EXHIBITION: THE WILDCAT OF VIENNA

Published January 15, 2023
The Power of Music (1918-1920)
The Power of Music (1918-1920)

Oskar Kokoschka rem­ains probably the most deliberately neglected among the European painters, not for any other reason but on account of his own uncompromising and often violent behaviour towards the society he lived in.

But it is never too late as far as unusual talents are concerned, and currently the Modern Art Museum here is paying homage, for the first time in Paris, to this widely ignored figure of early 20th century art.

Born in 1886 in Pochlam, a small town not far from the Austrian capital Vienna, Kokoschka tirelessly painted, while also writing stage plays and poetry, until his death in 1980 in Switzerland at the ripe old age of 94.

Nevertheless, not everyone detested Kokoschka and many well-known Vienna-based figures of the era, such as painters Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, as well as the architect Adolf Loos, remained faithfully behind him in all his artistic, political and literary exploits.

The Modern Art Museum in Paris showcases works by one of the most controversial but also pioneering painters of the 20th century

Kokoschka’s restless nature would not be restricted to art and literature only since, with the beginning of the First World War, he joined the Austrian army and almost died after being seriously injured in a battle. Unable to continue his military career with the ensuing physical handicap, he began a series of long voyages in 1920 that would take him, looking for inspirations for his artistic and literary creations, to a number of different countries of Europe as well as in the Middle East and North Africa, his adventurous feats lasting no less than 12 years.

Bride of the Wind (1914)
Bride of the Wind (1914)

Finally, upon returning to Vienna to concentrate on his passion for painting, he was once again in trouble because of his criticism of Nazi rule. This time, following an arrest order by the authorities, he escaped to London in 1938, where his works would remain highly controversial just the same, appreciated by many but also criticised by the others for their violent themes.

One of the paintings, based on his London experience but completed later in Switzerland is Closing Hour, in which he presents his own figure as a dead-drunk customer trying to enter a bar but being pushed out of the door by a bartender.

Once again, after being appreciated by a circle of mainly younger art enthusiasts but also violently criticised by the authorities, Kokoschka moved to Switzerland in 1951 and began a new life as a writer-painter. Never paying any attention to the objections raised by the intellectuals of the time, he would continue his activities until the last day of his life.

According to Jean Lavergeat, an art critic based in central France, the works done during the final days of his life show a technique dense with crowded details in intense colour schemes and with the subjects often unrecognisable, a style totally unknown during Kokoschka’s own lifetime but more and more familiar in the paintings done by following 20th century artists, the most notable among them being Pablo Picasso.

In that sense, Kokoschka remains an inventor and an artist totally unconcerned with the opinions of the art lovers or art critics of his own time and rendering his creative loyalties to nobody else but himself.

The Modern Art Museum exhibition entitled, ‘Oskar Kokoschka, the Wildcat in Vienna’, puts together some 150 works, thanks to the contributions by a number of European as well as American museums and also many private collectors.

‘Oskar Kokoschka, the Wildcat in Vienna’ is being exhibited at the Modern Art Museum in Paris until February 12, 2023.

The writer is an art critic based in Paris. He can be reached at ZafMasud@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 15th, 2023

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