It’s a Tuesday night in Vienna. What to do? Go to the premier opening of the Max Ernst retrospective exhibition in the Albertina, of course. Thanks goes to Celene and Jutta Venosa for making this possible. Otto Rapp and Timea Tallian were also there to gaze, point. Pick the artists! The five of us kept the security on their toes, nervously hovering in close vicinity, as we peered and scrutinized, with our noses barely centimetres from the paintings.
I’ve long been a fan of Ernst’s decalcomania period, but Otto had a grin from ear to ear and a sparkle in his eye. The Albertina exhibited 180 paintings, collages, and sculptures spanning Max’s artistic career. I think all of us were less than enthusiastic about his earlier works. But as we progressed through the exhibition, arriving at his frottage, decalcomania and later paintings our interest spiked along with animated discussions. So much so were we engaged in the artworks and discussions, I think we came to hardly notice throng of other visitors milling around us and the artworks. To some extent, I think we ended up owning the exhibition.
I have seen a limited number of Ernst’s actual works before, and so with this expansive exhibition, it was a wonderful saturation. Curiously what I noted, was that in his earlier periods, his colours were muted, or more rather a lack there of. Black and brown was everywhere to be seen. And then, he started to discover colour. Perhaps he started come to understand the full vehicle of expression that painting could be, as by the last few rooms of the exhibition, his works were positively luminous.
Ernst could apply the full range of his experimentation and techniques to produce some outstanding works. Many of these I have never seen printed in any book or catalogue. At the opening speech by the Albertina director, he made it apparent, why this was so. Because Max never consistently stayed with any period of painting for any length of time and was constantly exploring new artistic territory, it makes it hard for museums or curators to box him in. So, the majority of Ernst’s work still to this day remains in private collections.
It was a fabulous evening, with exhibition definitely one of the highlights of this current adventure in Vienna. If you happen to be in Vienna while the exhibition hangs, go and see it!