The Vienna Secession and the spirit of design

Piacenza, Italy,


Design, Antonella Galli,

An exhibition in Piacenza looks at the figure of Gustav Klimt, in the context of the times, cultural ties and legacy of the great artist, the first president of the Secession movement founded in Vienna in 1897. The movement had countless repercussions for the applied arts, a number of representative examples of which appear in the exhibition.

The Vienna Secession and the spirit of design

For the artists and intellectuals who revolutionised Austrian and European art at the end of the nineteenth century by founding the Vienna Secession, art was total (‘gesamtkunstwerk’) and had to be applied to every aspect of existence. It was thus inevitable that it would involve the applied arts, the arts and crafts that gave rise to useful and decorative objects: a vision marking a change not only in the world of art, but in the worn-out models of living characteristic of bourgeois late romanticism. Gustav Klimt was the ingenious leader of the movement, and is celebrated as such in the exhibition ‘Klimt. L’uomo, l’artista, il suo mondo’ (‘Klimt: the man, the artist and his world’), open until 24 July at Galleria d'Arte Moderna Ricci Oddi in Piacenza and in the spaces of XNL - Piacenza Contemporanea.

The great artist is represented by many of his works, all somehow related to the 1916-17 ‘Portrait of a Lady’ owned by Galleria Ricci Oddi which is the fulcrum of the exhibition: a painting that is doubly mysterious, firstly because it is painted over top of a previous portrait once believed to have been lost, and secondly because it was stolen in 1997 and found again in 2019 following a series of events which is still unclear today. But the exhibition, curated by Gabriella Belli and Elena Pontiggia with scientific coordination by Lucia Pini, director of Galleria Ricci Oddi, includes 160 works not only by Klimt himself but by Edvard Munch, Odilon Redon, James Ensor, Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka, as well as an interesting collection of furnishings, silverware, ceramics, bas-reliefs, jewels, tapestries and decorative works made by the famous Wiener Werkstätte, the creative community that translated the aesthetic principles of the Secession into the applied arts, and by Klimt’s Italian followers after he exhibited at the Biennale di Venezia in 1910.

The exhibition includes furnishings such as a precious cabinet decorated with silver-plated metal by Gustav’s brother, Georg Klimt, and a silver goblet with a lid by Josef Hoffmann, whose innovative white metal baskets and triangular wooden chair also appear. Koloman Moser, another member of the Wiener Werkstätte, made a monumental inlaid armchair dated 1904; while Otto Prutscher produced a pink and blue opalescent vase and a gold pendant with a chain that condenses the expressive power of an entire epoch in a jewel.

Lucia Pini, the new director of Galleria d’Arte Moderna Ricci Oddi, helps me to understand the unusual and precious cross-section of items on display in the exhibition: “The impressive thing is the variety of techniques and materials these objects reveal to us, because there was no area they did not explore: ivory, ceramics, bronze, precious metals, glass. The Wiener Werkstätte was an all-round project which excluded no technique or material, however unusual. Ivory is not a very common thing, but it may be found inlaid in the furnishings, as in a marvellous little jewellery box with two Egyptian profiles made around the year 1903. Another incredible aspect is the modernity of some of the items,” continues Lucia Pini, “such as Hoffmann’s metal wire baskets: they were made in 1905, and he had the idea of using this sort of pre-printed mesh and making it into a highly significant object, of a modernity that was well ahead of its time.” The three baskets, oblong in shape with an arched handle, do not look their age, 117 years, and would look perfectly at home in a gift shop today.

Klimt’s Italian followers also produced works of significance, such as Vittorio Zecchin’s glass and paintings, Galileo Chini’s ceramic vases, or the works of Adolfo Wildt and Felice Casorati, represented in the exhibition by the enigmatic painting “Il sogno del melograno” (Dreaming of pomegranates) and by two painted terracotta sculptures, Black Mask and Red Mask.

