Decadence Explored In Aspects of Austrian Symbolism At The Belvedere

This summer, the Belvedere presents the first major exhibition to highlight the multifaceted genre of Austrian Symbolism, in a large-scale exhibition. The show is an in-depth exploration of this significant movement in Austrian art which began around 1900 and has hitherto almost exclusively been addressed in partial explorations. This exhibition is a long overdue study. As a first step, the exhibition is meant to present a general overview of the development and the various positions of the Symbolist approach in Austria and Central Europe.   
As early as the 1870s, Symbolism started to evolve from the spirit of décadence, which discovered for itself the cryptic aestheticism of decay and of the mystical and unfathomable. The Symbolist movement superseded the official style of Historicist painting, shifting its focus to the subjective perspective of psychological processes, which found expression in a suggestive language of colour and form. Its abandonment of banal reality led some artists to create idylls, while others invented cosmic visions. This new aestheticism, propagated by such artists as Max Klinger, Franz von Stuck, Fernand Khnopff, and Jan Toorop, was transmitted in Austria and Central Europe first and foremost via the Vienna Secession. In Austria, Rudolf Jettmar, Alfred Kubin, and Karl Mediz turned out to be among the most consistent exponents of Symbolism. Yet Symbolist ideas also played an important role for leading personalities of the avant-garde, including Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Koloman Moser.

Looking for a way out of the pomp of Historicism and the superficiality of Naturalism, the young generation of artists went in search of a new way of expression that would represent sensuality, magic, and profoundness. Its members fathomed the mysteries of mythology and mysticism, creating their own modern myths. Ostentatious historicist painting gave way to a focus on subjective views of the inner mind rendered in a suggestive language of colour and form. This abandonment of reality led some artists to idyll and others to cosmic visions. It was primarily via the Vienna Secession that such artists as Max Klinger, Franz von Stuck, Fernand Khnopff, and Jan Toorop disseminated this aesthetic approach throughout Austria and Central Europe. “Decadence – Aspects of Austrian Symbolism illustrates how, in the context of the fin de siècle, the approach of décadence led to the dissolution of traditional aesthetic norms in favour of a liberal and creative experimentation with the possibilities of pictorial representation.

Since Symbolism embraced several styles on the one hand and also extended to such genres as literature, poetry, and music on the other, it is a mindset rather than style,” Alfred Weidinger, vice-director of the Belvedere and curator of the exhibition, points out. Symbolism’s interdisciplinary character culminated in the emergence of the Secessionist Gesamtkunstwerk or total work of art, the concept of which is also integrated into the exhibition in the form of an acoustic intervention by the Canadian composer and installation artist Robin Minard, who harks back to a graphic ornament used in the Secession’s exhibitions with the aid of 2,000 loudspeakers, drawing his inspirations from Symbolist music, literature, and poetry.
The exhibition presents works by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Giovanni Segantini, Gustave Moreau, Max Klinger, Arnold Böcklin, Jan Toorop, Fernand Khnopff, Alfred Kubin, Franz von Stuck, Luigi Bonazza, Wilhelm Bernatzik, Wilhelm List, Maximilian Lenz, Erich Mallina, Rudolf Jettmar, Eduard Veith, Frantisek Kupka, Maximilian Pirner, Karl Mediz, Arnold Clementschitsch, Koloman Moser, Wenzel Hablik, Ernst Stöhr, Oskar Kokoschka, and others.

Visit: Decadence: Aspects of Austrian Symbolism From Jun 21, 2013 until Oct 13, 2013 Rennweg 6, 1030 Vienna

Photo: Karl Mediz, Roter Engel, 1902 © Privatbesitz, Wien

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