Only a couple of days remain until the five Gustav Klimt paintings, recently returned by Austria to the descendents of the couple that owned them before World War II, leave the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for New York. But this is also a rare chance to see the Klimts and David Hockney’s best portraits, one after the other.
First visit the Klimts, and primarily Adele Bloch-Bauer 1, below. There is no way, even in color, that a photograph can give a sense of just how astonishing this painting is. You have to see it in person, and once before it, despite some rather unfortunate lighting, you might say what I did: “Whoa.” (Never mind that it just sold to Ronald Lauder and the Neue Galerie of Austrian art for $135 million — that’s beside the point; though it’s worth considering Lauder’s explanation for spending more on it than anyone ever has for a painting: “This is our Mona Lisa.”) All that decorative gold sweeping up to or framing that extraordinary photographic face, so alive and contemporary it could be collage.
Then go across the way to the Hockneys — see Divine (yes, that Divine) or Peter Schlesinger With Polaroid Camera or My Parents or Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy or Henry Geldzhaler and Christopher Scott or especially American Collectors (Fred and Marcia Weisman). And, again, see the decorative surroundings, the mise en scène, subtly directing us to the painting’s center, wherever it might appear on the canvas — the face. In some of these works, another face, seen in profile, is part of that directing; if this were comedy instead of art, they would be straight men. In American Collectors, Fred Weisman stands stiffly looking toward (if not directly at) Marcia, who is regally poised amid sculptures, a cabana-like structure, an anemic potted tree and a slightly cubist totem pole whose visage looks simultaneously at her and us with a grimacing mouth and ragged teeth that rather cruelly (and comically) mimic Marcia’s. Not so attractive as Adele Bloch-Bauer, this face, definitely not; but it is extraordinary in its own way — it has the same focus, and achieves the same reaction: “Whoa.” Maybe this is our Mona Lisa.
Gustav Klimt: Five Paintings From the Collection of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer; David Hockney: Portraits, LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., (323) 857-6000; Klimt through June 30; Hockney through Sept. 4