Exhibition Review: Gustav Klimt: 150th Anniversary Celebration at the Neue Galerie, May 24-August 27, 2012

New York City’s Neue Galerie is the latest venue to jump on the Klimt exhibition bandwagon this year. Nearly every museum in Vienna has pulled up a chair to the artist’s 150th birthday party, and while the Neue might be seated at the far end of the table, its contribution to the potluck is more impressive than many of the others’.

During a recent tour through Vienna, an OTE staff member found Klimt’s famous face and kissing couple on every wall, billboard, and bus. But while the streets are like a museum of Klimt reproductions, finding an actual Klimt inside a museum is trickier.

With the exception of the magnificent Death and Life canvas, The Leopold Museum’s display primarily consists of what seems like every scrap of paper that ever passed the artist’s desk – interesting, but a letdown to a tourist who spent the entire tram ride staring at the exhibition poster. The Secession and the Kunsthistorisches Museum have built temporary ramps to allow visitors a closer view of the artist’s wall murals, and the Albertina is showing a group of lovely drawings and preparatory sketches. Finally, the Belvedere’s glittering Kiss, regal Judith I, seductive Wasserschlangen (Water Snakes), and about ten other masterpieces give the Klimt party crasher a reason to get really excited – over and over again.

Meanwhile at the Neue Galerie, the sumptuous Adele Bloch-Bauer I, arguably the Mona Lisa of North America and made all the more dazzling by her $135 million price tag in 2006, is joined by her contemporaries in The Black Feather Hat, The Dancer, and Pale Face. Displayed with the ladies are three beautifully-patterned landscapes and a comprehensive array of black and white photographs, light sketches and finished charcoals, and lithographic posters. All of the works are from the museum’s holdings, courtesy of (lucky for us) Klimt’s biggest fan Ronald Lauder, and all selections are extraordinary examples of the artist’s talent.

Ultimately, the Neue Galerie show offers a satisfying Viennese dessert table (pun most certainly intended) that proves second only to Vienna’s best.