04 September 2012

A Neue Saturday

"Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" Gustav Klimt (1907)

One Saturday this summer I met up with a friend on the Upper East Side to go to an event only to discover that it was happening on a different day (I must learn to double check these things). What to do? With a free afternoon on our hands, we decided to head over to the Neue Galerie.

I quite like the Neue. The building is lovely, their collection small but excellent, and the special exhibits are always interesting. Having a café that serves divine cakes doesn't hurt either.

This year marks the 150th birthday of Gustav Klimt so the museum was celebrating with an exhibit of related photographs and drawings in addition to the paintings from their permanent collection including its star, Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907). No reproduction in a book or poster can do justice to the painting's amazing golds.

"Anna with Mirror" Heinrich Kuehn (1902)

Yet it was an exhibit on another floor that really captured my attention. “Heinrich Kuehn and His American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen” looked at the work of Austrian photography pioneer Heinrich Kuehn (1866-1944) and his friendship with the leading American photographers. Kuehn believed early on that photography was an art form and at the turn of the century became an influential member of the Pictorialist movement that emphasized beauty over realism in photography.

Alfred Stieglitz would become Kuehn’s advocate and in 1906 exhibited Kuehn's work at his New York Gallery (a section of which was recreated at the Neue). The two would correspond for more than 30 years and along with Edward Steichen explore new photography techniques. Yet Kuehn never achieved the status that the American photographers did. 

The photographs in the exhibit were dreamlike and striking. I was particularly taken by the ones printed with the gum-bichromate process on textured paper, which gave them the look of a painting. Along with Tyrolean landscapes were many images of his four children and their nanny, Mary Warner, who would often pose for him and is believed to have become Kuehn's companion after the death of his wife.

"Still-life with Violets" Heinrich Kuehn (ca. 1908)

But the most stunning photographs were to be found in a short film screened in one of the rooms. Using autochrome, an early form of colour photography, Kuehn managed to capture striking colour images like this bunch of violets. They were incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately, these images are now so fragile they can no longer be displayed.

Afterwards we browsed the gift shop and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Café Sabarsky. I had Spätzle and Früchte Eistee (fruit ice tea) and somehow managed to keep away from the cakes for once. All in all, not bad for a Plan B.

To find out more about the Neue Galerie, visit their website here.

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