"Portrait of Adolf Loos, 1909" by Oskar Kokoschka
After my son was born on 9/10/01 (a whole story), I was scouting around for articles to write, or something, and a friend of a friend referred me to a friend who was starting up a magazine called Seasoned. It was supposed to be a new concept, a magazine for the 50 + crowd, not AARP, but sophisticated, literary, cultural. Whatever. I didn’t really care who it was for, I wanted to publish an article. They were happy to find someone in NYC—they were out of Chicago. And they asked me to cover the newly opened Neue Galerie in Manhattan along the Museum Mile.
I was thrilled beyond words. I had just gotten my first publication in The City section of the New York Times, which is now just the N.Y./Region page, and it came out on Sundays at the time. I had randomly sent in an article about using the internet at the various public libraries around NYC and gotten a call from the editor several months later. The piece came out on 9/02/01 and I had an appointment to call the guy on 9/1l to set up an appointment to go the NYT offices and discuss writing further articles. Well guess what happened with that? I called him all right, a day or two late, from Roosevelt Hospital, where I could see the towers smoking from my 12th floor window as I held my newborn son in one arm.
We had another phone conversation when I got home about pitching some more pieces. I wrote one about 9/10/01 and the days following but it took me a good three weeks to pull it together, what with having a newborn baby by myself and all. And the editor said they had all liked it (they, he said, yes, and I was thrilled), but the Times felt they had to be forward-looking and they had already been saturated with articles on the subject. Shortly afterward the economy tanked and they stopped taking work from freelance writers (freelance writers? He said it, I didn’t).
So the idea of covering the opening of a museum was practically intoxicating to me. It seemed I was on a holy roll that fall and spring and I was absolutely heady over the birth of my son. I was catching the Neue Galerie just in time for its exhibition of paintings by Oskar Kokoschka, one of my favorite artists of all time, along with Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimpt, Otto Dix and the other Austrian and German expressionist artists of my dreams.
My first step was to reconnoiter, and I did that the first day. I scouted out the location of the Neue Galerie up on Fifth Avenue, sort of obliquely opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Though it calls itself a gallery, it’s really a small museum. There were lines going around the block waiting for the Oskar Kokoschka exhibit, which I simply made note of that day. I just looked at the building, checked the museum’s hours, and all that. I had my son with me in the stroller; already he was about six months old. The next day I went back early, with him in the front pack—they don’t allow strollers, or kids under the age of 12, say what you will—and made a preliminary inspection of the inside.
I took sloppy notes on a miniature legal pad and looked at all the paintings, the edifice, the café, the furniture exhibit. It exhausted me to the point of almost passing out and then I went back one more time with a press pass from the people at the Seasoned and if that wasn’t the coolest I don’t know what was. Except maybe when the director of the museum returned my phone call and gave me eminently quotable material for my piece and we conversed laughingly, wittily, nonchalantly and briefly as I scribbled notes on my pad while also retrieving the toy my son was repeatedly throwing off the bed.
Well, it was all one big delight even if I thanked god for the fortuitous way each step fell into place because in between those times I was having anxiety fits and near-panic attacks about almost every other aspect of my life. I typed up the article, emailed it off to the folks at Seasoned. The editor wrote back that they loved the article, and she called me an elegant and passionate writer (!!!!!!!!). And then the dang magazine folded before they could publish my piece. Please.
In any case, here are a few excerpts from my article, and go check the Neue Galerie if you have the chance. It’s one of the finest museums in NYC.
The Neue Galerie New York
New York City’s Museum Mile can welcome an elegant and impressive new addition in the Neue Galerie New York. Located on the corner of 5th Avenue and 86th Street, the museum houses German and Austrian art from the early part of the twentieth century.
The Neue Galerie is a full museum, and the art on display from some of the leading figures of the day speak to its pre-eminent status: Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka.
The Neue Galerie takes its name in part from the Neue Galerie that opened in Vienna in 1923, and showcased the art of Klimt, Schiele, and other artists of the Secession movement. Neue (new) referred in general to the novel approach to art and life that the work of these artists represented.
The Neue Galerie makes its home in one of the most valued landmark buildings in the city and the Louis XIII-style, Beaux Art structure is worth a trip to the museum in itself. The elegant entrance opens on to a marble staircase that winds its way to the second floor. The main gallery has the feel of an indescribably rich drawing room or parlor. Egon Schiele paintings line the walls. A George Minne marble sculpture called The Bather sits on a marble fireplace mantel. A chair by Josef Hoffmann occupies one corner. A long case clock by Adolf Loos stands along the western wall. Objets d’art are displayed in the center in glass cases lined up in a row. One of the goals of the museum is to explore the relationship between the fine arts and the decorative arts of the period.
Stately marble columns and a gilt ceiling-border define the middle gallery. Paintings by Egon Shiele and Gustav Klimt hang on the walls, among them Klimt’s exquisite and famous The Dancer. The third gallery is luxuriant with drawings and watercolors by Alfred Kubin, Kokoschka, Klimt and Shiele. The second-floor galleries will be devoted to art from Vienna circa 1900.
The third floor of the museum will be home to early-twentieth-century German art. Various movements will be explored, with artists such as Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Lyonel Feininger, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Otto Dix, George Grosz and others being displayed, as well as applied arts from the Werkbund and Bauhaus.
The Neue Galerie New York opened on November 16, 2001. The opening exhibition, titled “New Worlds: German and Austrian Art, 1900-1940,” included artists Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, Max Beckman, Kandinsky, Kirchner, Klee and decorative arts from the Werkbund and Bauhaus. Lines of people throughout the fall awaiting entry attest to the attraction of the artists and the period and the new museum.
Scott Gutterman, Deputy Director of the Neue Galerie, describes the museum as “small, beautifully executed, in line with the Frick and the Morgan, something that is always welcome in New York.” To that he attributes the museum’s immediate success, as well as the rare quality of the collection. “It’s the largest collection of Egon Shiele and Gustav Klimt in the United States,” he said. Further, though German and Austrian art from this period can be found in select museums in this country, the Neue Galerie’s collection, Gutterman said, is “the most spectacular.”
On Friday, March 15th at 11 a.m. a line of elegantly dressed people wound down 5th Avenue waiting for the opening of “Oskar Kokoschka: Early Portraits from Vienna and Berlin, 1909-1914.” The exhibition is stunning and occupies the whole of the third floor. The focus is on the early portraiture of Kokoschka. It is the first time that portraits made between 1909 and 1914 are being displayed together.
Kokoschka, regarded as a rebel, iconoclast and enfant terrible, provides with the more than 30 early oil portraits shown a kind of chronology of the artistic and intellectual milieu of Vienna and Berlin on the eve of World War I. The heady atmosphere, in which he figured prominently, is felt among the deeply saturated colors, the grays and browns, and the sort of distortion of figure displayed in the portraits. Though the controversial Kokoschka referred to his portraits as “images of the soul,” some critics used less flattering phraseology to describe his work, including, “painting of putrefaction,” “odor of decay,” and “frenzied ugliness.”
Also on display are a rare selection of Kokoschka’s drawings, as well as posters, postcards, and intricately painted fans, work Kokoschka did for the Wiener Werkstatte. Included is a famous fan he made for Alma Mahler, with whom he had a legendary affair.
The galleries are open Friday through Monday and the cafe, bookstore and design shop through the week. For information on hours, admission and upcoming exhibits, the museum’s website can be accessed at www.neuegalerie.org.