The Klewan Collection. Portrait(s) of Modernism
Orangery at the Lower Belvedere
17 February to 11 June 2017
A total of 193 works by over fifty artists, on display in the Orangery at the Lower Belvedere, testify to Austrian gallerist Helmut Klewan’s passion for collecting. The exhibition runs from 17 February to 11 June 2017. Over the past four decades, Klewan has amassed an art collection of around six thousand works. Stylistically these range from important classic modern artworks, through Surrealism and Art Brut to key examples of post-war art. Reflecting the collector’s own predilection, the exhibition’s main focus is on portraits by the various artists.
Helmut Klewan is regarded as a major ambassador for Austrian art in Germany and his exhibitions promoted the international acclaim of stellar artists such as Maria Lassnig or Arnulf Rainer. The Belvedere is now paying tribute to Klewan by presenting highlights from his collection.
“The exhibition not only brings an important private collection into the public eye but is also a portrait of modernism in all its diversity. A walk through the Orangery is thus transformed into a journey of discovery through the art of the twentieth century,” says Stella Rollig, Director General of the Belvedere. Curator of the exhibition, Harald Krejci continues: “The Dada-style self-portrait by Man Ray encounters the Pierrot depictions by Armand Henrion. Auguste Rodin’s bust of Honoré de Balzac is juxtaposed with Ludwig Meidner’s drawn portrait of Wieland Herzfelde and a drawing by Alberto Giacometti meets an overpainting by Arnulf Rainer. Helmut Klewan has his own view of art and is little swayed by the mainstream and general artistic tastes.”
Klewan amassed his collection during a career as a gallerist in Vienna and Munich. It is easy to identify his favourites today: he owns one of the largest bodies of works by Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti in the German-speaking region. The collector also staged the first exhibition of the artist’s work in Germany. Also among his favourite classic modern artists are André Masson, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, Giorgio de Chirico, and Jean Dubuffet. Meanwhile, Christian Ludwig Attersee, Günter Brus, Maria Lassnig, Arnulf Rainer, and Hans Staudacher all feature prominently among the contemporary artists. Klewan tracked down masterpieces irrespective of time and place, aiming to position them in a dialogue with other artworks. His interest in works frequently scorned as kitsch in art circles is another key aspect of his collection.
Helmut Klewan also made a name for himself as a DJ. His regular artist festivals were legendary events on the art scene. This May, visitors can gain their own impressions of Klewan’s DJ-ing skills as he stages a revival of his artist festivals at Twentyone in the 21er Haus.
The exhibition catalogue describes twenty-seven of the collector’s favourite works and his relationship to the work and the artist. The author Karin Koschkar, a freelance curator who has been studying the Klewan collection for a number of years, compares it to a type of “cabinet of wonder”. The twenty-seven highlights were chosen for various reasons: sometimes they reflect an important position, sometimes they represent a larger body of work; they could recall phases in the collector’s life, or shed light on him as a person.
Three artists and their works are cited here by way of example:
Maria Lassnig, Traum (Dream, 1964):
Maria Lassnig is regarded as the greatest post-war Austrian female painter but did not receive her due recognition until very late. Her self-portraits illustrate her deepest feelings. To express these, she reinterpreted colour, employing it to capture bodily sensations. Forms also morphed to reflect emotions rather than represent their actual appearance, explaining why the figures in her works are usually distorted.
“Thirty years of friendship with Maria Lassnig was like a battle. You had to coax every picture out of her. She would rather give me oil paintings on consignment than sell them to me, finding the prospect of a painting never being returned intolerable. Fortunately, she lived to the age of almost ninety-five and could experience her world fame,” said Helmut Klewan about his relationship with the artist.
André Masson, Scéne érotique (1928):
André Masson belonged to the inner circle of Surrealists around André Breton, before leaving the group to join forces with Georges Bataille and other like-minded artists. He combined various techniques in his works, used the emerging method of écriture automatique, and also experimented with different materials.
“I bought this picture when Masson was still alive – it was 1987 and it set a new record of 150,000 pounds net. The auction at Sotheby’s was very dramatic; I kept wanting to stop bidding. The result was the highest ever price for a work by Masson. It is an early masterpiece of 1928, when he was a studio neighbour of Joan Miró in Paris. You can see that from the painting. Masson lived for another one or two weeks after I purchased the picture,” said Helmut Klewan.
Alberto Giacometti, Portrait de Patricia Matisse (1947):
After the Second World War, Giacometti, who is famous for his sculptures, increasingly explored the mediums of drawing and painting, always aiming to illustrate reality as he saw it and not as perceived through learned ways of seeing. Representing distance and proportionality were recurring challenges in his work.
“I exhibited many artists at my gallery in Munich for the first time: Bill Copley, Maria Lassnig, and Giacometti. I always joked: ‘This is the first Giacometti exhibition in Munich for two hundred years!’ But I only sold one of the oil paintings,” said Klewan.