Few other artists evoke sensuality and magic, both at once, like the Austrian painter and muralist Gustav Klimt. The symbolist artist’s radical imagery and painstaking detailing have made many of his works iconic, most notably The Kiss and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Who can forget their swirls of gold, the glinting squares that come together in kaleidoscopic permutations, the drunken spirals and intricate circles?
Cast in gold: Chawla’s photo replica of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.
Both of these were painted circa 1907, in the decade that marked the artist’s golden period. But more than a century later, Klimt doesn’t cease to be an inspiration. The Italian art mosaic house, Sicis, offers the 1901 Judith and the Head of Holofernes as a wall mural. The store that opened its first showroom last month in India will let you have, for Rs11 lakh, a 75”x55” rendition of the master artist’s understated eroticism, put together with over a thousand handmade mosaic chips.
The most recent Klimtization is Delhi-based photographer Rohit Chawla’s calendar images. On being commissioned to do a five-part tribute series to the old masters by the Bird Group for its upcoming chain of boutique hotels Dusit Devarana, Chawla picked Klimt and recreated elaborate costumes and sets to photograph the women in his 13 images. His exhibition, Klimt—The Sequel, opens today with portraits of several models and actors, such as Ayesha Thapar and Chitrangda Singh, shimmering with gold dust and draped in layers of golden fabric as they hold abstract props. Chawla has cast his models according to the physical features of Klimt’s women. And some of his images do manage to look like new-age replicas, even retaining some of Klimt’s aesthetics, though perhaps not his magic.
We love Klimt for his frank eroticism, his dominant women, his ecstatically intertwined bodies. We like that he took traditional allegory to new heights and ruffled conservative norms, for which he had to face public outcry and criticism in the late 19th century. His golden period was short and much of his success has been posthumous. In 2006, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was purchased by the Neue Galerie in New York for a reported $135 million (around Rs610 crore now)—the highest reported price ever paid for a painting till then. We also love Klimt because he didn’t care. In his 1899 Nuda Veritas, a stark naked woman holds up the mirror of truth. Above her, a quote by the German poet Friedrich Schiller reads: “If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few. To please many is bad.”
Rohit Chawla’s Klimt-inspired photo exhibition The Sequel will be on at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Delhi, from 16-20 January. Ten limited edition prints of each photograph will be available for Rs1 lakh each.