David Bowie & Gustav Klimt, Pallas Athena

It’s amazing the things you find by accident. Last year I sold my London house; the one – perhaps only – thing I had in common with Margaret Thatcher was that we both owned Dulwich townhouses. And so, at long last, I’m finally able to catalogue all my worldly possessions in one property (and indeed one country) for the first time in half a decade.

As I continue to trawl through the archives, I came across a cache of old things I’d forgotten even existed. For instance, a USB floppy disk drive together with a collection of around 20 3½-inch disks. Lo and behold, I discovered a ton of articles I’d written that were never even published. A fair few were reviews for Mojo and Record Collector magazines that were usually ‘killed’ for political reasons, but the vast majority were features I’d stockpiled for a David Bowie fanzine I used to be editor of entitled Crankin’ Out!. Some of them go right back to its inception in 1993 right through to 2001, when it became clear that self-publishing in old school print terms was not quite the way to go if you wanted to actually make a living. I’ll try to upload what I can, although the more ‘pertient’ pieces I’m keeping back for a much bigger project further down the line.

The following was written in mid 1995. Bowie had launched his first solo art exhibition in London, and had started building up his own collection with the aid of Sloane Ranger dealer Kate Chertavian. Reading it back it was rather tempting to polish and ‘professionalise’, but no, it makes more sense to present as it was intended to be, just with the addition of an ubiquitous YouTube link, which certainly wasn’t around 22 years ago. And that is all.

 

Who is he?

This artist was born in Vienna, Austria on July 14, 1862, and was probably the most outstanding figure in Viennese modernism.

His only self-portrait was featured in his Globe Theatre In London painting completed in 1888. He appears in the audience of an Elizabethan performance of the death scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.

In 1897 he became the first president of the Austrian Association Of Visual Artists, or more familiarly – the Secession, with the primary aim to provide young, unconventional artists of wildly varying styles with regular opportunities to exhibit their work.

His poster for the first Secession exhibition in 1898 depicted Theseus slaying the Minotaur. This got him into trouble with the Viennese authorities until he agreed to a revised version with the naked Theseus’s body partially obscured.

One of his contributions to the second exhibition was an image of the Greek goddess of wisdom entitled Pallas Athene.

To anyone familiar with classical mythology the meaning behind each work was obvious: as Theseus had slain the Minotaur to rescue the children of Athens, so the Secessionists would rescue Viennese art from the ‘monsters’ of the establishment.

And Pallas Athene, whom the Secession had chosen as it’s guardian (a statue of her stands in front of the parliament house on Vienna’s Ringstraße), carries on her breastplate the golden head of Medusa (another mythological female with a somewhat dangerous propensity for turning others to stone, and also the title of Annie Lennox‘s recent covers LP), rudely sticking out her tongue at anyone disposed to attack the artists under the goddess’s protection.

She holds the Nike – the naked figure of victory in her right hand, while in the background, in a style based on figured Greek vases, Hercules battles with Triton.

One of his most celebrated pieces of work was that of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a Viennese banker, and was completed in 1907; the on-off result of four years work.

When he died on February 6, 1918 he had long since lost his modernist crown to a younger group of local artists, one of whom sketched him in the morgue of Vienna’s General Hospital.

When the Glass Spider tour hit Vienna in 1987, Bowie went to view an exhibition of the artist’s work only to find that the gallery was shut!

Pallas Athene, 1898

The correctly spelt name of the official protectress of the city of Athens is actually Pallas Athena (Latin name: Minerva), as on the Black Tie White Noise album. A statue of her is situated, ironically, not in the Greek capital but at the front of the Austrian parliament house on Vienna’s Ringstraße.

Pallas Athene was, according to Brewer’s book of Myth And Legend, fabled to have sprung, with a tremendous battle-cry, fully armed from the brain of Jupiter.

Schiele was a student of Klimt. Bowie was to play him in a film entitled Wally (pronounced Valley) in 1978/79.

Steve Pafford

 

 

 

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