Klimt’s immersive exhibit at Old Town Scottsdale is full of surprises

When Immersive Van Gogh opened last year at the Lighthouse Artspace in Old Town Scottsdale, it was an immediate hit and social media was abuzz with photos and videos of residents and tourists alike enjoying the experience.

Last month, Lighthouse added Immersive Klimt to the mix, based on the life and work of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. The two experiences, Klimt and Van Gogh, will be shown in the same space at different times. But don’t expect them to be the same.

The immersive Van Gogh is simple and beautiful, with the Dutch artist’s post-impressionist loveliness moving and transforming into a smooth classical score.

Immersive Klimt is darker, racier, and more challenging for the viewer, which ultimately makes for a more interesting experience.

Van Gogh and Klimt are the first two parts of a trilogy envisioned by the show’s creator Massimiliano Siccardi, according to Lighthouse creative consultant Richard Ouzounian, who was in town for the opening.

“Massimiliano, after he did Van Gogh for us, said: ‘If you want more, my dream initially is to do a trilogy of Van Gogh, Klimt and Kahlo, because I feel like they were the three great revolutionaries, each in their own way. ‘ He said: “Van Gogh personalized by putting his whole life and his state of mind and everything, just throwing it on the canvas. Klimt was the person who led the whole cultural revolution in Vienna, and his work evolved and became, I think, prophetic.” . And then Frida was a revolutionary on the front lines of all the areas that she fought: on racism, on feminism, ableism and all that stuff. So they were the three revolutionaries,'” says Ouzounian.

The show begins with falling pieces of drawing paper and photos of Klimt on fire.

“Klimt believed that you should always paint with passion and that passion should burn,” says Ouzounian.

click to enlarge

A scene from Immersive Klimt.

Lighthouse Art Space

Over the next hour, viewers will see the evolution of Klimt’s work in the context of the world of Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Klimt’s painting career began with classical training, and his early works bear the stamp of the standard style of the time.

“In the beginning, I was doing all the great romantics,” says Ouzounian. “But then he kept trying to paint with his own voice, his own stuff.”

Befitting a man who never married but fathered 14 children, Immersive Klimt is filled with images of women, clothed and nude. Whatever the state of his clothing, his female subjects look directly at the viewer, challenging them to participate.

The amount of nudity, says Ouzounian, makes Immersive Klimt perhaps not a show for young children.

“We’re saying this is not a family show. We don’t think anything here is raunchy, but we do call it a date night show, or college take-out.”

Klimt drew much inspiration from his time in Ravenna, Italy, a time in his life that figures prominently in the show. We see how the iconography of the Roman Empire and early Christian architecture influenced part of his work.

An unexpected aspect of the show comes in the form of the work of Egon Schiele, the Austrian expressionist painter who was a colleague and apprentice of Klimt.

In contrast to the serenity and beauty of Klimt’s best-known works, Schiele’s paintings are harsh and intense, full of sexuality and feeling.

“What is fascinating and what will emerge from this is that Schiele was a very troubled young man. He also painted countless self-portraits. He was arrested several times for pornography,” says Ouzounian. “But Klimt, people were asking ‘Why do you stay with him?’ and Klimt said: ‘I think he has great talent.’

“At the end of their lives, people said that he would be the person to succeed Klimt. He had settled down and stopped being so difficult.”

Instead, just six months after Klimt died of a stroke and pneumonia brought on by the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, Schiele died of the Spanish flu. He was only 28 years old.

Ouzounian acknowledges that placing Schiele’s work in a show about Klimt could be confusing to the viewer.

“We have some print stuff to hand out. One of the questions is, how much do you say? What I’m trying to suggest [audiences] to do is dive in.”

The highlight of Immersive Klimt for many viewers will be the section devoted to the artist’s best-known and best-loved works, gold-toned masterpieces such as The kiss Y Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (commonly known as the Golden Woman).

That part of the show is set to a recording of “Un bel dì, vedremo”, a well-known aria from the opera. madam butterfly.

“Massimiliano deliberately chose a recording of Maria Callas doing it in the 1950s,” says Ouzounian. “Because also the recording itself is a recording from the 1950s. It’s not digitally pure, but Callas had a great passion.”

click to enlarge The tree of life was a frequent subject for Klimt.  - LIGHTHOUSE ART SPACE

The tree of life was a frequent subject for Klimt.

Lighthouse Art Space

What follows this emotional and artistic climax is a descent into some of Klimt’s darker works that he created near the end of his life.

“In part it could have been World War I, which had just ended, which was horrible, or the rise of the pandemic, or his feelings of his own mortality, but he explored death much more,” says Ouzounian.

Images of skulls done in dark palettes give way to versions of the Tree of Life, a symbol Klimt painted frequently in his later years.

Meditations on morality were all too real for the Italian creative team; they were working on Immersive Klimt during the time COVID-19 was raging in Italy, says Ouzounian, and several people on the team fell ill and some also lost friends or family members to the pandemic.

But, not wanting to leave the show on a negative note, Immersive Klimt ends with a wild, upbeat segment in which bits of Klimt’s art dance across the screen to a techno-pop soundtrack.

What the viewer gets, then, is a deeper understanding of an artist who is so much more than his most famous works, and an appreciation of the triumph of life and joy over darkness and death.

“This ends with an absolute blast of joy with techno-pop music and selected Klimt images that look like a modern art gallery,” says Ouzounian. “This is supposed to be: You’ve been through all that, now come out the other side and live, which Klimt wanted people to do. Any man who had 14 illegitimate children and 32 cats had to want you to live.”

Immersive Klimt plays most days at Lighthouse Artspace, 4301 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale. Check the website for times and ticket prices.

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