Danae (1907-08) – Gustav Klimt
“We want to declare war on sterile routine, on rigid Byzantinism, on all forms of bad taste… Our Secession is not a fight of modern artists against old ones, but a fight for the advancement of artists as against hawkers who call themselves artists and yet have a commercial interest in hindering the flowering of art.”
This declaration by Hermann Bahr, the spiritual father of the Secessionists, may serve as the motto for the foundation in 1897 of the Vienna Secession, with Klimt as its leading spirit and president. The artists of the younger generation were no longer willing to accept the tutelage imposed by Academicism; they demanded to exhibit their work in a fitting place, free from “market forces”. They wanted to end the cultural isolation of Vienna, to invite artists from abroad to the city and to make the works of their own members known in other countries. The Secession’s programme was clearly not only an “aesthetic” contest, but also a fight for the “fight to artistic creativity”, for art itself; it was a matter of combatting the distinction between “great art” and “subordinate genres”, between “art for the rich and art for the poor” in brief, between “Venus” and “Nini”. In painting and in the applied arts, the Vienna Secession had a central role in developing and disseminating Art Nouveau as a counter-force to official Academicism and bourgeois conservatism. –Gilles Néret, 1993
P. S. The concept of “Venus” and “Nini” are the most intriguing part of these last posts on the book by Néret on Klimt I’ve been reading, and I want to add that it is unjust and unfair to direct the Nini page to “prostitution in art”. The woman who is impartial to casual sex and/or wants to lead an independent life is not a prostitute but is easily perceived as one. Most generally this dichotomy is labeled the mother/whore or Madonna/whore complex. If anyone knows of a very good exploration of this theme (apart from The Mother and the Whore (1973) – Jean Eustache and the work by Camille Paglia), please let me know.