Though thee baroque monastery church, Barmherzigenkirche (Brotherhood of Compassion), in Graz, Austria, was founded by the Archduke Ferdinand and Max Ernst in 1615, the present construction was from later period - built in 1735-40, was by J. G. Stengg and it presented visitors stark contrasts between its austere though flowing architectural elements and the overstuffed, overwrought religious paintings, sculptures and altars.
For the latter, it was their almost naïve sincerity and the heart-felt solemnity rescued them from the disaster of complete kitsch and drew viewers' attention to elaborate splendor.
Amongst those unusual objects, I found a huge altar centering on an ebony Madonna very intriguing and most memorable. Underneath a seashell arch, enshrouded in beautifully decorated cloth of ceremony, which was covered with alternating dark and light patterns, this Madonna, shaped like a typical Christmas tree, embodied the universal elements, manifested by the bold motifs on the ceremonial cloth. A tiny arm of hers held high the small head of the Baby, which, like his celestial mother, wore weighty crowns gilded in rich though subdued red gold.
I really love the primitive feeling of this particular Virgin Mary.
The second memorable piece in Barmherzigenkirche depicted a typical sacrificial scene of a certain saint. It was a fresco on a side wall near an alter of the theme of the Lamentation. What struck me most of this side fresco was the beauty of the subtle coloration, and the elegance of the postures, therefore, the rather terrifying scene was beautifully presented and such dichotomy generated a high drama of its own. Furthermore, one could see that a sculptural lamenting cherub from the altar cast his sight on this painted scene, thus bound those two elements tightly together, forming a continuous narration from altar to the side wall and then back.
The hill in the city of Graz, Austria, Schloßberg, boasted many monuments, on the ground of the fortress destroyed by the conquering Napoleon's army, such as the Lion: Major-Hackher-Denkmal, Bastion of Schloßberg (above).
Amongst many memorable sculptures, my favorite one was a large relief, titled Untersteiermark unvergessene Heimat (Lower Styria UnforgottenHome) (Graz 1945), whose poignantly depiction of displayed people by the raging war. In regardless of political situation, the horrible effect of war on people were just deplorable.
My second favorite sculpture was titled Furchtlos und Treu - INF.RGT.27 - 1682-1918 (Fearless and faithful). This stone sculpture of a noble-looking man holding a heavy sword, looking straight forward in the most steadfast fashion. Its effect was enhanced by the fact that it was mounted on a red-brick wall of a fortress, dramatically draped with ivy leaves. The heroism of the sculpture though had a disturbing taste of the nationalist fervor, much appreciated in totalitarian states, such as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Unions. Austria was the right place to reflect on ambiguity and contradiction.
The Graz parish church, Stadtpfarrkirche zum Hl. Blut (Parish Church of Holy Blood), nestling quietly in the the busiest street of the city, Herrengasse, had a wonderful baroque façade containing my favorite sculpture of the church, a scholar or a clergyman in a distinctive long robe and cornered hat, holding a large folio and a paper roll. Face serene and intelligent, pose determined and a bit defiant, the figure was shrouded in a slight mystery. The outline and the coloration of the figure and the background were so cleanly delineated that the sculpture was worthy of a drawing by the incomparable John Flexman.
My second favorite art in the church was two large panels of stained glasses behind a large crucifixion. These two panels were noteworthy, mostly for depicting the heinous Hitler and Mussolini watching the Taunting of Christ (left panel, right column, fourth pane from bottom).
A rightful posture of apology from Austrian people.
There are many interesting churches in Graz and one of them I visited in 2012, Mariahilferkirche and cloister, impressed me very much with its startling altar pieces.
The most striking one was an altar of Pietà, whose particularity was that there was a sword piercing into Maria's breast. It was a very disturbing and moving image and hard to forget.
I happened to have seen quite a few similar images during that trip; in the very same church, on the side wall, I also saw this standing alone Maria pierced by a sword. In other church, I even saw a Maria pierced by seven swords!
The second favorite altar in Mariahilferkirche featured a dead scene of a saint, perhaps, Maria.
