The Gate Crasher: Im Kinsky a rear window on art

Rear Window on Art

Entering the grand carriage way of the Palais Kinsky, into the Stiegenhaus past the gauntlet of magnificent Baroque statuary up the grand stairway, I was stunned, as is often the case in Vienna, by the surrounding opulence. These palaces have that effect – the kind of red carpeted, marbled luxury that makes you conscious of your shoes.

This occasion was a private tour of contemporary Austrian art soon to go on the block at the Auktionshaus im Kinsky upstairs. I’d spent plenty of time gallery-hopping in Austria, head cocked thoughtfully at photos of flowing hair overtaking a staircase, or women eating eggs, attempting discourse with friends, usually ending in a mixture of admiration and confusion, good-natured laughter, and Torte afterwards. I hoped there’d be Torte.

So much action from behind! Was it a theme? | Photo: Im Kinsky

So much action from behind! Was it a theme? | Photo: Im Kinsky

The other visitors were wonderfully polite, highlighting important names and works. With photos of fish heads and animal organs on butcher tables, my predictions of some inexplicable weirdness weren’t far off. Some works were less provocative: a painting of a Vespa, Sophia Loren’s portrait overseeing a room, an elephant painted on canvas cut from a circus tent, amidst swathes of electrifying colours.

A piece caught my attention: a woman’s body from behind, sharply bent at the waist, a low-hanging nipple in the foreground provided context. In the same room; a huge picture of two women, mouths agape, tongues stretching in a pose more pornographic than gay-friendly. Then a woman pictured on her knees from behind, lower half raised and arms tucked under her belly. Mercifully, most visitors moved through quickly; I darted to the next room and focused intently on a kitten entwined in yarn on a colorful canvas. Safe zone.

In the next room, a painting dominated an entire wall, inescapable. Hermann Nitsch: The medium was animal blood, possibly excrement. He slaughtered animals as performance, then painted in blood. The curator invited us to take a sniff. A man leaned his face to the canvas and inhaled. Nothing foul. But his wife refused. “I don’t think there’s any poo in there,” he assured.

Women’s behinds weren’t yet behind us: Here was an armless woman posed bent over a table, filmy slip tossed aside, titled Maidservant. Her head was disconnected and eyes not fully formed, but she still managed a semblance of a come-hither glance cast over her shoulder. So much action from behind! Was it a theme?

I was distracted by another painting including text, beginning with diarrhoea and politicians, ending with: “There’s always more than one substitute for sex.” The canvas sniffer read alongside me. I reached for a classic conversation starter, inevitable at New York openings: Would he agree, that all art is about sex?

“No, everything is about sex,” he amended, adding: “You’re in the right city for that.”

I laughed. Really? “Well, Freud…” he trailed off, as a display of nine unmistakably phallic wax sculptures left no room for argument.

At tour’s end, no Torte, but prosecco. I asked the dealer about the asses – a conscious choice? Response to demand? Or mere chance?

She laughed deeply. “I don’t think it’s a trending theme.” Were female painters as enamoured with posteriors? She considered.

“Maybe Dina Larot. Otherwise only men.” She loved discovering what viewers noticed, what stood out to each person. Maybe it says more about the viewer. She laughed again.

“Tomorrow I will have another look with your eyes.”

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