Can the curator make art, and should she?

Gustav Klimt always held a fascination for me. Ethereal, eclectic, and exotic; his is the kind of work that attracts both heavyweight art school graduates and casual museum-goers alike. And so, walking into the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, Austria about a week ago, where many of his most famous works reside, became an experience for me.

Viewing a famous painting in person and up close is a special experience. A painting loved on a screen or written page expands exponentially in person, and allows the viewer to get up close and personal with the colors, brush strokes, and emotions that simply don’t translate in the same manner anywhere else. Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, arguably his most famous work, took center stage in the main room of The Belvedere. I got to see it, experience it, revel in it.

But next to The Kiss, in a small alcove to the left, stood another lesser work by an equally famous artist. The film Kiss, by Andy Warhol, played on repeat on a small unassuming television in the center of the room. Kiss, one of Warhol’s first films, explored the ideas of cultural appropriateness and censorship that were predominant at that time. Kiss shows people kissing, for three and a half full minutes and in every type of configuration including male to male.

I picked up on a heavy sense of ambivalence almost immediately. Some viewers like myself, seemed delighted by the juxtaposition of these two pieces. To show two equally famous 20th century artists side-by-side, examining and contemplating their versions of the most basic and fundamental expression of Western love, the kiss, felt creative and unexpected to me.

But other viewers appeared uncomfortable, almost turned off in particular by Andy Warhol’s work. Perhaps it violated some basic law to force Gustav Klimt to share the spotlight with another artist. That an idea or concept – kissing – took equal precedence to a famous work of art appeared to lessen the experience for these viewers.

It left me pondering the role of curators for quite a while.

Should a famous piece of art be left to stand alone?
Is it appropriate for the curator to consciously create a mood, to change or alter the viewing experience through placement of art or other methods?
Does the viewer have a right to look at art, particularly famous art, without their view being obstructed or changed by other objects?

You can take a look at both pieces below and decide for yourself. Write me a comment. I’m interested to know what you think.

Watch Kiss, by Andy Warhol in full at:

Head here to see the entire Gustav Klimt collection at The Belvedere.

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