The strong contrast between the splendidly colorful angel and the bleached dying Maria were very striking, and their postures echoed each other, and formed a broad and comforting embrace. Very moving.
As I reported shortly after my trip to Graz in 2012, I was delighted by my visit to Institut für Klassische Archäologie at Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz, for its collections of many classical Roman and Greek marble sculptures and reliefs. According to the university, "the Institute is home to significant archaeological collections of ancient vases of Greece, objects from local sites as well as casts of ancient sculptures."
There were many beautiful sculptures to admire, many of the had incredible ethereal beauty in their wonderfully proportioned forms and polished details, such as these works below:
Yet, pressed, I had to name the Niobe below as my favorite - it was not the most polished piece to behold and the deliberately clumsy posture of the grief-stricken queen was rather ungainly, yet more moving for that. What moved me most were her stunned facial expression and the terrified face of her little daughter clinging to her, trying desperately to avoid the fury of the gods, who had just killed all her eleven siblings, provoked by the boasting, now belatedly repenting Niobe, a moving subject also propelled me to make an abstract installation last year.
My second favorite was a huge head of a noble horse, with its lean bones, fiery eyes and flaring nostrils, looked supremely eloquent and elegant:
The other important museum I visited in Graz, besides Kunsthaus, was Neue Galerie, which housed many important Austrian art.
My favorite painting there was, again, by Egon Schiele (1890, Tulln an der Donau, Austria - 1918, Vienna), titled Stadtende (Häuserbogen III) (City End, Houses Arc III). It depicted a jumble of houses in various shades and shapes and the whole composition was quite dynamic, full of contrast and movements. Despite the many colors employed by the artist, the painting was also very harmonious, predominately in various shades of gray, accented by stripes and patches of brilliant blue, red, and green colors. It was a lovely painting, beautiful, a bit unsettling and menacing, mainly due to some very angular and irregular outlines of those houses.
Stadtende (Häuserbogen III), um 1917, Egon Schiele
My second favorite piece was by a Graz artist, Axl Leskoschek (1889, Graz -1976, Wien), Der Doppelgänger (The Double). It was a somewhat spooky painting, monochromatic and enigmatic. It featured actually not two, but three figures - the doubles and an image reflection in a mirror, looking out of the frame, as if mocking at the live two, in their fancifully dinner jackets, with intriguing postures and facial express warranted endless interpretations. It was an unforgettable piece.
Der Doppelgänger, 1945, Axl Leskoschek (1889, Graz -1976, Wien)
The ultra-modern museum, Kunsthaus, in Graz, Austria, was a distinctive architecture and its attraction is itself.
That said, I did see some very interesting works in this museum during my 2012 visit to Graz. My favorite item was an installation - a wooden forest flourishing under several intense circular florescent lights, suggesting a giant incubator, or an solemn, almost spiritual outer space, where several stars or planets converging upon alien soil. Very intriguing.
My second favorite was a 30 minutes video, titled True False Else, white outlines of ever-morphing objects continuously expanded and contracted against a dark background, reminiscent of the famous William Kentridge's drawing animation. Mesmerizing.
Schloss Eggenberg in Graz, Austria is a magnificent Baroque palace and in 2010 was included in the listing of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites. In 2012, when I made a brief stop at Graz, though I was not able to visit the museum housed inside the Schoss, Universalmuseum Joanneum, I was able to tour the building and its lovely garden ground.
Though I couldn't go inside many marvelous rooms, I was able to see this wonderful triptych below through the window and though it was medieval in style, the coloration and rendering of its figures were reminiscent those of the great Jan van Eyck.
My second favorite in the Schloss was a bearded figure with a heavy crown, a Kaiser, I assume, holding a model of a town with some effort, looking imploringly heavenwards. A pious figure, seemingly suffered under the weight of his charges, almost pathetically tragic. Hard to forget.
Graz is an ancient Austrian city, whose Renaissance cityscape is dominated by the complex of Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II and the Dom and the Katharinenkirche (right, left and middle).
In 2010, I visited Graz and saw this impressive tomb, a minor St. Peter's, designed by Ferdinand's court artist Giovanni Pietro de Pomis. The interior was both grand and intimate, magnificent and humble. I found the center shrine (above) very impressive, dark and somber, topped with the Emperor's proud eagle standard, beneath a brilliantly colored scene of coronation in the heaven.
