You owe me, Leopold Museum, you owe me

4 June 2017

DISCLAIMER: pretentious stuff ahead.

I hate it when people try to help me in secret. Call me callous, but I usually don’t appreciate it at all. I’m convinced I know what good for me better then anyone else. Particularly when people help me in a way that makes things worse. When you have to be grateful for their help, when you’re actually angry. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a manifestation of being a control freak. I usually have an unbreakable conviction on where I want to be, and how to get there, even if I rationally know I’m dead wrong. Probably more often then not. Case in point: the Leopold museum.

The Leopold Museum is located in Vienna, somewhere among a whole host of museums exhibiting a lot of masterworks that the perfidious Habsburgers looted from other countries. But I digress. The Leopold Museum lures unsuspecting tourists by advertising it’s Klimt collection in every elevator and bathroom in Austria. So I went. I like Klimt. And guess what? The only works they have are second rate, which they tellingly can’t even allocate a dedicated room for. Pshaw. As a small, perhaps Belgian-style revenge, I decided to see every single painting on display. Starting on the ground floor. Egon Schiele. The first painting I see is quite large, 2m x 2m in my memory, so perhaps half that. A nude, yellowishly hued man, slight bend at the middle. Incidental penis and pubes. An almost cubistic quality to thighs, belly and pelvis. No arms, but prominent legs. An expression between concentration and melancholy, hard to read due to the covered mouth.

This painting had the strongest emotional impact on me that any painting I’ve seen before and after. Schiele’s paintings could easily be classified as ugly, but after a while it’s clear it is a very honest, direct, and often brutal portrayal. And I needed to take a couple of seated minutes now and them, as the works were having a very emotionally draining effect on me. I’m obviously a melancholic, and usually pessimistic person at heart, and I empathized at a personal level that I might even have ignored all this time. The world is obviously an ugly place, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be beautiful…. despite? at the same time as? orthogonal to? that.

Egon Schiele died in 1918, 99 years ago. I guess good art really can speak across any temporal boundary. In an amazingly powerful manner. Goddamn you, Leopold Museum, goddamn you.