Exhibition XIV, The Beethoven Exhibit, 1902
The Vienna Secession's fourteenth exhibition, dedicated to Ludwig van Beethoven, was one of the movement's most widely attended and popular shows. The Secessionists revealed their ideas about art, space, and experience through various artistic contributions paying tribute to the great composer.
A total of twenty-one artists participated in the exhibition. Two of the most recognizable were Max Klinger, an honorary member of the Secession from Leipzeig, and Gustav Klimt, the Secession's president. Klinger's statue of Beethoven was the exhibition's centerpiece and, as such, was placed in the middle of the Secession House's main hall. Klimt's frieze was originally meant to supplement Klinger's piece, but it later became the more famous of the two, and one of Klimt's most recognizable works.
Klinger's statue of Beethoven was roundly criticized. While most revered Beethoven as a modern father of music, Klinger chose to depict the icon naked and crouching. Most international and Viennese critics found Klinger's interpretation of Beethoven confusing, if not repellant. One wrote: "The 'Homage' that the Secession extols on Max Klinger's Beethoven Statue . . . unmistakably reveals that they could think of no greater honor for Beethoven than to stick him in the middle of an Assyrian bathhouse" (Celenza, "Music and the Vienna Secession: 1897–1902," 210). While most critics did not understand Klinger's representation (reviews from the Viennese music community are conspicuously absent), some recognized the sculpture's magnificence and acknowledged its detailed symbolism. Klinger had dedicated fifteen years (and a significant investment of 150,000 marks) to his vision. On the back of the throne appear Biblical scenes, one of which some scholars believe depicts Beethoven as John the Evangelist, a thesis supported by the eagle (John's biblical symbol) near Beethoven's feet. The statue is made of the finest marble, ivory, and bronze and weighs an epic 5,000 kilos.
The aforementioned criticism that Klinger's statue resembles an Assyrian bathhouse-goer, however, is not unfounded; rather, it reveals a particular goal of the Secessionists: to create Raumkunst or "spatial art." The men of the Secession wanted their exhibition (the building, the art, the furniture, and even the "third space" of the printed press) to be an all-encompassing, spatial experience for the viewer—something one could abstractly liken to the captivating moment of entering a bathhouse. With this goal in mind, the Secessionists designed the main hall, the home of Klinger's statue, as a Tempelkunst or a place specifically designed to complement the "visual and philosophical essence" of a work of art ("Music and the Vienna Secession: 1897–1902," 208). Similar perhaps to an Assyrian temple rather than a bathhouse, the main hall was very much a place for veneration.
The Secessionists' goal of providing an experiential exhibition, however, did not begin and end with the building, press, and interior design. Even the works of art were themselves infused with this idea. Richard Wagner, the conductor of one of the most famous performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (1846), coined the term "absolute music" in the performance's program booklet. The term refers to a piece of music, such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, that is so complete in and of itself that it is nearly perfect. Wagner, along with some contemporaries (most notably Friedrich Nietzsche), rejected this idea of "absolute music." Instead, he promoted the idea that music as transcendent as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony needs words, specifically poetry, in order for people to fully comprehend the piece. To this end, Wagner put the Fourth Movement of Beethoven's Ninth to Friedrich Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy." Wagner's rejection of "absolute music" influenced the Secessionists' ideas about their exhibition space, and also specifically Gustav Klimt, who fashioned part of his famous Beethoven Frieze, a segment referred to as "Ode to Joy (This Kiss to the Whole World)," after the ideas behind Wagner's 1846 performance.
(b. 12 February 1857, Plagwitz, near Leipzig, d. 5 July 1920, Grossjena, near Nuremberg)
Now more known for his albums of engravings such as A Glove (1881), which influenced the surrealists, Klinger had a successful career as a painter and sculptor, and worked in Berlin, Paris, and Leipzig. He was particularly interested in the notion of Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art). His preoccupation with literature and especially music informed the polychrome marble "Beethoven Seated" (1902) and the album Brahms Fantasies (1894). Some of his work was highly controversial during his lifetime, particularly his naked Beethoven and his starkly naturalistic painting Crucifixion (1890/1).
Elena Luksch-Makowsky (1878-1967) and the Beethoven Exhibit
Just two women (interestingly both Russian) exhibited in the early years of the Vienna Secession—the sculptor Teresa Ries (1874–1956) and the painter, sculptor, printmaker and applied artist Elena Luksch-Makowsky (1878–1967)—but only Luksch-Makowsky took part in the Klinger Beethoven installation of 1902.
Elena's father, Vladimir Makowsky, was a Russian court artist and later a member of the Wanderers. Her uncle was the painter Constantin Makowsky. She trained with Ilya Repin at the St. Petersburg Academy 1894–96, and won a scholarship to study abroad with Anton Azbé in Munich. Two years later she returned to St. Petersburg to study sculpture under Wladimir Beklemischeff. She married the Austrian sculptor Richard Luksch and moved to Vienna in 1900.
Luksch was a member of the Vienna Secession. As a woman, Elena could not be a member but she could exhibit: she showed regularly from 1900 to 1903. She seems to have adopted the Klimt Group's attitude that artwork should be used to articulate space— Raumkunst—rather than the viewpoint of the other Secession group, led by Josef Engelhart, who stressed the autonomy of individual works of art. The artists who took part in the Klinger Beethoven exhibition realized that the works they contributed were only temporary – only Klimt's Beethovenfries outlived, somewhat fortuitously, the exhibition.
Elena contributed two panel pieces which were inset into the rough stucco walls of the right side room, located under Ferdinand Andri's frieze, Man's Courage in Battle, and opposite Josef Auchenthaler's frieze, The Joy of Godliness, and the cutaway windows through which could be seen Klinger's polychrome Beethoven:
Death and Time. Painting on silicate with beaten copper.
Sadko's Viewing of the Brides. Casein with metal inlay.
The Sadko subject matter reflects Elena's increasing pre-occupation with Russian folk tales, proverbs and folk art. This is also evident in her color woodcuts in the special issue of Ver Sacrum v. 6 n. 8 (1903), commissioned by Leopold Bauer.