Thursday, December 18, 2014


Walking into the Egon Schiele (1890-1918) exhibition at the Neue Galerie, curated by Dr. Alessandra Comini brought me back to the past, when I was an art student drawing all day from the figure, carrying a really tattered Schiele book somewhere on my person - a source of inspiration.  I was intense, learning to see anew and drawing was the key to self awareness and into an odyssey of immutable possibilities that I knew instinctively would transport me into a future, embracing beauty, theoretical concepts, and struggle. I could do this for the rest of my life.

That feeling returned as soon as I stepped off the Neue Galerie’s elevator, but now, many years later, I saw the range of Egon Schiele’s oeuvre - a range that was revelatory - that I did not know existed. To speak of early Schiele’s, mid-career Schiele’s and late Schiele’s is compacting a young man’s passage of time; a young man who died from influenza when he was only 28 years old - but his art, from the early delicately realistic studies which penetrated the psyche of his subjects with a maturity that belied a 16 year old to the late works which were more stylized and experimental - color and forms break up, spidery lines invading the face, shapes splitting apart, finished and unfinished fields of paint abutting one another. 

The horror of being unjustly incarcerated - a traumatic incident  in 1912 - had a momentous impact on Egon Schiele. In 1963, Dr. Comini visited and took photographs of the prison where he was locked up for 24 days - a crucially essential component in understanding his prospective artwork. We access a small room - the area of confinement, where we are privy to documents such as arrest records, photographs of his cell, and Schiele’s beautifully descriptive drawings of the space - drawing becomes a cloak of sanity vital in order to endure this harrowing experience.

The exhibition is divided into other rooms that focus on periods of his life i.e. Family and Academy; Fellow Artists; Sitters and Patrons; Lovers; Eros; Self-Portraits and Allegorical Self-Portraits. In all of them HANDS become a vehicle of expression. I noticed a large photograph of Egon Schiele on the Museum’s stairway - his long, thin, delicate fingers splayed apart a gesture of exquisite communication both fervent and impassioned. In many of his portraits we see elongated hands as if Schiele had grafted an indispensable part of his own limb onto his subjects, literally melding into them.

The Eros room displays drawings, some delineated with gouache, pencil and watercolor - the dominant color red blaring as opposed to many of the later, darker mysterious paintings where the palette is denser and more subdued - light is inhibited from penetrating.  Vaginas peek out unrestrained like butterflies inviting your gaze. They are vibrant and so are the women in the drawings - women in embrace, other’s on their knees; in-your-face seductive portraits -  a counterpoint to Schiele’s “masturbation” drawings which convey pain, pleasure and guilt - arms without the ever present hands cut off - severed….

This exhibition is relentlessly contemporary, as well as being a reflection of Viennese society in the beginning of the 20th century. Portraits are both fragile and obdurate; often images are outlined in black - the body imprisoned - the encasing shell hard against the pliable intimacy of the visceral self. Heads with elongated arms and hair wildly breaking up space; diagonals creating a stretching tension; unpainted areas - the white of the canvas/paper background encroaching on the figure but never overwhelming it. A synthesis of the contradictory Apollonian and Dionysian balance and disproportion, Egon Schiele’s “presence” is always present.

“Egon Schiele: Portraits” runs through Jan. 19 at the Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Avenue, at 86th Street; 212-628-6200,

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