Week 5: Chapters 11 and 12

“All art is erotic.” – Gustav Klimt (http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/symbolism/Gustav-Klimt.html)

This week in Chapter 11 we studied the bridge, Art Nouveau (1890-1910), which crossed from the Victorian era  to Chapter 12, “The Genesis of Twentieth Century Design.” A “human bridge” of the era was German designer Peter Behrens (1868-1940), whose six-color woodcut “Untitled/The Kiss”  was “largely responsible for popularizing the Jugendstil (or German Art Nouveau) movement” [Ola Robbins, http://www.quailhollow365.com/blog/2011/02/artwork-of-the-day-peter-behrens-the-kiss/) when it was published in in Pan, volume 4, n. 2 (1898) (http://www.spaightwoodgalleries.com/Pages/Behrens.html).

"The Kiss" by Behrens“The Kiss” embodies many Art Nouveau characteristics:

–Flowing lines which according to Robbins “refer to the ever-present and sometimes irrational movement within nature”
–Attention to craftsmanship (six colors aren’t simple to do in a wood block print)

The androgyny of the figures was somewhat controversial, which garnered even more attention for the movement. Reprints of this work are widely available today as posters and postcards. The original artist’s prints can be found in many museums; a print which is implied to be an artist’s print is available for “only” $3500 at http://www.spaightwoodgalleries.com/Pages/Behrens.html

(image from http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A438&page_number=2&template_id=1&sort_order=1)

"The Kiss" by Gustav KlimtAround ten years later (1908), Austrian Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) produced his famous painting also entitled “The Kiss.” According to Wikipedia, this painting is “a masterpiece of Vienna Jugendstil—Viennese Art Nouveau,“  a movement which followed the Berlin Secession of which Behrens was a part.  Klimt’s work mirrors the simplified, idealized female facial features of Behren’s woodcut, and retains some of the curvilinear flow, but is moving toward later linear geometric designs.

(image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kiss_%28Klimt_painting%29)

I find it slightly ironic that while Behren’s “The Kiss” was designed for reproduction and printing, and of course Klimt’s painting “The Kiss” was not, it is much easier to find a reproduction Klimt’s work today.  Of the two, however, I think Behren’s work would be more likely to be mistaken for a more contemporary piece, if only because it has a more “graphic design” quality and foreshadows some of the flowing-haired album covers and posters that were produced in the 1960’s.  Still, I suspect that if you asked any random person sitting in Starbucks today, that person would be more likely to recognize Klimt’s piece. This, too, is somewhat ironic, since graphic design is by nature aimed at the large public. Through modern reproduction techniques, a unique piece of art can enter the realm of popular reproduced graphic design.


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