From opposite ends of the 20th century, from Europe – Vienna – to America – New York, the lives and works of Egon Schiele and Jean-Michel Basquiat are fascinating for their fleetingness and their intensity. Both died aged 28. In under a decade, they became major figures in the art of their century. They are linked by their destiny and their fortune, that of a short-lived body of work, the impact and permanency of which have few equals. Their formidable output can be explained by their passion for life which today, in the 21st century, has made them real “icons” for new generations. The vital necessity of art is the main element in these two exceptional bodies of work. “I will get to a point where one will be alarmed by the greatness of each of my ‘living’ works”, wrote Schiele. Breaking with the academic system, he rejected previous models. For him “there is no modern art, but rather there is only one art that is eternal”*. For its part, the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, first painted on walls, cannot be understood separately from the revolt which animates it, the will to disrupt the established order and escape from canons and hierarchies. “Royalty, heroism and the streets” were Basquiat’s subjects for his art. Presented separately in two different sequences, these exhibitions respect the specific context of each body of work, two moments which were as rich as they were different from each other. For Schiele, Vienna in 1900, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a leading centre of intellectual and artistic life marked by the Secession, the jugendstil and the birth of an effervescent intellectual and artistic modernity. For Basquiat, New York in the early 1980s, with the vitality of its underground scene, urban downtown culture, and questions relative to art and identity. In their uniqueness, these two presentations are in line with one of the Collection’s four themes: the subjective and expressionist vision of the artist. As Suzanne Pagé remarked, “Through the permanency of the portrayals, the two exceptionally intense bodies of work dazzlingly and irreducibly translate a deep and deeply incarnated distress, by means of a particularly striking line. With Schiele, a distorted and tortured line raises worrying questions and dares to express crude sexuality by way of implacable introspection and the harsh gaze he trains on himself and on his models, with whom he identified. The premonition of tragedy is everywhere. With Basquiat, a line infused with youthful impetus and carried by real rage aims to impose the presence of the black figure, following the artist’s painful realisation of its absence in the world of art, and particularly in museums”. With Egon Schiele, it is the first time that the Fondation Louis Vuitton has dedicated a monograph to an “historical” artist. It is also the first time that it has hosted a exhibition of this size devoted to a single artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, a strong presence in the Collection. The Fondation thereby reiterates its will to anchor its commitment to current creation in a historical perspective. * “Lettre à Leopold Czihaczek”, Je peins la lumière qui vient de tous les corps. Lettres et Poèmes radieux issus des plus sombres tourments du peintre viennois Egon Schiele, Agone Editions, 2016, p. 48-49 A - Egon Schiele (1890-1918) Egon Schiele’s work is indissociable from the Viennese spirit of the early 20th century. In just a few years, his drawing emerged as one of the peaks of expressionism. At odds with the Academy, which he entered precociously, he founded the Neukunstgruppe in 1909 and, thanks to Gustav Klimt, discovered the work of Van Gogh, Munch and Toorop. From 1911, in relative isolation, he concentrated on his own work, which is fascinating for the distortion of bodies it depicts, the introspection, the frontal expression of desire and the tragic feeling of life. Before he was struck down by Spanish influenza in 1918, the artist had created some three hundred paintings and several thousand drawings over the course of ten years. As the first monograph of Schiele in Paris for 25 years, the exhibition includes works of the highest order, such as “Self-Portrait with a Chinese Lantern” (1912), on loan from the Leopold Museum (Vienna), “Pregnant Woman and Death” (1911), from the Národní gallery (Poland), “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife Seated, Holding Her Right Leg” (1917) from the Morgan Library & Museum (New York), “Standing Nude with Blue Sheet” (1914) from the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, “Seated Male Nude” (1910) from the Neue Galerie New York, and “Self-Portrait” (1912) from the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The exhibition brings together some 120 works - drawings, gouaches, and paintings - over more than 600m2, in the pool-level galleries (Gallery 1). It is organised chronologically across four rooms, following the concept of line and its development in the artist’s work. Dieter Buchhart explains his choice in this way: “Very few artists have approached line and drawing with the same virtuosity and intensity as Schiele. [...] By evolving from the ornamental line towards the expressionist line, combined, in three dimensions, fragmented and amputated, he enabled a borderline dissonant and divergent experience of the line as a sign of human existence.” The exhibition’s four chapters are entitled: The Ornamental Line (1908-1909) ; The Existential Line of Expressionism(1910-1911), The Physical Balance of the Combined Line at the Dawn of the First World War (1912-1914), and The Amputated, Fragmented Line during the War Years (1915-1918).
- The Ornamental Line brings together works inspired by the jugendstil, full of fluidity,which makes reference to the discovery of the work of Gustav Klimt, who played a major role in his development.
- The Existential Line of Expressionism is indissociable from the artist’s most expressionist works and his angular and contorted portraits and self-portraits, which are sensual and vibrant, enlivened by touches of pure colour.
- The Physical Balance of the Combined Line at the Dawn of the First World War, from the years before the first global conflict, convey the premonitory fear of war. This group of work is contemporary to, or immediately followed, the artist’s brief period of imprisonment in 1912 in Neulenbach, following accusations of indecency. It is characterised by a less sinuous line and a flatness of drawing which partially frees itself from the former dissonance.
- The Amputated, Fragmented Line during the War Years denotes a significant change: the introduction of formation in the representations of the body. The bodily postures are also more familiar, less aggressive.