The crypt itself was a small round space, and atop of the tomb, there were two effigies of the royal couple, carved in earthy red stone, almost crudely simple, like medieval chess pieces, tiny and humble, and very pious indeed, despite all the pomp above their resting cellar.
Jüdisches Museum Wien (Jewish Museum) in Vienna has many artifacts highlighting the past and present of Jewish culture in Austria. When I visited the museum in 2012, I was astounded by the huge quantities of items they put on display, some beautiful, some ethereal, some kitschy, and some poignant.
I was particularly taken by artifacts emphasizing the folksy Jewish tradition and heritage, such as the two figurines in the picture below. These two figures, in traditional eastern European Jewish attires, with their endearingly exaggerated open-arm gestures - a sort of Jewish self-parody, I hope - invited viewers to enter their now long-gone time and location specific sphere.
I was also very taken by the almost medieval-looking metal spice boxes, see picture below. I was particularly taken in by the far left one, which reminded me of a moving tent, or with a little more imagination, a knight errant in full armor, who ironically roamed the lands of Europe and the Middle East where many Jewish people, Muslims and Pagans constantly being threatened by sword and fire, and worse. It was hard not to see violence and suffering even in these seemingly most innocuous objects.
The Augustinerkirche (Augustinian Church) was built in the 14th century as the parish church of the imperial court of with the Gothic interior added in the 18th century.
The most impressive artwork was a tome sculpture designed by the renown Italian sculptor Antonio Canova, for Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria - in his typical neoclassical style - pyramidal shaped, with clear and clean delineation, and delicately modeled figures. The atmosphere it created was somber, sorrowful and soaringly lyrical.
Archduchess Maria Christina Tome by Antonio Canova, Augustinerkirche, Wien
My second favorite work there was a strangely painted skeleton, surrounded by beautiful decorative borders. This frank depiction of death and decay gave viewers no catholic comfort, yet it was not devoid of any tranquility, a kind of knowing acceptance, which was the grace we all hope to have when it's our time to take our leave.
This Neo-Gothic church of twin spires, dating back to late 19th century, boasted a famous Antwerp Passion Altar (Wood Curve) (dating back to around 1460). This altar was the best example of the achievement of medieval wood curving religion art in the low countries.
Antwerp Passion Altar
This Altar has grandeur, dignity and its moving pathos lies in the folksy naïveté and the lightened wrenching dramatic tableau it represents. I found it hugely effective and moving.
Another amazing work was even grander assembly - Hochaltar (Main Altar), which consists of tier-ed multiple parts. Due to restoration work, I was only able to see the upper part from side and behind in the Museum Gallery; however, the trusses of the scaffolding added quite appropriate setting to Christ and angels when view from behind. The lower part of the Hochaltar was glistering and awe inspiring.
Below is a short video with quick glances of the Antwerp Passion Altar, and the Hoch Altar viewed from Museum Gallery:
The Secession Building in Vienna is so iconic, that though it doesn't have permanent collections, except for Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt, I feel that I am compelled to include it in the series of My Favorite Museum Collections.
Secession Building is an exhibition hall built in 1897 by Joseph Maria Olbrich as an architectural manifesto for the Vienna Secession and the Beethoven Frieze is a painting by Gustav Klimt created in 1902 for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition and is now on display in the building permanently.
The frieze has the hallmark of the overt ornamentation the movement, and it also addressed the life's motifs close to Klimt's heart, as it covered the themes of human yearning for happiness and fulfillment of desires in the dark and tempestuous world as can be gleaned through a snapshot of the copy of part of the immense frieze below.
Beethoven Frieze copy, Secession, Wien
The frieze has the hallmark of the overt ornamentation the movement, and it also addressed the life's motifs close to Klimt's heart, as it covered the themes of human yearning for happiness and fulfillment of desires in the dark and tempestuous world.
Since there are no other permanent art collections to speak of in Secession Building, I'm going to cheap a bit, by citing an element of the utterly lovely building itself. My favorite relief on the exterior wall of the building is a group of three highly decorative owls, well-balanced and proportioned, stylized in the typical Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) fashion. Absolutely enchanting.
