Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ai Weiwei and Franz Xaver Messerschmidt

I recently visited the Belvedere in Vienna to see works by Klimt and other Austrian painters. 
Upon entering the formal gardens I was faced with a collection of strange bronze animal-head sculptures around a traditional ornamental pond in which floated an enormous lily-pad made of life jackets. Something was up! The frisson between the refined architectural backdrop and the brutality of the life-jackets was exciting. Ai Weiwei was in town and his installation, "Translocation - Transformation" was occupying several spaces in and around the main buildings. My expectations of a calm morning were quickly adjusted.

I was particularly entranced by the three mythical creatures suspended above the staircase of the Upper Belvedere. Hand-made in the fashion of kites, with white silk stretched over a fine bamboo framework, these beings seemed to fade in and out of visibility against the white marble background and, depending upon your vantage point, sometimes interacted with the architectural details of the space. 

After the excitement of these unexpected floating sculptures I headed to the galleries and spent a couple of hours in quiet contemplation of paintings by Klimt, Munch, Schiele and others. I then entered a small room containing a circle of "character heads" by the 18th century sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. The discovery of these seriously contorted faces by an artist previously unknown to me was as exciting as the life-jacket-lily-pad in the pond outside!  I was told by a very stern gallery attendant that I could not take photos so I tried to capture some of the expressions in my sketchbook. 
These drawings were done with colored pencil over yellow ink.