Kokoschka the great

The Leopold Museum is famous for its magnificent collection of paintings by Egon Schiele. The Viennese gallery (www.leopoldmuseum.org) is also often mentioned when it comes to the most important works by Gustav Klimt. Both artists are represented in a new exhibition – but on photographs.
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“Das Ich im Brennpunkt” (The Self in Focus) features more than 200 photos showing Oskar Kokoschka at work, with his lovers and friends. As part of the comprehensive exhibit – which tries to present the artist from as many angles as possible – some of Kokoschka’s most famous portraits and self-portraits are on display. Furthermore, “Das Ich im Brennpunkt” contains his city portrait series. Visitors get to see paintings of London showing Waterloo Bridge and Tower Bridge, a painting of the Viennese State Opera as well as portraits of Salzburg, Hamburg, Amsterdam and Berlin.

Kokoschka’s oeuvre is impressive. The Austrian painter’s art was vilified by the Nazis and branded as “degenerate art”. The political events of the 1930s forced him to migrate, but Kokoschka – who died at the age of 94 in 1980 – returned to Vienna to work as well as to open exhibits in after the war. A significant number of prestigious museums provided paintings by Kokoschka for “Das Ich im Brennpunkt”, including the Museum der Moderne Salzburg, the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart and Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne.

Apart from pictures of cities, the exhibition features Kokoschka’s portraits of late Viennese Mayor Theodor Körner and Max Brauer, the late mayor of Hamburg. Apart from these paintings, a whole hall is dedicated to his encounters with late German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Schmidt, one of his successors. Several black and white photographs capture the atmosphere of these special occasions. Unfortunately, Kokoschka’s portraits of these two influential politicians are not on display.

The sheer amount of photographs – Erich Lessing, Trude Fleischmann and Rene Burri are, among many others, represented – might overwhelm and maybe even exhaust the one or other visitor. In the end, Kokoschka’s paintings will leave the greater impact thanks to their undisputed brilliance and the artist’s unmatched versatility.

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