The exhibition included many paintings from the period of the emergence of the Impressionism, most of them were of modest dimensions, with subjects ranging from intimate portraits, still life to familiar outdoor landscapes.
The exhibition was organized and displayed by artists, a choice group including many big names and a few less familiar ones. Below are the paintings I liked most:
Self-Portrait, 1861, Henri Fantin-Latour
Three Peaches on a Plate, 1868, Henri Fantin-Latour
Oysters, 1862, Édouard Manet
The Artist's Studio, ca. 1868, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
The Towpath, 1864, Johan Barthold Jongkind
Beach at Trouville, 1864/65, Eugène Boudin
Beach at Trouville, 1863, Eugène Boudin
Mound of Butter, 1875/1885, Antoine Vollon
Claude Monet, 1872, Pierre-Auguste Renoir
The Fence, 1872, Camille Pissarro
Flood at Port-Marly, 1872, Alfred Sisley
Boulevard Héloïse, Argenteuil, 1872, Alfred Sisley
Madame Henriot, ca. 1876, Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Carmen Caudin, 1885, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Three Pears, 1878/79, Paul Cézanne
Flower Beds in Holland, ca. 1883, Vincent van Gogh
Village by the Sea in Brittany, ca. 1880, Odilon Redon
Breton Village, ca. 1890, Odilon Redon
Landscape of the Île-de-France, Édouard Vuillard
Woman in Black, ca. 1891, Édouard Vuillard
The Artist's Studio, 1900, Pierre Bonnard
Red Plums, 1892, Pierre Bonnard
Bouquet of Flowers, ca. 1926, Pierre Bonnard
Famous names included in the exhibition included Monet, Gauguin, etc. but I felt their works somewhat less moving and affecting than their the better efforts, nevertheless, their works deserved to be included in this blog:
Horses in a Meadow, 1871, Edgar Degas
The Artist's Sister at a Window, 1869, Berthe Morisot
Argenteuil, ca. 1872, Claude Monet
Self-Portrait Dedicated to Carrière, 1888 or 1889, Paul Gauguin
It was a marvelous show and the last day of the exhibition is August 3rd. Do try to catch this beautiful presentation.
My favorite works there were many, and the two top choices were both by Schiele. My first favorite piece was called "Kalvaienberg" (CalvaryHill), which was of a square format, with the top one-third depicting blue and pink sky, and the lower part the gentle hill whose sloping top was dominated by tilting trees and three clustered crosses, breaking into the horizontal layers of clouds. It was rendered in overly sweet palette, verged on nauseating, therefore overcame the danger of being sentimental. The understated rendering created a violent contrast between the content and the style which made this piece less conventionally overpowering, therefore startlingly striking and fresh. It affected without screaming.
Kalvarienberg, 1912, Egon Schiele, Leopold Museum
My second favorite painting was titled "Kardinal und Nonne" (Cardinal and Nun). Against pitch black background, two kneeling figures, with their jutting naked lower legs formed the foundation of a pyramid, consisted of the upper bodies of these two figures - a luscious-looking cardinal, and a furtive-looking nun, whose interlocking hands formed a dubious gesture of praying, in a tight embrace reminiscent the iconic embrace of Gustav Klimt's "Kuss" (Kiss). The scarlet robe of the cardinal and the black garb of the nun, contrasted greatly and created a great drama, which was however, dwarfed by the dramas manifested on their faces. The cardinal was the obvious aggressor, while the nun, however, could be a victim, an accomplice, or both, in their illicit and grotesque embrace. A powerful rendering of decay.
Finally, I made an electronic portfolio of my selected paintings, drawings and installations and it can be viewed on ISSUU:
Unfortunately, ISSUU would not allow my readers to print the copies so, you may send me request, or sign on my eNewsletter on my website: www.matthewfelixsun.com and I will be very happy to send a free PDF to you.
Alternatively, I am also offering a professionally bound copy via MagCloud, at the cost of $8 per copy (Wire-O-Bind), 8.5"x11":