, composers, actors, scientists, politicians and bon vivants.
Kokoschkas »self«: self-dramatization of a martyr and savior of the world
Tobias G. Natter is convinced that: »When it came to the self, Kokoschka was a gifted self-publicist. Throughout his long life, which spanned most of the 20th century, he took on a variety of different roles, dramatizing the self and cultivating the mise-en-sc«ne. He combined contradictory traits and always remained animated, playing the part of a martyr and Parsifal, a militant prophet and Tristan, a secularized Man of Sorrows and savior of the world«.
Photographic documentation of the artists rich life
The exhibition focuses on photographs from the artists estate, including numerous pictures that have never been publicly shown before. The photographic documents of Kokoschkas professional and private life afford interesting insights into a rich and intense artists life and form part of 20th century cultural and contemporary history. The creation process of some of Kokoschkas famous portraits is illustrated in detail by photographs taken during the sittings. The photographs, which include pictures by notable photographers as well as anonymous snapshots, are juxtaposed with Kokoschkas paintings and graphic works.
Painting and photography: a fascinating dialogue
In this exhibition, the lifes work of one of the great international artists of the 20th century enters into a fascinating dialogue with photography.
Tobias G. Natter: »What I found most exciting about a joint project with the Oskar Kokoschka-Zentrum was that it offered the possibility to position the theme of photography in the Leopold Museum even more prominently than before. Photography shaped the visual memory of the 20th century more than any other medium, which is why it is a matter of great importance to me to establish photography as a central theme in our museum«. How successful this inclusion of photography can be has recently been illustrated by the exhibitions »Klimt Up Close and Personal. Paintings Letters Insights« (2012) and »Clouds. Fleeting Worlds« (2013).