Top of these must come the magnificent exhibition of the work of Koloman Moser (1868-1918) at the Leopold Museum, which continues until 10 September 2007. Moser was one of the leading artists of the Secession and a close associate of Gustav Klimt. He trained and practised as a painter of great power and sensitivity, influenced at first by Klimt and later by the Swiss painter Hodler. Moser went on to become one of the driving forces behind the Wiener Werstätte, an industrial design organisation which set out to apply the highest artistic ideals to the design and manufacture of artefacts.
Moser was 25 when The Studio was founded in 1893, and the British journal became a seminal influence upon the development of art and design in Vienna, as it did elsewhere. Moser's own work was, in turn, illustrated in early issues of The Studio.
Moser's paintings are remarkably good. I say 'remarkably', because so many designers with a background in the fine arts do not achieve a great deal before they become full-time designers. His paintings are rich and vibrant in colour and powerful in design. They also capture the thrusting energy of life in Vienna at that time in a most vivid way. If Moser had never designed a single artefact, he would have been a painter of outstanding quality.
His design work ranged through almost every medium, including graphics, stained glass, furniture and interiors. The principal characteristics of his work as a designer are a simple elegance of form combined with surfaces rich in both texture and colour. Unlike so much of the design of the period, his work draws you in and invites you to touch, feel, and use.
In stark contrast to the hedonistic joy of Moser, the Albertina presents a fine collection of work by the painters of 'Die Brücke' (until 2 September 2007), which flourished 1905-1913, and whose principal members were Kirchner, Schmidt-Rottluff and Heckel. Drawing upon kindred spirits in early Expressionism, such as late Van Gogh and the 'Fauves', the artists of 'Die Brücke' practised what was seen at the time as a kind of calculated savagery with paint. Harsh saturated colours jangle and clash. Forms are enclosed with roughly slashed profiles. Niceties of both anatomy and taste are gloriously ignored. Seeing this exhibition, one can fully understand why their work evoked such puzzlement and even revulsion. In addition to an excellent collection of paintings, the show features much of the group's graphic work, tracing the way in which it led to a revival of the woodcut, hitherto abandoned for several centuries.
For deep-seated historical reasons, British permanent collections are relatively poor in regard to their holdings of German art, particularly that of the 20th century. This exhibition provides a unique opportunity to see work of a kind that is generally unavailable in the UK.
The Moser and Die Brücke exhibitions present us with two contrasted cultures, closely located in time. At the Liechtenstein Museum they are complemented by a fine exhibition from a quite different historical period, namely Biedermeier; German domestic art and design in the period 1815-1848 (until 20 August 2007). Biedermeier was, in essence, a celebration of the domestic and the ordinary, of good manners and good taste. Falling between the turbulence of the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 and the revolution of 1848 it depicts a culture that yearned for stability and calm. It celebrated clean, neatly furnished interiors, well-behaved children and the pleasures of bourgeois polite society.
For the visitor with some time to spare, there is also at the moment an excellent show at the Kunstforum entitled 'Eros', representing different aspects of sexuality (ends 22 July 2007). The general quality of the work assembled is impressive, including as it does Klimt, Schiele, Cézanne, Degas, Bonnard and many other artists of distinction. I felt that some of the work, although featuring nudes, had a doubtful connection to sexuality, which is the theme of the show, but that does not detract from the exhibition's intrinsic interest.
To encourage a reader to spend their time and money to go and see an exhibition is in itself a responsibility not to be taken lightly. To encourage someone to get on a plane and go to another country is even more serious. However, I would have no hesitation in encouraging the reader to get to Vienna as soon as possible and see these wonderful shows. You will enjoy it, or I'll eat my hat.
Purely Elemental: Wood Craft as Fine Art
The history of turned wood objects is long and varied, changing from functional craft to art to hobby and back again. During the past few decades, a growing number of artists have embraced the medium as one in which they can explore a variety of interests, from the more obvious possibilities of form and function to wood art as a method of communication, celebration of nature and emotional expression.
The Changing Face of Oz
For millions of people, The Wizard of Oz brings to mind the 1939 MGM movie musical starring Judy Garland. She is the image of Dorothy in the collective imagination, the one who clicks her red shoes to return home. 'No, this is not a Judy show,' says Michael Patrick Hearn, curator of 'The Wonderful Art of Oz', an exhibition of original art work at the The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts.1
Nordic Dawn: Modernism's Awakening in Finland 1890-1920
This timely exhibition and catalogue can be accessed in Europe until 26 January 2006. It is timely because it appropriately adjusts the balance of influences upon Finland at this crucial period and thoroughly and effectively reviews the special influence that Finnish art gave to the wider European spectrum. Stephan Koja, an expert on Gustav Klimt, is currently a curator at the Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere Vienna and co-ordinates important contributory essays from a wide range of Finnish scholars.
Gustav Klimt: Painting, Design and Modern Life in Vienna 1900
To celebrate 2008 as European Capital of Culture, Tate Liverpool is presenting the first, 'comprehensive exhibition of Gustav Klimt ever staged in the UK'. The exhibition sets out to explore Klimt's role as the founder and leader of the Viennese Succession. Only a small number of paintings are included in the Liverpool show, leaving many visitors feeling somewhat let down.
From Kirchner to Kandinsky: German Expressionism in Dutch Museums 1919-1964
In summer 2005, the new art gallery in the Groninger Museum is showing an excellent exhibition dealing with a substantial resource of German Expressionist works. These were acquired during and after the most active period of the movement by various galleries, museums and private buyers in the Netherlands.