“Casorati’s masks are inspired by ancient Egypt,”, explains the director of Galleria Ricci Oddi, “a way of looking far back into the exotic past that was part of the culture of the Secession”. This wave of creativity came to Italy a little later, after Klimt appeared at the Biennale di Venezia in 1910. Lucia Pini sees Zecchin’s glass and paintings and Chini’s ceramics, developed following this artistic revelation, as “the translation of Klimt’s inspiration into a minute, magical, two-dimensional decorative score, transposed without the disturbing element characteristic of Klimt’s work.” But this disturbing element – “a sort of ambivalence between Eros and Thanatos”, recalls Pini –, is always present in Klimt: it was a foreboding sign of the looming wars of the Short Century; and, a hundred years later, it is still as relevant as ever.

(Antonella Galli)

Didascalie e crediti

Immagini della mostra ‘Klimt. L’uomo, l’artista, il suo mondo’, presso Galleria d'Arte Moderna Ricci Oddi e XNL - Piacenza Contemporanea, Piacenza

01 Sezione I seguaci italiani, In primo piano, Adolfo Wildt, Carattere fiero, animo gentile, 1912. Marmo con dorature, 38 × 57 × 57 cm Venezia, Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia - Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna di Ca’ Pesaro. Sullo sfondo, Felice Casorati, Il sogno del melograno, 1912. Olio su tela, 138 × 134 cm Collezione privata. Foto Del Papa
02 Sezione Klimt. Le figure. In primo piano, Koloman Moser, Poltrona monumentale, Wiener Werkstätte, 1904 Legno intarsiato, 67 × 57 × 106 cm, Collezione privata, Francia - courtesy ED Gallery, Piacenza
03 Sezione I manifesti della secessione viennese; Gustav Klimt, Manifesto per la I Mostra della Secessione dopo la censura (26.03.1898 - 20.06.1898), 1898 Litografia a colori su carta, 63,8 × 46,1 cm © Klimt Foundation, Vienna
04 Sezione I seguaci italiani; teca con i vasi in ceramica smaltata di Galileo Chini e Vittorio Zecchin, Vaso a murrine, manifattura Artisti Barovier, Murano, 1914-1918 (Venezia, Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia)
05 e 06 Sezione Le Wiener Werkstätte
07 Sezione I seguaci italiani, Felice Casorati, Maschera nera, maschera rossa, 1914, Terracotta verniciata, 22 × 30 × 17,5 cm ciascuna. Torino, collezione privata
08 Gustav Klimt, Ritratto di signora, 1916-1917, Olio su tela, 68 × 55 cm, Piacenza, Galleria d’Arte Moderna Ricci Oddi. Foto Del Papa
09 Piacenza, Palazzo XNL, ingresso della mostra
10 Sezione I manifesti della secessione viennese; Alfred Roller, Manifesto per la XVI Mostra della Secessione (17.01.1903 - 01.03.1903), 1903 Litografia a colori su carta, montata su tela, 95,9 × 33,2 cm. © Klimt Foundation, Vienna
11 Sezione I manifesti della secessione viennese; Joseph Maria Olbrich, Manifesto per la II Mostra della Secessione (12.11.1898 - 28.12.1898), 1898 Litografia a colori su carta, 86,5 × 46 cm Vienna, Klimt Foundation
12 Sezione Opere giovanili, foto Del Papa
13 Sezione Klimt e la Secessione viennese, in primo piano, Josef Hoffmann, Poltroncina triangolare, per il padiglione austriaco all’Esposizione per il cinquantenario del Regno d’Italia a Roma, 1911 Legno, 72 × 63 × 44 cm Udine, collezione privata - courtesy ED Gallery, Piacenza
14 Sezione “Ver Sacrum” e altre riviste secessioniste viennesi, Foto Del Papa
15 Sezione I seguaci italiani, Vittorio Zecchin, Le principesse e i guerrieri, 1914, Olio e oro su tela, 170x188 cm, Venezia, Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia - Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna, di Ca’ Pesaro


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