Gold & Geld

John Updike on Gustav Klimt in the New York Review of Books:

20071220028img1The Gustav Klimt exhibition, which opened on October 18, 2007, will fill the Neue Galerie until the end of June next year. Its attention-riveting center is Klimt’s 1907 portrait of the prominent Viennese society figure and art patron Adele Bloch-Bauer, executed in oils, silver, and gold—a radiant example of his so-called Golden Style, which was inspired by the artist’s two visits, in 1903, to Ravenna, where he saw the Byzantine mosaics in the church of San Vitale.

He was especially taken, Renée Price tells us in her commentary on the painting, by the mosaic image of the Empress Theodora, “glittering before an abstract gold background.” These were “mosaics of unprecedented splendor,” he wrote to his friend Emilie Flöge. But Byzantine mosaics were not the only influences tugging this portrait toward decorative abstraction: Russian icons also embedded faces in a plane of gold; Egyptian art, which fascinated Klimt, is echoed in the hieroglyphic eyes dominating Adele’s strapped dress; and Japanese woodcuts, Janis Staggs writes in her catalog essay on Klimt’s relation to Emilie Flöge, “typically schematize the hu-man body hierarchically: the face and hands are depicted with painstaking verisimilitude, whereas other physical attributes—as well as clothing and elements of nature—are rendered more abstractly.” Horizontal eyes and vertical half-moons in the sitter’s garments both suggest vaginas, indicating another of the painter’s interests and doing nothing to discourage persistent but unproven rumors of a romantic connection between the artist and his subject.

More here.